Poetry anthology celebrates Lake Superior's many moods

Gary Boelhower stood near Lake Superior.
"The lake tells me over and over about humility and mystery and wonder," says Gary Boelhower. The poet and College of St. Scholastica theology professor contributed two poems to the anthology "Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior," which comes out this weekend.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

For longtime Duluth resident and poet Deb Cooper, Lake Superior exerts a kind of magnetic force. She can't imagine living anywhere else.

"Every time I travel away from Lake Superior, I feel like I'm sort of going against my own gravity," she said. "And there's always that pull to come back here. And I think it has that power over a lot of people."

Duluth poet Deborah Cooper
Poet Deborah Cooper helped edit "Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior," which is coming out this weekend.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Now Cooper has helped edit an anthology, "Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior," coming out this weekend. In an interview at Brighton Beach outside Duluth, she said the book's 70 poems capture the lake's many personalities.

"One of the things about this lake that is so wonderful and rich are the different moods, and we all have all of those different moods and emotions within us, so that's part of the connection," she said. "We all feel anger and rage; we all feel peaceful and serene."

Asked to describe the lake's mood on this sunny day, Cooper laughed and said, "She's kicking back. She's just kicking back."

Gary Boelhower's poem "After Sailing" captures the lake on one of those gentler days.

After Sailing All Day through the diamonds and silk of Superior, the rhythm of the waves still in my body. I dream the wind sings in my bones. Hollow flutes for a symphony of luster. And I am nothing.

Boelhower is a theology professor at the College of St. Scholastica. He comes early to the lakeshore to watch the sun rise.

"One of the things that this lake has taught me is how absolutely small I am, and how large is the mystery, how expansive is the world, and I play a little tiny, itty bitty part in it," he said. "And yet it's important."

"Amethyst and Agate" is the latest of more than 125 books published by Holy Cow! Press in Duluth. Jim Perlman has run the independent publisher for 38 years from a home office now filled with stacks of old manuscripts and ancient computer equipment.

Jim Perlman stood in his home office.
Jim Perlman, pictured here in the crowded home office of Holy Cow! Press, has published more than 125 books since he founded the small publishing company 38 years ago.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

"I don't know of many other presses that would take on a project of publishing poetry about Lake Superior," he said. "Perhaps it's because of my location, and my interest in publishing poetry books, that it just kind of all came together."

Perlman said this is the first poetry anthology published about Lake Superior that he's aware of. He received 300 entries from 140 different poets.

"The poems are magical, mysterious, and also reveal the mayhem that Lake Superior can be," he said.

Some of the poems express concern for environmental issues, and focus on keeping the lake clean and vital. Others are about the economy the lake supports, from shipping to mining to fishing. Many explore childhood memories. Several Native American poets write about their cultural ties to the lake.

What the poems share is an intimate connection to Superior. For singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen, that connection goes both ways. The lyrics for her song "Lake Superior — A Love Song from the Lake" are included as a poem in the anthology. She said it celebrates living through the seasons next to Lake Superior.

"And the other thing that it was, was a love song to us, from the lake," she said. "It wasn't me singing to the lake. The chorus is, 'The water will whisper a love song in your ear.' So it's Lake Superior singing a love song to us."

Thomsen will perform with some of the poets featured in the anthology at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe in Duluth.

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