Winona poet laureate and associate poet laureate performed newly commissioned poems at Levee Park grand re-opening ceremony


Winona Poet Laureate Ken McCullough and Associate Poet Laureate Nicholle Ramsey performed their original poems commissioned for the re-opening of Levee Park on June 24.

McCullough read his poem “The Levee: Then and Now (for Mayor Mark Peterson)” at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. After a quote from the great novel by Norman McLean, “A River Runs Through It,” his poem opened with:

If you took a time lapse photo of the levee
you’d see the cycles, the ebb and flow —
the river swollen from bluff to bluff
or shallow enough to herd your cattle to Wisconsin

After a depiction of all that the levee has meant over the generations both historically and personally, McCullough concluded with a reference to McClean once more:

And when we look through this arch
with its brilliant stained glass panels,
when we look toward the river, we see the history we share.
We’ll see new art, hear new music, dance new dances,
in concert with the old, the river flowing in our veins.
Winona, the firstborn daughter, who adopted all of us,
is back to stay: “… all things merge into one,
and a river runs through it.”

Ramsey performed her poem “meet me at the levee” at the Live @the Levee concert, on stage as Larry Long’s American Roots Revue performed their song about the levee and freedom. Her poem was spoken during a music interlude in the song and concluded with:

tonight we will dance
find rhythm in this freshly
laid pavement
look up to see
the shades of blues and pinks
and purples dance through the sky
until the sun sets its smile behind the bridge.
and tomorrow, we’ll meet at the levee again

McCullough, who has lived in Winona since 1996, is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He has published eight books of poetry, and a volume of short fiction. His poetry, translations, illustrations, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in over 250 magazines and 50 anthologies. He has received many awards for his poetry, most recently grants from SEMAC and the Minnesota State Arts Board. McCullough has taught at several universities, as well as the poetry in the schools programs in Montana, South Carolina and Iowa, and has given workshops in grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities, senior centers and prisons. This is McCullough’s third term as Winona’s poet laureate.

Ramsey is a slam poet, barista, and Catholic worker who moved to Winona in 2013. Since moving to the area she has found a niche for spoken word in this town. She has performed her poetry for the Winona County Attorney’s Office’s “Night for Survivors,” Mid West Music Fest, various events hosted by Saint Mary’s University, as well as open mics all around the driftless region. She assisted in the early planning of Winona’s own Black Sheep Poetry Collective. She is excited to continue bringing spoken word into the community and to become the first associate poet laureate.


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