Minnesota Poet Laureate gives poetry reading at Royalton Public Library

Stearns County native writes about her roots on farm

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

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Minnesota’s Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen, read samples of her poetry during a reading at the Royalton Public Library Wednesday. Joyce is shown above (at left), being watched by her mother, Rita Rassier.

Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota’s poet laureate and child of the rural farming center of Minnesota, was back in the country Wednesday, “where a town is a gathering of houses, streets, and the very basic things:  a library, some parks, a church or two and (I hope) a good café or two,” she said.

Sutphen grew up on a farm in St. Joseph, the eldest of nine children. She recalls her father making up rhymes for the kids.

“It was in high school that I began writing poety simply as artistic expression,” said Sutphen. “I had a little notebook and would write on school trips, during free moments.”

She also wrote some things for the Cathedral High School literary magazine, “Caedmon’s Song.”

Sutphen is a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, teaching a range of courses in poetry, British literature and creative writing. She first visited Royalton Public Library in 2009.

“Poetry gives us something we don’t know we need. It slows things down and helps us look at the details of the world:  the way leaves fall from a tree, the sound of a voice, something (anything!) that we usually only glimpse in the wild rush of our lives,” she said.

“I’m afraid that many people are afraid of poems; they think they are going to be confronted by a sort of puzzle — that they’ll have to ‘figure it out’ to see what it ‘really’ means,” said Sutphen.

She hopes that poems will give people permission to relax and linger in the moment.

Many of Sutphen’s poems have a theme associated with farm life. “My affinity for farms is especially for small ones — the kind that are disappearing from the landscape,” she said. “There was something so human about the typical homestead-size farm.”

Sutphen understands her role as poet laureate is to make occasions for reading poetry, to be an ambassador for that “country” of imagination and sound, hoping more people will see what a gift a single poem can be along whatever road they’re traveling.