Just like the month of June, poetry is busting out all over in Duluth, with one-night events every month since January, along with performances and open mic nights. Young poets and poets of color are refining and enlarging the lyrical landscape, even as older, established poets continue their own groundbreaking work.
Tina Higgins Wussow hosts a spoken word open mic night at Beaner’s every third Thursday. “I am always impressed, not just by the great poets who share their work, but the curious and supportive audience members who show up every month just to listen. It’s a great place for established poets to share new work and for young poets to find community.”
This year, Wussow succeeded long-standing emcee Kyle Heyesen as host of the Home Grown Poetry Showcase at Sacred Heart in the first week of May.
Kat Fox (née Hansberry) is a leading light in the musical poetry, or hip hop, scene. She regularly performs at The Red Herring and at Sir Benedict’s. Her debut CD, Kat Sup, features multi-instrumental numbers like “Greasy Kat.” She blends poetry and music, often improvising lyrics while accompanying herself.
“I personally prefer to express myself through hip hop. It’s a bit more aggressive than the standard folk fare that Duluthians may be accustomed to, but it’s every bit as technically intricate and valid an art form. Honestly, onstage I improvise or freestyle more often than I perform written lyrics. It’s the beauty of pursuing a spontaneous avenue like rap. Anything and everything can be sewn together into a song.”
Hansberry is one of several young artists who have burst onto the scene in recent years merging poetry and music. “I’ve always leaned towards the musical side of poetry—singing, rapping, all of that—so I find myself compelled by fellow musicians to compose like they do.
“There are some incredibly talented lyricists in Duluth; it’s such an inspirational town. Rick McLean comes to mind, also Aurora Baer and Aimee Tischer. They’re all passionate about their craft and it shows in their recordings and performances.”
Kathleen Roberts is Literary Director at the Prøve Gallery on Lake Avenue, which has hosted poetry readings in recent years. “This community has been incredibly supportive during the years I’ve been here. People of all ages have come to events and supported Prøve.
“As for my own writing, I’ve been invited to do projects with amazing artists like Kathy McTavish, Rob Wittig, and Joellyn Rock, who are all older and more established than I am, and who have all been extremely generous in sharing opportunities with me.”
Working at one of Duluth’s popular galleries gives Roberts reason to cultivate her interest in transmedia. “They’re defined as works that involve more than one medium, so like a poetry video is a transmedia piece. It’s connected with the intermedia movement of the 1960s. I believe poetry has to find new ways to engage people if it’s going to survive. I don’t think this is a bad thing; rather, it’s an evolution of an art form and, for me, a really exciting development to watch and engage in.”
Victor “Rocky” Makes Room, has taught at Fond du Lac College, worked at AICHO American Indian Housing, and is now at WDSE. He won The Poet’s Chair in the 2014 St. David’s Day Poetry Reading.
In Issue #002 of the new AllBlackZine, which features art, photography, poetry, and spoken word by African-American and Native American artists, Makes Room’s poem “ZZZZZZ” expresses his wish for union, rest, achievement, and peace:
we climb and climb...eventually hang our
feet over the edge of the moon we sit on...and sleep
Issue #002 also features Anishinaabe poet Jim Northrup at the 2015 Mashkawqisen Veterans Powwow. A Vietnam veteran, poet, and playwright, Northrup lives with his family on the Fond du Lac Reservation. He writes about the struggles he survived—boarding school, racism, and war—but also of “living with the seasons,” as in the poem “Manoomin” from his book, Walking the Rez Road:
It’s easy to feel a part of the generations that have riced here before.
It felt good to get on the lake, it felt better
Carrying a canoe-load of food and centuries of memories.
If you’re a poet yourself or a fan or just interested in the local poetry scene, your cup runneth over. Thanks to senior poets, the four Poets Laureate, the teachers, organizers, hosts, publishers, young poets and poets from communities of color, Duluth’s poetic tradition shows no signs of abating.