Posted in Fall Writing Series, news, visiting writers, workshops

2014 Fall Writing Series wraps up with nonfiction writer

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By Kelsey Block

On Wednesday, Nov. 19, the Center for Poetry welcomed nonfiction writer Jim Minick as the last guest in the Fall Writing Series. Throughout the week, Minick visited two RCAH classes in addition to reading from his memoir, The Blueberry Years: A Memoir a Farm and Family and an essay in which he explores the question, “How can I be both a vegan and a deer hunter?” He concluded the reading with a poem titled “The Intimacy of Spoons,” which you can view here.

Minick said he’s always loved blueberries. He and his wife, Sarah, planted their organic blueberry farm in the spring of 1995. He said they decided to farm organically because they couldn’t see a reason not to.

“There is so much poison already in our world that I didn’t want to add to it if I could. But, there are organic poisons as well. Some of the organic pesticides are just as bad. It’s not a clear black and white but at the same time it’s a much healthier food system,” Minick said.

While the book is mainly a memoir, it also contains other morsels about the history of the blueberry, poetry and recipes.

“Our story is the main story, but I also wanted this to be a book about all things blueberry,” Minick said. “So it’s a celebration of the fruit and the bush … It was just a fun way to explore the history of the plant.”

Minick said much of his inspiration comes from family stories and the environment.

“I’ve been writing most of my life and I figured there was a story to tell,” Minick said. “Most writing projects for me involve some kind of a question, so I wanted to try to understand why this young couple pursued this crazy dream, so that’s why I tried that in a book.”

In writing nonfiction, Minick said he was conscious of the fine line between being truthful and being hurtful.

“If you really want to write important words, you have to tackle the hard questions. That’s always something that you encounter in whatever genre, even in fiction. If you are writing something important, there has to be risk,” Minick said. “You hope you’re serving the story, you hope you’re serving beauty, that’s kind of the ultimate goal. In addition to that, you want to be honest, but you don’t want to be hurtful. That’s a hard, hard line so there’s no set answer. I think it’s case by case.”

In addition to writing, Minick teaches creative nonfiction at Converse College. Currently, he’s working toward his MFA in fiction at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and is also the fiction editor for the Greensboro Review.

“The farming keeps me grounded and gets me outside, the teaching keeps me connected to other people and is a way of giving, and then the writing keeps me grounded in the creative world,” Minick said.

Posted in Uncategorized

Poetry Potluck: Blueberry Grunt

Food and poetry have long been a perfect pairing. In “Poetry Potluck,” we share a recipe and poem duo to feed all the senses. To submit your own pairing, e-mail and include the recipe, poem, and a brief introduction as to why they are meaningful to you. This week’s pair is brought to you by Fall Writing Series visitor Jim Minick.


Blueberry Grunt from picker Kathleen Ingoldsby

In a deep 9″ skillet, combine 1 1/2 C water, 1/4 C sugar, half a large lemon, thinly sliced, and simmer 10 minutes. Add 3 C berries, simmer 2 minutes.
Meanwhile mix 1 C flour, 3 T wheat germ, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, (1/4 tsp. salt optional). Add to this, barely incorporating, 1 egg, beaten, and 1/3 C milk to make dumpling batter. Gently plop batter over as much of the surface as you can manage. Cover and simmer 15 minutes ’til done. Serve with berry sauce on top of biscuit dumpling. Good for breakfast.

An explanation of this dessert’s name:
Grunts or Slump – Early attempts to adapt the English steamed pudding to the primitive cooking equipment available to the Colonists in New England resulted in the grunt and the slump, a simple dumpling-like pudding (basically a cobbler) using local fruit. Usually cooked on top of the stove. In Massachusetts, they were known as a grunt (thought to be a description of the sound the berries make as they stew). In Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island, the dessert was referred to as a slump. From

“The Intimacy of Spoons”
Jim Minick

Knives with serrated edges, their solid singularity and sureness of purpose;

Forks too with fang teeth
and slots of air,
their habit of piercing—

Neither will ever know
the intimacy of spoons.

