Wednesday, September 08, 2004


I was ready to post today at 5:10 a.m. but it was no go - constantly stuck at "Opening Page." It was repeatedly stuck and no go until 11:15 a.m. when I headed to Lakeland College to teach the first of my classes in Writing Creative Nonfiction. I sent Blogger's help desk a help note; when I got home just a few minutes ago, I found this e-mail response from them, so we'll give it a try now:

We apologize for the problems you have been experiencing with Blogger. We had a simultaneous failure across multiple machines responsible for the publishing of Blog*Spot blogs, but this issue has now been fixed. To prevent this type of outage in the future, we are performing a full systemaudit to ensure that proper redundancies are in place.

The first class Creative Nonfiction went well, by the way. As I figured, I'm already behind in what I want to cover.... Hey, Fred, do you have that problem?



Yesterday, Wisconsin's Governor Jim Doyle announced his appointment of Denise Sweet as Wisconsin's new Poet Laureate. Here is the text of the Governor's news release announcing the appointment. Congratulations, Denise!

Governor Jim Doyle announced today the appointment of Denise Sweet as the new Poet Laureate of Wisconsin.

"Denise is well-educated, published, and admired by Wisconsin’s community of poets and educators," Governor Doyle said. "She will be an important ambassador of poetry to people in all areas of our state. I am pleased to appoint someone with such great dedication to reaching out to both large and small communities and encouraging participation in the arts."

As Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Sweet will choose and lead one large-scale project that contributes to the growth of Wisconsin poetry. She will also plan and attend at least four statewide literary events each year and perform in at least four government, state, and civil events as requested by the Governor’s office, school systems, and literary organizations. Sweet will begin her four-year term immediately.

"For the next four years, it will be my job to share my love for poetry with the citizens of Wisconsin. Does it get any better than that?" Sweet said. "This appointment is so rich with opportunity to expose the general public to great literature - I can imagine poetry in public transit, at visitor information centers, on biking trail brochures, on community calendars. I'm eager to begin."

Denise Sweet is an Associate Professor of Humanistic Studies and advisor for the American Indian Studies minor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She has published five poetry books, a long list of individual poems, fictional writing, and essays in various periodicals. She was one of five U.S. writers sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to attend the First World Congress of Indigenous Literatures of the Americas in Guatemala City. Sweet’s poem "Constellations" is part of a permanent installation (etched in granite corridor walls) at the Midwest Express Center in Milwaukee.

Sweet’s Proposed Statewide Project is entitled, "Here @ Home: A Community Calendar Series," a traveling workshop of poetry and writing that would move from urban to rural settings encouraging people to write and then display their works in their community.

Wisconsin’s first Poet Laureate, Ellen Kort of Appleton, was appointed in December 2000.


JUNE 18, 2004

The fellows are all gathered at the usual table as I come into the Second Cup Cafe for coffee with them. Bruce and Bobbi Miles come in shortly behind me, and Ivan is trying to tell the same shipwreck joke he told yesterday. He thinks he can get away with it because Bobbi hasn't heard it yet. She groans when she does. That doesn't slow Ivan down much at all. He tells about one couple who ran out of Vaseline. Says they used 3-in-1 oil and had triplets.

"Don't write that down," Ivan says. So I don't.

"I didn't learn English very well in high school," Ivan says when we're talking about the former Smith Center pastor who is going to China to teach English. "I didn't learn English very well," he says. "I thought when a girl said No she meant No."

"When you write up your visit to Smith Center," Ivan says to me, "you send a copy down here. Address it to the As the Bladder Fills Club in care of the Second Cup Cafe."

"You're seeing poverty in its worst form," Ivan says. "Here I am, 80 years old, and I have to work. I don't want to work, but I have to."

Dick Stroup whispers in my ear that once when Ivan was complaining about being poor, the fellow sitting across the table from me, Casey Edell, the piano tuner, had said to him: "Ivan, at least you don't have too much longer to worry about it."

One of the fellows who knows I'm a writer asks if I'm the one who has been "feeding Bush all that misinformation."

"Ivan, it sounds like there's another Democrat in town," I say.

"No," says Ivan, "there are two Democrats - I'm one and my wife's the other."

The other fellow explained his remark: "There's some of us Republicans thinking of converting."

Somebody says the word "work."

Somebody else says "if you use that word one more time, Ivan's gonna break out in a rash."

Some young fellow clear down at the far end of the table says Ivan is "the Rodney Dangerfield of Smith County."

Somebody mentions the Bible. "What I know about the Bible," Ivan says, "is the husband is supposed to make coffee."

"It clearly says He-brews."

Stan Hooper is talking to me, but he's looking at Bobbi Miles, Smith Center's Director of Economic Development: "Jesse James had a hide-out north of Lebanon," Stan says. "That's where Smith Center got its start in Economic Development."

Ivan complains about all the pop-ups coming up on his computer. Someone asks if he's had any pornography pop up lately. "No," Ivans says, "and I don't think I'd recognize it if it did."

The guys say good-bye to me. I'll be leaving in the morning, and won't see them again. Ivan shakes my hand, and so does Jack Benn, so do some of the others. Jack says "Well, I hope I'm still here when you come back."

Dick Stroup shakes my hand and says good-bye. "I paid for your coffee," he adds.

"Thanks, Dick. You didn't have to do that."

But that's the kind of guys they are, all of them. Good guys. They look pretty formidable, the bunch of them sitting around the table, but they're good guys. If you're ever in Smith Center weekdays between 8-9 a.m., sit with them at the Second Cup. You'll hear some blarney, but you'll also get a picture of Smith Center that seems pretty true to my sense of it.

Thanks, guys!



One of the reasons we have become disconnected from the place around us is that we have moved our work indoors. On the farm, there is a ritual - the spring work, that of summer, the fall harvest, a winter of repair. Cooped in our factories and offices, every day is the same. It looks the same to us, and smells the same and tastes the same. The factory worker longs for deer hunting season, so he can go out and become part of a land ritual once again; longs to fish, the stink of fish on his hands, to feel connection to land and water and sky and the turn of the days and the seasons. Inside the beige, bland walls of an office, every day is the same day. Walking the corn ground, every day is not the same - there is a march forward, cyclical though it might be. The days are going somewhere, for a reason. Especially in autumn I feel the tug of the land - those nights after school harvesting corn, plowing til 10:00 p.m. or midnight. The crisp chill in the air, the roar of the tractor, smell of diesel, smell of darkness. Well, at this stage, for me, there is no going back. I'm not sure I want to work that hard. But - How to find appropriate rituals to replace those I knew on the farm? That, Tom, is the question you should ask yourself and should spend some time in answering.

Definitely it is no longer summer - the long lay of light this morning, the coolness of the early part of the day, the color of the soybeans. We will even see leaves start to turn - they will have to, with nights as cool as those we've had. My mother has said the signs in Iowa point to an early, severe winter. I have not seen anything here yet, to suggest that.

A blue sky. Trees pretty much solid green, still. Soybeans that have turned. Another field of sweet corn taken. A great hunk of moon rock in the western sky. Far to the east, clouds are lining up along Lake Michigan. In western Montana there have been a lot of fires and the sky there is very hazy; there is not evidence of that in our western sky. Yet.

It is a holiday weekend just completed - Labor Day. The adults driving to work, the young nubbins walking to school - all have on their serious faces. We are so German that, going back, we think we must look the part - glum and serious and sincere. Such a great morning to enjoy - damn them if they cannot. Damn me if I don't.

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