Listen Reading: "Ode to a man in dress clothes"
May 5, 2016
Listen Reading: "Gregory"
May 5, 2016
Listen Reading: "Powderhorn, after the Storm"
May 5, 2016
Listen Story audio
The May Day Café, not far from Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis, has a comfortable hippy, lived-in feel — a perfect office for a poet.
"I'm here most days. Sometimes more than once a day," Gretchen Marquette said recently as the place buzzed with the chatter of conversations and a callout to find who ordered the vegan pizza. "It just means a great deal to me to see the same people, to know there are a lot of artists and writers who spend time here and so I can have these extended conversations and then get back to work."
The café provides more than a chair and table for Marquette. It delivered inspiration for her new collection, so much so that she named the book, "May Day." The poems plumb stories of lost love and anxiety, but each unearths glimpses of life's wonder. Marquette wrote many of them while sitting at the May Day.
The poems are about many things, but there are two central themes: the end of a passionate love affair and the anxiety of having her younger brother serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marquette said she still finds it hard to read the poems about that lost love, even though it ended some four years ago. She's happier to talk about her brother. In the poem "Gregory," she writes about going to West Point to see him graduate. One section sticks out.
I kept mistaking
another girl's brother for him, marching in formation,
soft haircuts under plumes of black feathers.
He was already less ours.
Marquette said her brother shipped out just a month after graduation. After he left, she said she felt an inescapable tension.
"And then I would realize I was anxious about my brother being gone," she said. "And there was nothing I could do to calm myself or comfort myself, that I couldn't speak to him, even though I wanted to. I just had to sit with that."
So as she sat, she wrote.
There were poems about her brother, her lost love, the nature around her, her dogs and Powderhorn Park. Some are sad, others funny. All are filled with empathy.
She wrote about a man in dress clothes she saw trying to maintain a brave face while sweating one summer day in a coffee shop near the airport.
When I see a man
in a dress shirt, I want
to walk up behind him,
place my hand
between his shoulders
to rest it there
for a moment.
Marquette says "Ode to a man in dress clothes" has become her best-known poem. She'll probably read it at the "May Day" publication party Saturday evening at the Uptown Church in Minneapolis.
Jeff Shotts, her editor at Graywolf Press, calls the collection a book about "somebody who had been wrecked by grief and was desperately trying to find her way back into a world she loved."
Marquette said it's been exciting and scary to have her work go out into the world and to hear back from readers who say they recognize things in her poems that they have experienced alone. Her brother is back safe from his tours of duty. But she is careful to say "May Day" doesn't promise happy endings.
"It's not about things becoming easier in life but about accepting certain things about how life doesn't always go the way you want it to," she said, "and being able to sort of find the beauty in those moments even when things have sort of gone off the rails."