The Winona Fine Arts Commission (FAC) and the city of Winona are very pleased to announce the new public art initiative: The Winona Poetry Walk is installed and ready to be experienced. There will be a launching ceremony, free-of-charge, with many of the poets reading their selected poem on Friday, October 30, at 5:30 p.m. outside Blooming Grounds, 50 East Third Street.
The Winona Poetry Walk project consists of original poetry stamped into sidewalk throughout downtown on Third, Fourth, and Fifth streets.
The FAC requested submissions of original short poems (or parts of poems) and received a wonderful variety of responses. The first nine poems were selected: Jerome Christenson, Chris Kendall, Lorraine Kilmartin, Steve Leonhardt, and the five former poet laureates of Winona were included. Works from the past three Winona Poet Laureates James Armstrong, Ken McCullough, Emilio DeGrazia and the associate Poet Laureate Nicholle Ramsey, and as previously announced, Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Suptern were also selected. The mission of the Winona Poetry Walk is to celebrate local writers, make the creativity of residents more visible, and aesthetically and intellectually enrich the city.
A full map and brochure will be available at the Visitor’s Center, key downtown businesses, city hall in the Winona Park and Recreation Department, and online at the city of Winona website to be used to as a map and guide as you traverse.
The font for the Poetry Walk was designed by Winona State University Art and Design majors from Danilo Bojic’s typography class and is based on aesthetic inspiration taken from various landmarks in Winona. The student designers were Ellen Klismith, Morgan Sumter, Elizabeth Pierce, and Makenna Meyers.
In addition to these downtown locations, Winona residents have the opportunity to have their contractor borrow a poetry stamp and place a poem in the sidewalk outside their residence.
The selections were judged by a panel of local citizens with expertise in the arts and poetry chosen by the Fine Arts Commission. Below are the selected poems and short biographies of the poets.
by Jerome Christenson
A black throat chickadee
in pursuit of a seed.
by Chris Kendall
When swans fly at night
Over the river town
City lights bounce back
Off their snowy down
A ghostly vee
Riding the north wind
A traveling team
by Lorraine Kilmartin
Waltz. Stand on daddy’s wingtips.
Bobble in the wheelbarrow he pushes.
Surf hats, perched on his shoulders.
Fly solo: he let go of the bike.
Talk Dylan, protests, luna moths…
Cross at the light: so slow, so slow.
Nudge his wheelchair over the sill.
Kiss him goodnight, same as always
by Steve Leonhardt
Whatever burden you carry
May your steps spring light and easy
May you savor all the journey
May you feel at home
Even before you arrive
From the poet laureates
Laureate Joyce Sutphen
My father chose his words the way he
plowed a field: straight ahead from
one thought to another, rhyme
falling into rhyme behind the pull
a furrow makes, steady along
the progress of sounds turned over
each other, all the way to
the ending of the line.
by James Armstrong
What’s under you?
Layers of inhuman heartache, the
the basement that understands us,
on which the world pours
the unction of its tears
until they become a fragile mirror
moving with the breath of the wind.
by Emilio DeGrazia
Girl, nine years of wonder
On her face, sits on third,
Running her fingers
Along the wrinkles
Of my old leather mitt.
It’s last of the ninth,
In the world
The bases are loaded.
by Ken McCullough
I love these days of white space,
empty pages waiting. For anything.
For footprints the wind heals over,
for owls, hooting po-popopourri
then sweeping up the place. Sloped
shoulders of the barn are solid white.
The ponies have long white beards.
And the shadows are empty.
by Nicholle Ramsey
we said goodbye like hello.
like kayak concerts floating
in sound and sun.
we said goodbye like thank you.
this is where we learned
to mourn, to bloom
where we learned spring will come
About the poets
Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She earned a PhD in Renaissance drama from the University of Minnesota, and has taught British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn. Her first collection of poems, “Straight Out of View” (1995), won the Barnard Women’s Poets Prize. Subsequent collections include “Coming Back to the Body” (2000), a Minnesota Book Award finalist; “Naming the Stars” (2004), winner of the Minnesota Book Award; and “First Words” (2010).She has received a McKnight Artist Fellowship and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship and was named Minnesota’s poet laureate in 2011.
