Listen: Barton Sutter, author of poetry collection The Book of Names
0:00

A Voices from the Heartland Q&A with Duluth poet Barton Sutter. Feature includes Sutter reading of “Taconite Harbor,” and a discussion on his poetry collection “The Book of Names.”

Transcript:

(00:00:01) The houses stand still but the people are gone as if somebody had dropped a neutron bomb the families who lived here put their trust in a company that cared about money alone. They called these look-alike houses home Ally that lasted till the mine went bust How could an entire town be so naive you shake your head in disbelief note the scrawny trees that cast no shade the asphalt streets were children play. Laid the overgrown Gardens the scruffy Lawns the way the picture windows seemed to yawn. There was never a church a school or a store and nobody has lived here in a year or more. Some houses will be moved the rest torn down. No one ever lived here. There's no such Town The Familiar voice of author Bart and Sutter reading the poem taconite Harbor from his new work the book of names published by Bow editions Barton Sutter speaks to us each month from his home in Duluth chronicling lifelong the North Shore of Minnesota the Inland sea called Superior the people who live along its craggy Shore and the often Fierce forces of nature are themes that appear again and again in his work of art and Sutter loves to write and to read his work as Is heard there's a bit of the actor along with the writer behind the mustache and we're pleased to welcome both parts to our studio this morning. Good to see you Martin. Thanks for coming in today. Thank you Perry good to see you that that poem taconite Harbor angry. How would you how would you describe it? Oh, yeah. There's a little anger in there. You know, it's so amazing. It's such a surprise you think of ghost

(00:01:39) towns is something in the old west and here they are right in Minnesota. That was a town that you know had people living in it. They live their lives now and know that town is gone and it's up there on the North Shore, you know near Grand Marais.

(00:01:53) What was your connection to is appearing to Tech and at Harvard, you know, no real close connection except that you know, it's a little odd little town that was

(00:02:00) just really a company town with people's lives being lived out there and very simple very plain and I passed it many times since I was a kid really going up North Shore

(00:02:11) we talked about that one poem obviously a whole collection here. What are the kinds of things that When are your thought processes as you collected these

(00:02:20) poems? Well, this is a group of poems that goes back over my life so far. This is a new and selected volume. I feel pretty lucky to have such a collection not everybody gets those so

(00:02:34) I took what I thought were the best of the poems from

(00:02:37) the first two Collections and then I had some new ones to add

(00:02:41) and a looking over the collection. I

(00:02:44) guess. I see that the things that stand out most Mostly are that I used a whole variety of forms from a long line free verse through the old traditional forms to some prose poems. And then the other thing

(00:02:58) is all the midwestern

(00:03:01) characters. That's been

(00:03:04) that's been something that I've tried to do almost from the beginning was to

(00:03:07) tell stories and put some people in the poems other than myself and and so it's the the book is called the book of names because there are Many people named and in the book. In fact, many of the poems take the names of the characters that the poems are about. So it was like seeing a lot of Old Friends really them all collected in one volume.

(00:03:29) And so then do you know before the work what what what shape it will take or does that does it happen after

(00:03:35) do you mean no The Collection as a book? Yeah or even each

(00:03:38) poem while you kind of talked about it. So it's old friends as real people. Are you thinking do you know exactly what you want to say? Oh, no. No, no, if I knew

(00:03:48) exactly what I wanted to say. I probably wouldn't write because a lot of the thrill is finding out what you didn't know you had to say, you know, stumbling and coming to surprises in the end. Robert Frost used to say no surprise in the writer. No surprise in the reader. And so you kind of find your way to something you usually have more to say and different things to say than you thought you did in the beginning as far as putting a whole collection together as the Bit like shaping a poem Only on a grander scale seeing what's going to fit next to what and and you can have a lot of fun moving from one poem into the other and so

(00:04:28) what's like to perform the poem your own work you you mentioned your kind of an actor at hard. Anyway. Wow, I probably shy actor I did a little acting in high

(00:04:38) school, but I had to give it up because I had such terrible nightmares about forgetting

(00:04:43) my - oh, no, haven't we all had that right? I really like to get the

(00:04:50) poem across to an audience for me it almost feels as if the poem is not finished until I can make that connection and I don't think

(00:04:57) that that's true at all for

(00:04:59) for all writers. Especially a lot of novelists just like to stay home and a lot of people take up writing I think because they can only think of what they should have said after the fact But for me, a lot of the excitement is getting the poem across and I've been doing it for a long time. I'm a I'm a preacher's kid, you know and probably a lot of that sunday-school skit and get up on your hind legs and seeing attitude still in me somewhere. You know,

(00:05:34) let's hear some more of the next poem is called mrs. And I think you want to set it up a little bit. So go ahead. Yeah. This is this is a poem about

(00:05:43) a landlady that I had I written a couple of poems about her. My ex-wife and I lived over this old German farm woman in Stearns County and she was a real Wonder a quilter and I think that she was what up in her seventies at the time and real kind of shy but proud woman and she had great stories. If and when you could get it going to take to Value her own

(00:06:09) experience. So this is her voice in this

(00:06:12) poem. And that's for me has been some of the excitement about right. From the beginning was to get try to capture some of these Midwestern voices.

