Barton Sutter’s The Reindeer Camps and Other Poems: He Dares to Rhyme

Bart Sutter: Poet Laureate of Duluth
Bart Sutter: Poet Laureate of Duluth


I love me a good dog, I love me a good dog poem, and I love me some good Bart Sutter poetry!

The good dog I love is our mutt Murphy, aka Murf, the Murfster, Murfkins, Mur Mur, and Cur, as in “Drop that (baseball cap, napkin, New Yorker, sock, shoe…)!  Drop it right now!  DROP!  Now drop it, Murphy, I mean it!  O–kay, here’s a treat, you cur!  Now drop it. Good boy.

Now here’s a good dog poem I love (line breaks compliments of wordpress, not Bart):

Lessons I Learned from Our Dog
Sophie, a Husky-Shepherd Cross My Wife Picked from the Pound
Because She was Pretty and the Only Quiet Dog in the Room,
Who had been Found Half Starved, Wandering a Golf Course,
Who Ran Away Whenever She Got the Chance
But Still Chose to Live with Us for Thirteen Years

Be like me, the color of ploughed earth and autumn grass;
You’ll blend in when you want, win compliments besides.
Cock your head to the ground now and then. Wonder what’s down there. Dig.
Keep a wet nose and a whiff of the wolf about you. Never forget
The great gift of four legs. Run. Run. Run whenever you can.
Pity the two-legged ones, though they loom above you and dream they’re in charge.
One of the joys of this life is scouting ahead and ranging around,
But keep checking back on the less adventurous laggards
And look on them with compassion before you dash off.
Whenever you come to a fork in the path, wait for a sign
From the talking heads, for they are less carefree; they have ideas.
Crouch and sleek yourself before unfamiliar peers;
Lay back your ears, narrow your eyes, lower your tail, and growl.”
When biting your friends, go easy, go easy.
Know you can run the entire day away
And still be barely rebuked as long as you’re back by sundown.
Prodding by snout often results in petting by hand.
After you poop, kick up your heels. Never spend all of your piss in one place.
Birds can be snatched out of bushes more often than squirrels can be caught on the run.
The earth is worth listening to every once in a while.
There’s something down there. Dig. Keep digging.”
Welcome new snow not with dread but with bounding abandon.
Rain is something else again. And hail? Hail is hell.”
There is little to fear in this world except bridges, firecrackers, and thunder.
All of these fears can be overcome … except firecrackers and thunder.
A closet, a table, even a grand piano will serve as a den in a pinch.
Yapping’s for puppies. Barking’s barbaric. Howling,
However, is you, and clears the fog from your lungs.
Howl for your missing master, howl for your missing mistress,
Howl for the children grown up and gone,
Howl for the days they’ve kept your corralled, howl for the loss
Of your ancestors, no more nights running the frozen rivers by moonlight,
Howl for every indignity ever visited upon the race of dog,
Howl for the mute frustration of snuffles and woofs,
For the lack of language except for this heartfelt, gutfelt moan
By means of which you make your ultimate loneliness known.
Whining works wonders, but don’t overdo it. Butt-sniffing is fun.
Never walk when you can run. Keep digging. Keep digging.  [pix of Sophie is you have one]

It’s by Barton Sutter and the poetry I love is from his new collection of poems, The Reindeer Camps and Other Poems, published by BOA Editions.

Continue reading “Barton Sutter’s The Reindeer Camps and Other Poems: He Dares to Rhyme”

In Memoriam: Three Heron Poems

Although it was rightly eclipsed in the national news by the monster tornado that destroyed so much of Joplin, Missouri, here in Minneapolis we also suffered a serious tornado on Sunday, May 22.  It hit one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, the North Side, where many blacks live, and where hundreds of folks are now homeless.  More than 5,000 people were affected by major damage to their dwellings, many of them renters with little or no insurance.  As of late Tuesday, 7,000 homes and business were still without power.  The storm was responsible for two deaths and forty-eight injuries, and while it seems minor in light of Joplin, for those involved, it is major.

A sidebar to the human catastrophe was the destruction of a heron rookery on an island in the Mississippi River.  According to the Star Tribune, the island had been home to three dozen heron nests, each with possibly three eggs or hatchlings, and tended by a pair of adult herons.  All those nests were destroyed by the storm, and only a few of the estimated 50 trees remain standing on the island.  Now all that is left are a few adult herons flying circles around the mangled island or perched on splintered remains of trees.  It is estimated that many as 180 great blue herons were killed, injured or are missing.

When I read about the birds, I thought of Robert Bly’s poem that I had read recently in his new book, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey.  I was seeking some solace in poetry, and I thought I remembered a heron poem by Mary Oliver.  That led me to a website billed (no pun intended…) as “Cool Bird Poems: An E-Anthology of Avian Poetry,” which quickly provided me with several heron poems.  Here’s the link:  It is really cool, in part because it has the poetry alphabetized by bird initials; thus H, Heron.

