Mark Vinz recalls hating poetry when he was growing up. Misbehave in school, and memorizing poetry was the punishment. But by the time he finished college, Vinz wanted to be a writer.
He joined the Moorhead State University english department in 1968. After living in the mountains of New Mexico, the Red River Valley was a difficult place to be poetic.
"I came here and the Red River Valley was just this void, I hadn't discovered the beauties of the prairie. I look back at some of those early poems and they were just poems about being unhappy here. Sullen Viking gods squatting on the prairie and things like that," says Vinz with a laugh. Several years and hundreds of poems later, Mark Vinz made peace with the place he's now pleased to call home.
"People would say why do you write and I could never say why I did, I could only say I can't imagine my life without doing it."
"This is my home. I know this place, this place is part of me and I'm part of it and I understand it. I'm writing as an insider rather than an outsider," says Vinz, "and that's a remarkable discovery to make."
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Mark Vinz writes about love and death, but he also writes about things like snowstorms, hitting a deer on the highway, and rhubarb.
"Poetry is a way of seeing, a way of discovering; it's learning how to see, it's learning how to hear. It's learning how to appreciate those things we take for granted," says Vinz. "There are all kinds of things to write about, but certainly an important voice in poetry celebrates the everyday."
"I think poetry finally is about being human. It's about what we have in common, it's about the things we have to face, the things that we all go through; falling in love, fear of death," says Vinz. "Poetry to me, more than any other kind of writing, deals with those human emotions we all share."
Mark Vinz is author or editor of more than 15 poetry collections. He's recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry. Honors include three Minnesota book awards, and a poet laureate title in North Dakota. Mark Vinz will step away from the classroom this spring after 40 years, but the kid who hated poetry doubts he will ever stop writing.
"After a few years it became something I realized I couldn't not do," explains Vinz. "People would say why do you write and I could never say why I did, I could only say I can't imagine my life without doing it."
Minnesota State University - Moorhead has published a chapbook of poems selected by Mark Vinz. He will share his poetry and sign books at a farewell reading at the university on April 26th.