How they hold each other—
knees cupped, thighs touching,

the long curve of spine
soft against belly and chest,

the nuzzled narrow neck,
this ladle of bodies.

Slowly your breathing softens, falls
into that space of sleep

where you twitch in dreams
and I hold on.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII” by Pablo Neruda

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
Pablo Neruda
Translated from Spanish by Mark Eisner

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

Posted in poem of the week

Poem of the Week: “How to Skip a Stone” by Jackson Graham

This week’s Poem of the Week is a very special one, as it features the winner of our Sixth Annual Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition! Richard Benvenuto taught in the English Department at Michigan State University for 20 years, and his wife, Joyce, started the competition in his name for all Michigan high schoolers. The competition is cosponsored by the Mid-Michigan chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters. This year’s winner, Jackson Graham, is a Senior at Detroit Catholic Central, and will read his poem, along with the second and third place winners, at a Center for Poetry reading featuring Jim Minick on November 19. You can read about our High School Poetry Competition and see the other winning poems on our website.

How to Skip a Stone
By Jackson Graham

Leave the full cottage;
yes, it’s your birthday, but it’s as much theirs too.
Close the door and betray a shadow.
Float down the steps, past the weeping fire,
past the black oak and its children.

Fill your nostrils with war-torn air.
Stop. Take off your muddy shoes and socks.
Roll up your hand-me-down pants as your eyes adjust
to the pale breath of Earth’s younger brother.

Now the glass is visible
and you are visible to the glass.
The stone: find it. You know what you’re looking for:
sleek and slim, with a little heft.
Perfect. Allow it a few hops in your hand.

Now you are ready to wade in.
Anchor your toes in the gravel below.
Bend your knees, and cock your arm,
with your eyes fixed on the soft target.
Wrap your pointer finger around the shiny edge.
Prepare to maim that silent, mocking mirror.

Whip it. Let out a blistering war cry certain to disrupt the universe.
Yet even after eighteen, nineteen, twenty hits, it won’t shatter,
but it gives the thousand candles on your celestial cake
a reason to dance around your own silly smile.

Posted in Fall Writing Series, news, visiting writers, workshops

Writing pair visits Center for Poetry

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By Kelsey Block

The Center for Poetry welcomed writers and teachers Rick Mulkey and Susan Tekulve for round two of the Fall Writing Series. Mulkey is the author of five collections of poetry and Tekulve is a short story writer and the author of the novel, In the Garden of Stone. Currently, Mulkey and Tekulve teach in the English department at Converse College in South Carolina. The pair visited East Lansing for three days last week, conducting workshops, visiting classes and performing a joint-reading.

The couple has been married for 23 years, but Mulkey and Tekulve said they don’t often share their work with one another.

“We have our own patterns, we have our own things we do as writers. Sometimes those things cross,” Mulkey said. “We do share a lot of books together, we do share writing, but probably not as much as people imagine. Very early on in our relationship, before we were married, we made the decision to be very careful about sharing our writing and getting feedback from each other … I usually don’t see Susan’s writing until it’s published and she often doesn’t see mine until then.”

Tekulve said she thinks it can be beneficial for married writers to keep their work separate, even though much of the inspiration for their material comes from similar places.

“It’s really a lot easier to have a first reader whom you’re not married to … If you say the wrong thing, it can be taken a lot more personally,” Tekulve said. “We do so many things as a couple, we raised a child, we created three degree programs within the English department that I think it became sort of difficult to be a writing couple along with being a teaching couple and an academic couple as well as raising a child.”

Both authors have been influenced by the time they’ve spent in Appalachia. While Mulkey grew up in Virginia, he said it took traveling to Scotland for him to write about his home.

“When I was in Scotland, there was something about the landscape, there was something about the life, something about the people that felt to me like I knew them and so, while I wasn’t necessarily writing about Scotland, it became a way for me to think about the region I grew up in, and I did start writing about it more, and more personally in a lot of ways, too.”

Tekulve, on the other hand, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She said, at first, she didn’t really consider place much in her writing, but her novel changed that.