Here in memory of the lost herons is the Bly poem; a lovely poem by Mary Oliver; and one I especially like by Polly Brown.  I read them differently now than I would have before Sunday’s storms.


No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

By Robert Bly, from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

Continue reading “In Memoriam: Three Heron Poems”

Robert Bly Crush

I have a mighty crush on Robert Bly.

The crush had been pushed to the back burner for a number of years (what with so many others to have crushes on) but it came rushing to the forefront again the other night when I heard him read at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

I can’t remember exactly when the crush began.  It must have been when I first moved to Minnesota, though I knew his poetry before then.  But now, having moved from the diversity of people and geography in the Bay area,  I was living in Minnesota, a flat, bland place as far as I could tell, and it seemed mind-boggling to me that Robert Bly, a great American poet, was from Western Minnesota. It didn’t make sense, it didn’t add up.  But great poets have to come from somewhere, and actually, they can come from anywhere.  Even Western Minnesota.  Even from Norwegian immigrant farmers (and who knows, maybe especially so).

So there I was in Minnesota and I knew nothing about hockey.  I don’t think I had even heard of hockey before moving to Minnesota.  You cannot live in Minnesota and not know something about hockey, such as what a hat trick is. It isn’t some amazing thing you do with your hat, like pulling a rabbit from it.  I could not “get” hockey and then I read Robert Bly’s prose poem “The Hockey Poem.”  Suddenly my eyes were opened.  Suddenly I saw hockey for the poetry in motion it is, when before I had found it fast, boring, and confusing.

Here are some excerpts from “The Hockey Poem”:

How weird the goalies look with their African masks!  The goalie is so lonely anyway, guarding a basket with nothing in it, his wide lower legs wide as ducks’….No matter what gift he is given, he always rejects it….He has a number like 1, a name like Mrazek, sometimes wobbling his legs waiting for the puck, or curling up like a baby in the womb to hold it, staying a second too long on the ice…

The goalie has gone out to mid-ice, and now he sails sadly back to his own box, slowly, he looks prehistoric with his rhinoceros legs, he looks as if he’s going to become extinct, and he’s just taking his time….

Suddenly they all come hurrying back, toward us, knees dipping, like oil wells, they rush toward us wildly, fins waving, they are pike swimming toward us, their gill fins expanding like the breasts of opera singers, no, they are twelve hands practicing penmanship on the same piece of paper….

And this man with his peaked mask, with slits, how fantastic he is, like a white insect, who has given up on evolution in this life, his family hopes to evolve after death…in the grave.   He’s as ominous as a Middle Ages Knight, the Black Prince…his enemies defeated him in daylight, but every one of them died in their beds that night…At his father’s funeral, he carried his own head under his arm….

You betcha!!!

Oh Robert Bly.  Where did that mind come from?  Western Minnesota.

Continue reading “Robert Bly Crush”

A Gary Snyder Reading

I went to a reading by the poet Gary Snyder last night at Plymouth Congregational Church, one of Minneapolis’s great liberal churches.  It was standing room only, and I was one of those standing.

Imagine your platonic ideal of a beloved, revered, erudite but approachable (male) professor of literature and that is what Gary Snyder, white hair and beard, a white shirt, tie and dark coat, looks like.  Born in 1930, he seemed hardy and vital, and cast a warm, benevolent spell over the audience, some of whom in the packed sanctuary were sitting in the choir loft, though they were not required to sing.  (Poetry Reading Alert: Robert Bly is reading at Plymouth on May 9th. I plan to camp out the night before to make sure I get a seat).

He started with older poems, some written when he worked in Yosemite and the high Sierras in the mid-fifties.  After reading “Piute Creek,” with the lines “A clear attentive mind/has no meaning but that/which sees is truly seen. No one loves rock, yet we are here.” he commented that the line about rock was not true, that many people love rock, including him, so “Why did I say that? — Ah, rhetoric.”  When he paused to make sure that people in the balcony could hear, he acknowledged that churches were not designed to be really audible—they could get in trouble if they were.  He had a gentle humor, reminding the audience that Basho distilled many hundreds of pages for his haiku, so “All you journal writers don’t have to publish everything…cut it all down…save us all a lot of trouble.”  I should take that advice with my blog…

He read several of the Cold Mountain poems, his translations of an 8th century Chinese poet, Han Shan, who may not have been just one person—no one knows for sure who wrote the original poems.  Snyder’s comment to this was, “If Homer didn’t write the Iliad, someone named Homer did.”  The Cold Mountain poems are beautiful, metaphoric, and have been used as koans.  Here’s one he read:

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders
The wide creek,
The mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though
There’s been no rain
The pine sings, but there’s no wind.
Who can leap the world’s ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Continue reading “A Gary Snyder Reading”