(00:06:21) So I'll just do a piece

(00:06:22) of this from the middle of a rather long

(00:06:24) poem. When I and Pete got married, we didn't have a penny she'll begin

(00:06:31) and she'll be gone

(00:06:33) newlywed again working in the fields beside her husband. She'll give birth to Children raise them up and love them

(00:06:41) though. She'll never say

(00:06:42) so love shall scoff. Now. There's a word you hear on television. I and Pete we never well, you just never used it. You had the kids you fed them good you made their It was my goodness. You looked after them and when you couldn't do for them the way you wanted to you felt bad. What else

(00:07:03) is there? Silence we won't know what to answer.

(00:07:09) So she'll go back to Pete. I and Pete I and Pete phrase that show repeat like a

(00:07:16) pattern in her fancy work.

(00:07:18) She'll tell us how the man-made Homebrew in the barn during prohibition and sold it at the Rockville

(00:07:23) dance how he was big

(00:07:26) how he could eat how he grew tons of onions flagged his neighbor's down and forced them to accept his aromatic gifts. How he was crazy over horses hated tractors and when he finally bought one how he drove it in the ditch pulling on the steering wheel and shouting. Whoa, she'll keep his memory alive by laughing at him the name beside her number in the phone book won't be hers, but his and the brass crucifix. She snatched off his casket at the funeral will be fastened to the wall. Her own name Magdalena is majestic Ark Angelic, but will respect her

(00:08:08) wishes and never call her anything but misses.

Transcripts

text | pdf |

BARTON SUTTER: The houses stand still, but the people are gone,

As if somebody had dropped a neutron bomb.

The families who lived here put their trust in a company that cared about money alone.

They called these look-alike houses home,

A lie that lasted till the mine went bust.

How could an entire town be so naive?

You shake your head in disbelief.

Note the scrawny trees that cast no shade,

The asphalt streets where children played,

The overgrown gardens, the scruffy lawns,

The way the picture windows seem to yawn.

There was never a church, a school, or a store.

And nobody has lived here in a year or more.

Some houses will be moved,

The rest torn down.

No one ever lived here.

There's no such town.

PERRY FINNELI: The familiar voice of author Barton Sutter reading the poem "Taconite Harbor" from his new work, The Book of Names, published by BOA Editions. Barton Sutter speaks to us each month from his home in Duluth, chronicling life along the North Shore of Minnesota, the inland sea called Superior. The people who live along its craggy shore and the often fierce forces of nature are themes that appear again and again in his work. Barton Sutter loves to write and to read his work. As we just heard, there's a bit of the actor along with the writer behind the mustache, and we're pleased to welcome both parts to our studio this morning. Good to see you, Barton. Thanks for coming in today.

BARTON SUTTER: Thank you, Perry. Good to see you.

PERRY FINNELI: That poem, "Taconite Harbor," angry? How would you describe it?

BARTON SUTTER: Oh yeah, there's a little anger in there. It's so amazing. It's such a surprise. You think of ghost towns as something in the Old West, and here they are, right in Minnesota. That was a town that had people living in it. They lived their lives now, and now that town is gone. And it's up there on the North Shore, near Grand Marais. Stopped there one day.

PERRY FINNELI: What was your connection to it--

BARTON SUTTER: It's disappearing.

PERRY FINNELI: --to Taconite Harbor?

BARTON SUTTER: No real close connection, except that it's a odd little town that was just really a company town with lives being lived out there, and very simple, very plain. And I passed it many times since I was a kid, really, going up the North Shore.

PERRY FINNELI: We talked about that one poem, obviously a whole collection here. What are the kinds of things that went into your thought processes as you collected these poems?

BARTON SUTTER: Well, this is a group of poems that goes back over my life so far. This is a new and selected volume. I feel pretty lucky to have such a collection. Not everybody gets those.

So I took what I thought were the best of the poems from the first two collections, and then I had some new ones to add. And now, looking over the collection, I guess I see that the things that stand out mostly are that I used a whole variety of forms from long-line free verse, through the old traditional forms, to some prose poems.

And then the other thing is all the Midwestern characters, that's been something that I've tried to do almost from the beginning, was to tell stories and put some people in the poems other than myself. And so the book is called The Book of Names because there are so many people named in the book. In fact, many of the poems take the names of the characters that the poems are about. So it was like seeing a lot of old friends, really, to get them all collected in one volume.

