Mill Ruins Park, near 120 Portland Ave S, Minneapolis, MN.
If you can, spend some time on the Stone Arch Bridge, or down in the Mill Ruins Park before you call. (If you can’t, I’ll be posting more photos and video here in the blog to give you the feel.) The poem is the feature poem from May 6-9, and runs about 2 1/2 minutes. You don’t have to live in Minneapolis to love Dobby Gibson’s “The Minneapolis Poem”, you don’t have to visit Minneapolis, or have ever seen our fair city. You could even call (612) 223-POEM from your landline in rural France, and hear this poem, any time of day, any number of times.
Beyond hearing the poem, scroll down to read about Gibson’s inspiration and intentions for this and any other “The Minneapolis Poem”. -Cole
Any conversation about the relationship between poetry and place in Minneapolis has to go through a poem called “The Minneapolis Poem,” which James Wright published in Shall We Gather By the River in 1968. In fact, the earliest extant drafts of the poem, housed in the Anderson Library at the University of Minnesota, date back to 1964. This was the era of New Urbanism, which was turning the city upside down and uprooting entire neighborhoods, particularly the Gateway District along the river in which you’re presumably standing now.
In a letter from this time, Wright wrote that he hated Minneapolis “like death.” He wrote, “I am so unutterably miserable in the Midwest that I am numb for all of every day except in the very early morning hours, when I read and write. I’m afraid to speak of this, yet I must. I’m afraid, because I can’t seem to make anyone understand the dreadful, practically subconscious, effect that the landscape of a town makes on me.” OK, ya you betcha. Thank God he never lived to see the food court at the Mall of America!
I’ve never liked Wright’s “The Minneapolis Poem.” It’s always struck me as petty and cartoonish. To paraphrase an essay the poet Robert Hass wrote about Wright many years ago, Wright is interested in cataloguing the suffering of others only to the degree it can enact his own emotional life. (“I want to be lifted up” is this poem’s end plea.) This poem is a choice example of that tendency.
And then there’s the title: “The Minneapolis Poem.” Not “A Minneapolis Poem” — one of many — but the defining “The.” To me the title alone was an invitation for some undoing. So I wrote my own “The Minneapolis Poem.”
My poem is less homage than it is an act of preterition. Clearly, the shadow of Wright — along with John Berryman and Robert Bly, the other poet redwoods of Minneapolis named in my poem — loom large in this city, and must be grappled with as a part of its history. I don’t love everything these poets did, as my poem and this note makes clear, but I owe them all debts in different ways. (Even or especially Bly, whose translation work and championing of international poetry is one of the more underappreciated and under-discussed revolutions of Western poetry in the past 150 years,)
If I had one wish to go along with “The Minneapolis Poem” (either mine or Wright’s!), it’s that everyone who experiences it goes off and writes his or her own “The Minneapolis Poem.” Because this city, like its river or its ruins — or like poetry itself — is too big and too complicated to be defined by any one person. Everyone should have their own poem to carry in their back pocket to the airport. All of the poems here at Ring Ring Poetry seem like a pretty good start.