Listen: Voices from the Heartland - A Citizen of the Milky Way by Barton Sutter

On this Voices of the Heartland segment, Duluth poet Barton Sutter provides a commentary on the late Minneapolis poet John Engman in a reading of “Citizen of the Milky Way: Eulogy to John Engman.”


(00:00:00) On the evening of December 10th, Minnesota and the nation lost one of its best poets. Not that the country cared America was largely unaware of John Anglin who lived and wrote in a small apartment at 1916 Colfax Avenue South in Minneapolis. Our populace prefers junk movies to soulful poetry. But if it has to have poets America wants them young and suicidal like Sylvia Plath or old and cozy like Robert Frost John inkman A sly sarcastic white male of 47 didn't quite qualify for either roll. But I think there's hope for his reputation now because Above All America likes its poets to be dead. And now John Eggman is dead. If I sound bitter it's because I am I'm bitter because Eggman was essentially rejected by the society to which he offered His Marvelous gifts. His life was far from easy things did not go well for starters. He was an adopted child and though he felt supremely lucky about his adopted family. That early abandonment was lodged in his bones as an adult. Eggman was urban hip the funniest man I've ever met and yet he was surrounded always buy an air of unsolvable loneliness. Eggman earned degrees from Augsburg College in the famous Iowa Writers Workshop with a modest goal in mind to become a professor of creative writing, but he could not land a full-time job or even an interview. So Eggman worked as a waiter and then for many years he served as a counselor to mentally ill adolescents at Fairview Hospital in his 30s and 40s. He taught part-time at The Loft st. Olaf and the University of Minnesota finally in recent years desperate for money. He began working as a temp in the corporate monoliths of downtown Minneapolis at the time of his death Eggman was employed as a kind of executive secretary in the offices of Pillsbury. Reading the title of his last brilliant book of poems temporary help was richly ironic. He might as well have called it help. The miracle is that out of this impoverished difficult life Eggman managed to make magnificent original permanent poems during the 20 years. I knew him John could only afford rattletrap cars. His apartment was a mess. He seemed to survive on beer and frozen pizzas, but he guarded his writing time like a junkyard dog and the literary standards to which he held himself. We're as high as they come. Everyone knows a poem that can't beat Death isn't art. He said once in a poem. And he meant it eggman's best work much of it still unpublished was built to last as long as anyone speaks English. Out of his work on the psych ward and Men wrote startling tributes to the crazy teenagers. He tried to save he composed one poem for a suicidal boy possessed by voices in his belly that kept telling him to cut something cut something. He made another for a girl who wrote I love you on the wall with her own excrement. He wrote the funniest poem about teaching I've ever seen Eggman chose and succeeded with impossible topics. He wrote a sestina about the Federal Reserve Bank building. He celebrated the Sorrows of apartment life. He honored those Desperados who work in office cubicles their faces lit by computer glow England populated his poems with sad silly people trapped in mundane Lives who longed for something better? And he insisted on their dignity. Tell the truth the characters in one of his poems protest talking back to their creator that we are citizens of the Milky Way, and we can sing We Can Make Love We Can Dance. John died during Advent and that seems appropriate now because he once wrote A Goofy Christmas poem in which he imagined himself as an angel as Santa Claus as a Salvation Army worker trying to save the world as a poet. Of course, that's what John was up to that was his job saving the world in the best language. He could fashion saving the world is the work of angels 2 and that's how John appeared to his good friend Carolyn his first night in the hospital. but all after the aneurysm dropped him John went into a coma and that night Carolyn was troubled by chaotic dreams her dreams were crazy painful, but John appeared in all of them as if he could explain he was wearing his black sweatshirt tattered jeans and clogs and he was flying out of the dark as in a Cheesy theater. He dangled on a rope zooming back and forth through all her dreams. His wings were made of cardboard covered with gold foil and stuck to his body with duct tape from his mouth dangled a burning cigarette attacking Angel to be sure but an angel nonetheless and perfectly in character. How this vision of the poet cheered us those of us who loved him as I drove home after seeing Eggman in the hospital. I knew that he was going going gone, but I was consoled by Carolyn's vision and I imagine John as he had imagined Jesus wants ascending into heaven on the static of Television Airwaves dodging episodes of Guiding Light. Oh, yes and Groucho Marx and the Jerry Lewis Telethon coasting on his cardboard Wings ducking satellites sailing out beyond the wreckage of the Space Program going going gone to his apartment in the stars. I saw him check his mail and let himself inside the new apartment which to my surprise looked exactly like the old one here on Earth except classier and cleaner a basket of fresh laundry. Waited on the couch. there were peaches in the freezer and a six-pack in the fridge John popped a beer and tried to relax in an overstuffed chair, but it wasn't easy his cardboard wings were in the way and he swore beneath his breath the wings would take some getting used to but then he settled back blew out a sigh and gazed with satisfaction at his answering machine, which was blinking with a hundred frantic messages. All I Ever Wanted Eamon wrote once in a poem was a nice cold beer and a booth with a view of the local scene that and the adulation of Millions All amen found in his short life was the beer and the booth but the adulation I felt certain now the adulation would be coming soon.


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"/>