Emilio DeGrazia, a long-time resident of Winona, founded Great River Review in 1977. A collection of fiction, “Enemy Country” (New Rivers Press), was selected by Anne Tyler for a Writer’s Choice Award; and a novel, “Billy Brazil” (New Rivers Press), was chosen for a Minnesota Voices award. A second collection, “Seventeen Grams of Soul,” received a Minnesota Book Award in 1995; and a second novel, “A Canticle for Bread and Stones,” appeared in 1996. In the past few years DeGrazia published “Burying the Tree,” his first collection of essays; a memoir called “Walking on Air in a Field of Greens,” and “Seasonings,” a first collection of poetry; along with “Eye Shadow,” a work of creative nonfiction. Most recent is a book featuring Carol Stoa Senn’s creative work, “Shamu, Splash and Solemn.” He and his wife Monica also have co-edited three anthologies of Minnesota writing, and he has served two terms as Winona’s poet laureate. He will have a second book of poetry, “What Trees Know,” published in 2020. “Pasttime” was reprinted in full in the U.S.A. Today issue for February 25, 1988.
Ken McCullough’s poetry, stories, reviews, translations and illustrations have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. McCullough has received several awards for his poetry including the Academy of American Poets Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Pablo Neruda Award, a Galway Kinnell Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Award, the Blue Light Book Award, the Capricorn Book Award and the Jerome Foundation. McCullough lives in Winona with his wife Lynn Nankivil, a playwright. He was poet laureate of Winona for three terms. His most recent book of poetry is “Dark Stars” (his ninth, and second with Red Dragonfly Press). McCullough has worked closely with Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur on U’s poetry, “Sacred Vows” (a bilingual edition), as well as U’s memoir, “Crossing Three Wildernesses,” both with Coffee House Press.
James Armstrong has published poems in Triquarterly, Gulf Coast, Orion, The Snowy Egret, The New York Times Book Review, Shade, Poetry East and elsewhere. He is the author of two poetry books, “Monument in a Summer Hat” (New Issues Press, 1999) and “Blue Lash” (Milkweed Editions, 2006), and is the co-author of a book of essays, “Nature, Culture and Two Friends Talking” (North Star Press 2015). Armstrong is a recipient of the PEN-New England Discovery Prize, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in poetry. He is a professor of English at Winona State University in Winona. He was Winona’s first poet laureate.
Nicholle Ramsey is a spoken-word artist who found her home and voice in the driftless region. She has performed at events such as Midwest Music Fest and the Live at the Levee series. She was Winona’s associate poet laureate from 2017-2019 and worked close with several other poets in the area.
Jerome Christenson is the former head word doctor and chief pixel wrangler for the Winona Daily News. He’s lived his entire life in that part of Minnesota wedged between Wisconsin and Iowa, where he grew up reading Mike Royko and thinking that was a pretty cushy way to make a living. He was right about that. Christenson’s personal history in Winona dates to days (and nights) as a student at Winona State College. Professor Henry Hull’s incomparable stories of exploding steamboats, rampaging buffalo and the ladies of Second Street “who would go steady for money” sparked a fascination with arcane local lore he continues to pursue nearly four decades later, even when he should be working on something else. He was recently turned out to (greener?) pastures after 18 years of feeding the daily beast. Not being the retiring sort and despite being socially secure, he still inflicts his notions of how things ought to be on folks who absent-mindedly pick up the paper or make a misbegotten mouse-click online. He makes the occasional foray into verse when the spirit (or spirits) move him, especially after hanging out with old friends Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker.
Chris Kendall is recently retired from 33 years in student life at Saint Mary’s University. He made it a habit to start most mornings writing song lyrics/poems in the bathtub for the last 25 years. He picks up his pen and asks “What have I been thinking about?” Many themes revolve around the people and nature of Winona.
Steve Leonhardi is originally from the Twin Cities and has taught for the Peace Corps in West Africa, worked as a corporate actuary in downtown Minneapolis, and trekked in Nepal. He took harmonica lessons in graduate school but has never quite broken through to the next level musically. He is grateful for kind, fun friends and neighbors in Winona, where he and his family have spent the past 25 years appreciating poetry, live music, the arts, nature, the search for truth, science, mathematics, and community.
Lorraine Kilmartin got hooked on writing when she was selected to read her original short story at the fourth-grade expo. A beloved aunt, a local Brooklyn poet, was her first mentor and supporter. Her older siblings, both gifted writers, served as inspiration, as well. In graduate school, the exacting standards of a medieval theology professor encouraged clarity and coherence in academic writing. Before retirement, Kilmartin worked first as a teacher, then as an editor, reviewer, and writer of educational materials. Her writing life now consists of sporadic attempts at flash fiction, and an occasional poem.