“In the early part of my career, people were my sense of place. I really didn’t think much about the physical landscape and the setting, but In the Garden of Stone, place is very much a character in the novel. It wasn’t until I discovered the setting of the novel that it started moving forward,” Tekulve said, adding that book was originally set in two different places before she settled on West Virginia. “As I was writing the novel, I was literally living in the novel, going back to Virginia and living in the mountains and listening to people talk. Setting does pretty much everything for the novel, it unifies it, it forms the characters.”

They said they’ve noticed a few differences between fiction and poetry students, as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

“Undergrads are a bit more fearless than my nontraditional students. The traditionally aged students, they’ll put it out there, they’ll write about something that’s pretty deep and pretty personal. They’re willing, and if they’re willing, you can hand them a book and they’ll just drink it up, and they will have some really surprising and interesting insights into fiction,” Tekulve said.

Mulkey says the opposite is often true in poetry.

“My own experience with undergraduate students writing poetry is that they are not fearless enough, they’re a little too worried about being exposed,” Mulkey said.

Posted in poetry potluck

Poetry Potluck: French Toast Amandine

Food and poetry have long been a perfect pairing. In this reblog of a section in our newsletter, we share a recipe and poem duo to feed all the senses. To submit your own pairing, e-mail with the subject line “Poetry Potluck Submission” and include the recipe, poem, and a brief introduction as to why they are meaningful to you. This week’s pair is brought to you by Center for Poetry intern Kelsey Block.


french toast
Image via The New York Times

I found this recipe scrolling around on the New York Times’ website a few weeks ago. My friend and I have recently started having weekend brunches, and when I saw this, I immediately knew it would be perfect for the occasion. I don’t get to see her as often as I would like, so the hours we spend cooking and eating together are some of the most lighthearted moments of my week, and I really do cherish them. I think this poem does a good job of illustrating the air of companionship that often accompanies working in the kitchen.

– Kelsey

French Toast Amandine

  • 6 large eggs
  •  ½ cup whole milk, cream or half and half
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  •  ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 loaf thick-sliced brioche, challah or country bread
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, ideally clarified or high-fat.


  1. Preheat oven to 200. Whisk together eggs, milk (or cream or half and half), sugar, salt and vanilla extract.
  2. Lay bread in a baking pan, and pour egg mixture over top. Let sit 3 minutes, then turn slices over, making sure egg mixture has covered slices, with no dry spots
  3. Spread sliced almonds on a baking sheet, and put soaked bread slices on top. Press to adhere, then turn and repeat on other side; sprinkle with almond slices as needed. One side will be more crusted; cook that side first (and serve facing up).
  4. Put some of the butter into a skillet placed over medium-high heat; when it’s hot, add bread slices in batches, cooking until they’re golden brown and crisp, a few minutes per side. Transfer finished toasts to a platter, and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining butter and bread.
  5. Serve finished toasts with fruit compote, maple syrup or (and!) a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

By Mary Lamb

A dinner party, coffee, tea,
Sandwich, or supper, all may be
In their way pleasant. But to me
Not one of these deserves the praise
That welcomer of new-born days,
A breakfast, merits; ever giving
Cheerful notice we are living
Another day refreshed by sleep,
When its festival we keep.
Now although I would not slight
Those kindly words we use ‘Good night’,
Yet parting words are words of sorrow,
And may not vie with sweet ‘Good Morrow’,
With which again our friends we greet,
When in the breakfast-room we meet,
At the social table round,
Listening to the lively sound
Of those notes which never tire,
Of urn, or kettle on the fire.
Sleepy Robert never hears
Or urn, or kettle; he appears
When all have finished, one by one
Dropping off, and breakfast done.
Yet has he too his own pleasure,
His breakfast hour’s his hour of leisure;
And, left alone, he reads or muses,
Or else in idle mood he uses
To sit and watch the venturous fly,
Where the sugar’s piled high,
Clambering o’er the lumps so white,
Rocky cliffs of sweet delight.
Posted in poem of the week, Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Gone From My Sight” by Henry van Dyke

Gone From My Sight
Henry van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”
“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, “There, she is gone!”
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
“Here she comes!”
And that is dying.

