I met Joyce Sutphen in May of 2000, when I was taking a course titled The Discovery of Poetry, named for the book of the same title. MDB was teaching the course (and his instructorship would later inspire me to focus on poetry in the creative writing field) but his sister in England passed away and he had to return home, leaving two others to take his place in the three-week May session course. Joyce Sutphen took the middle week, guiding us through the steps, delighting in our memorized poetry (I loved Anne Sexton's "The Kiss" and this was the first time I heard that ee cummings poem used often in weddings).
After she taught at the university, in one of those sweaty rooms in Lind Hall, I read one book after another by this quiet-spoken poet and fell in love.
So when Scott King, editor of Red Dragonfly Press, published her most recent book, and she had a reading during one of the Anderson Center's open studio celebrations, I was pleased to sit shyly in the back of a small room and listen to her quietly read gorgeous poems of farmland, home and landscape. (See above photo.) I lingered after, wanting her to sign my copy of her chapbook Red Dragonfly did five years previous, and she recognized me--not likely from the week-long stint she did a decade before, but perhaps at our faces surfacing at the same literary events. We spoke--she, encouraging and warm--about MFA programs, about the small circle of poets she is a part of and I admire. She's gracious and humble and truly talented.
I remember when I was student teaching in 2005 and I would clip articles from the newspaper about the battle for a state poet laureate. Pawlenty resisted for a time, but in 2008, he named Robert Bly as the first laureate. Before this though, I remember reading:
And I remember promptly rolling my eyes. (I was not saddened when I heard Pawlenty was stepping out of the race for Republican nomination for president.)"Even though we have a state 'folklorist,' I also have concern this will lead to calls for other similar positions. We could also see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter."
Bly was an obvious choice, with his bluster, his shock of white hair, his Iron John-ness, his morning poems, and his prolific volumes of translation. I enjoy many of his poems. And from what I understand of the post, a laureate is meant to promote poetry within the state, more or less. Bly fit this bill properly, being a commonly read poet, one who could bring poetry back to the familiar and the comforting.
I remember his coming to MDB's class once (this one titled The Poet in the World, which I adored). I remember learning MDB's wife was Carol Bly's niece. I would have loved to sit at that table in Madison, Minnesota. I remember seeing him at the Poets Against the War events that cropped up not long after 9/11.
They're a study in contrasts in the social realm of mannerisms, but their poetry* glows with rich imagery and quiet observations (*or rather, my favorite Bly poems along with all Sutphen poems). There's fantastic comfort in reading a book of Sutphen's poems. There's something about them that makes me want to return to those pages again and again and live in that world.
I also will puff out my own chest and say that Joyce was kind enough to blurb (and swiftly so) my humble chapbook. (Thank you, thank you!)
What makes me happiest about reading this announcement is knowing just how much she truly, truly deserves it. Congratulations, Joyce. I am happy to live in this state, proud to be a poet in a landscape you represent.