PERRY FINNELI: And so then do you know before the work what shape it will take, or does that happen after?

BARTON SUTTER: Do you mean now the collection as a book?

PERRY FINNELI: Yeah, or even each poem.

BARTON SUTTER: Well, you--

PERRY FINNELI: Because you talked about it's old friends. It's real people. Are you thinking-- do you know exactly what you want to say--

BARTON SUTTER: Oh no, no, no, no.

PERRY FINNELI: --prior?

BARTON SUTTER: If I knew exactly what I wanted to say, I probably wouldn't write because a lot of the thrill is finding out what you didn't know you had to say, stumbling and coming to surprises in the end. Robert Frost used to say, no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. And so you find your way to something. You usually have more to say and different things to say than you thought you did in the beginning.

As far as putting a whole collection together, that's a little bit like shaping a poem, only on a grander scale, seeing what's going to fit next to what. And you can have a lot of fun moving from one poem into the other and so on.

PERRY FINNELI: What's it like to perform the poem, your own work? You mentioned you're kind of an actor at heart anyway.

BARTON SUTTER: Well, I'm probably a shy actor. I did a little acting in high school, but I had to give it up because I had such terrible nightmares about forgetting my lines.

PERRY FINNELI: Haven't we all had that, right?

BARTON SUTTER: I really like to get the poem across to an audience. For me, it almost feels as if the poem is not finished until I can make that connection. And I don't think that that's true at all for all writers, especially a lot of novelists just like to stay home. And a lot of people take up writing, I think, because they can only think of what they should have said after the fact. But for me, a lot of the excitement is getting the poem across.

And I've been doing it for a long time. I'm a preacher's kid. And there's probably a lot of that Sunday school skit and get up on your hind legs and sing attitude still in me somewhere.

PERRY FINNELI: Well, let's hear some more. The next poem is called Mrs. And I think you want to set it up a little bit. So go ahead.

BARTON SUTTER: Yeah, this is a poem about a landlady that I had. I had written a couple of poems about her. My ex-wife and I lived over this old German farm woman in Stearns County, and she was a real wonder, a quilter. And I think that she was, what, up in her 70s at the time. And real kind of shy but proud woman. And she had great stories, if and when you could get her going to take to value her own experience.

So this is her voice in this poem. And that, for me, has been some of the excitement about writing from the beginning, was to try to capture some of these Midwestern voices. So I'll just do a piece of this from the middle of a rather long poem.

When I and Pete got married, we didn't have a penny,

She'll begin, and she'll be gone.

Newlywed again, working in the fields beside her husband.

She'll give birth to children, raise them up, and love them, though she'll never say so.

Love, she'll scoff, now, there's a word you hear on television.

I and Pete, we never.

Well, you just never used it.

You had the kids. You fed them good. You made their clothes.

My goodness, you looked after them. And when you couldn't do for them the way you wanted to, you felt bad.

What else is there?

Silence. We won't know what to answer.

So she'll go back to Pete.

I and Pete. I and Pete, a phrase that she'll repeat like a pattern in her fancy work.

She'll tell us how the man made home brew in the barn during prohibition and sold it at the Rockville dance,

How he was big, how he could eat, how he grew tons of onions, flagged his neighbors down and forced them to accept his aromatic gifts,

How he was crazy over horses, hated tractors, and, when he finally bought one, how he drove it in the ditch, pulling on the steering wheel and shouting, Whoa!

She'll keep his memory alive by laughing at him.

The name beside her number in the phone book won't be hers, but his.

And the brass crucifix she snatched off his casket at the funeral will be fastened to the wall.

Her own name, Magdalena, is majestic, archangelic.

But we'll respect her wishes and never call her anything but Mrs.

Funders

Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

This Story Appears in the Following Collections

Views and opinions expressed in the content do not represent the opinions of APMG. APMG is not responsible for objectionable content and language represented on the site. Please use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report a piece of content. Thank you.

Transcriptions provided are machine generated, and while APMG makes the best effort for accuracy, mistakes will happen. Please excuse these errors and use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report an error. Thank you.

< path d="M23.5-64c0 0.1 0 0.1 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.3-0.1 0.4 -0.2 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.3 0 0 0 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.1 0 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.2 0 0.4-0.1 0.5-0.1 0.2 0 0.4 0 0.6-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.1-0.3 0.3-0.5 0.1-0.1 0.3 0 0.4-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.3-0.3 0.4-0.5 0-0.1 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1-0.3 0-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.2 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.3 0-0.2 0-0.4-0.1-0.5 -0.4-0.7-1.2-0.9-2-0.8 -0.2 0-0.3 0.1-0.4 0.2 -0.2 0.1-0.1 0.2-0.3 0.2 -0.1 0-0.2 0.1-0.2 0.2C23.5-64 23.5-64.1 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64"/>