Posted in news, visiting writers, workshops

Canadian poet grants Center for Poetry endowment

Canadian-born poet and memoirist George Ellenbogen reads from his collection, "Morning Gothic."
Canadian-born poet and memoirist George Ellenbogen reads from his collection of poems, Morning Gothic. (Photo: Ian Siporin)

by Kelsey Block

Last week, the RCAH Center for Poetry was proud to host Canadian-born poet George Ellenbogen. Ellenbogen celebrated a $50,000 endowment established in his name along with his late partner, Evelyn Shakir, and Center for Poetry director Anita Skeen.

Ellenbogen said he first decided to gift the Center for Poetry with an endowment after chatting with Skeen during his visit in 2013.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea. I thought I would do it in the name of my late partner because Anita was very helpful to Evelyn,” Ellenbogen said. “I think the Poetry Center clearly is (Anita’s) work, and there ought to be something there that states that very overtly, like an endowment that has her name attached to it. This is almost cliché, but I’m really privileged and honored to be involved in something like this.”

Ellenbogen first met Skeen at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an artists’ colony in Amherst, Virginia that awards fellowships to writers, visual artists and musicians who live in residence for anywhere from a few days to a few months.

“I remember this individual came from this impossible place in the Appalachians called Big Chimney, and she had this wonderful oak cropping of red, red hair. She’s a wonderful writer, a wonderful poet, and I think we hit it off. I have great admiration for her as a writer,” Ellenbogen said.

Since his last visit to the Center for Poetry, the retired professor has started two new projects. One is a play based on “Rhino Gate,” a poem that tells the story of an African planter’s aging wife, who tries to reconstruct her life so it means something to her.

“Her story is the text of the poem on one side of the page. The other side is something I call the counter text, made up of voices responding to her,” Ellenbogen said. “It’s an experimental piece that I’m reconfiguring for the stage. It’s a project that probably is one of the most challenging that I’ve ever embarked on. I come to it with no theater experience, which makes it challenging and also fun to work on.”

The other project is a collection of poems and illustrations.

“It’s almost a kind of dialogue,” Ellenbogen said.

He’s also been traveling around the world, promoting his books, A Stone in My Shoe, and Shakir’s posthumous memoir, Teaching Arabs, Writing Self: Memoirs of an Arab American Woman.

Ellenbogen said living with another writer was interesting.

“After 32 years, you either murder one another or you love one another,” he said, adding that he and Shakir had very different writing processes. “I think it probably affected my teaching, because my advice in the end was to do whatever works for you as a writer. There’s so many ways of getting there,” he said.

During his visit to Michigan, Ellenbogen will also be working with the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, where he’s established awards for both poetry and nonfiction in his and Shakir’s names.

“The institution responds to any knock on the door. It’s for anyone,” he said. “The thing I noticed that really struck me when I was there is that they’re not watching the clock. I think how lucky these people are. Most people we know have jobs that are simply repetitive, but these people can go home every day and feel that they’ve helped to shape lives, they’ve made things better for individuals. I mentioned that every day they should go home and crack open a bottle of champagne and toast themselves.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Poem of the Week: “Périgal-Nohor” by Max Jacob

Max Jacob
Translated from French by Rosanna Warren

My azure sky surged in its market share
For my epithalamion two lions bowed
And Saint Catherine brandished aloft her blade
To trim my hedges of their honey-colored hair—
Two castles thickly pinnacled with cones—
Crawfish crawled around the turret stones.
Nothing else remained in this capital
And scraps of gardens scattered here and there
And we saw, too, your dainty coiffes of lace
Madame Adamensaur
Madame Mirabeau, Madame Mirabelle
Nebuchadinosaur, the Queen-Mama, said she.
Back toward the cathedral sailboats raced
One laden with treasure, the other with coal tar
The third caught fire, carrying Abelard
There was something vegetal about the sea
In block letters laboriously I trace
I’ll always be a schoolboy in this art
Scholar foolscap collar we wear a crown that glows
The one who receives is worth him who bestows.

(via Poetry Foundation)