April snow showers brings…poetry

Anthony Viola

April. Surprise snowstorms, playoff hockey, finals and poetry.

This year, Andrea Scarpino became the second U.P. Poet Laureate, an honor held by Contingent Professor Russell Thorburn since 2013.

Scarpino is still trying to figure out what it means to be the poet laureate.

“I’m delighted to have this honor,” Scarpino said. “I wasn’t expecting it. I haven’t lived here really that long. Some other people that were nominated have been here for decades.”

Scarpino moved to Marquette when her partner received a professorship at NMU five years ago.

With her tenure, ending in 2017, she looks to increase poetry’s visibility.

“I always get frustrated when people tell me they don’t understand poetry,” she said. “I think it’s possible to get poetry out and have them understand it and fall in love with it.”

Even with poetry month  winding down, for the sleepy town of Marquette, poetry doesn’t stop April 30. When Scarpino first arrived, she was surprised by the amount of writers in Marquette, she said.

“I’ve found the writing community here really interesting,” she said. “There are so many different ways to approach writing in the U.P. Some people are really nature-focused; other people don’t tend to be, but you can still see the influence of the U.P. in their work.”

The Upper Peninsula’s wild beauty and blistering cold affects any creative mind. For Scarpino, the four years previous to living in Marquette was spent on the West Coast.

“When we first moved to Los Angeles, I realized that I was writing all these poems that had to do with fire and drought,” she said. “Almost immediately, after we moved here, I started writing about Lake Superior and the water and there was this very dramatic shift, a lushness in some of my language, and then of course winter came into the equation,” she laughed.

“I started including, without even realizing it, more writing about snow and ice and cold in direct opposition to some of my writing in L.A.,” she said.

English Professor Austin Hummell has been here for 15 years. He feels the environment of Marquette shapes the poet and their poetry.

“It’s a natural place to write poetry,” Hummell said. “You’ve got a very rich natural landscape, the largest lake in the world, ore docks that look like the mouth of God. All of it places attention between you and the environment that produces poetry. I don’t think as much gets written, in terms of poetry, in beautiful coastal regions as it does where the climate is more dramatic and provides a certain kind                   of attention.”

The climate has fostered a poetic culture and writing program that stretches years into the past, according to Hummell. It started with “Anatomy of a Murder,” and was grown with Phil Legler, who was an English professor at NMU from 1968-92.

The Master’s of Fine Arts writing program was the university’s first terminal degree, Hummell said.

Before coming to Marquette four years ago, senior English writing major Katelyn Durst worked in different inner city areas, promoting poetry. She decided to come to NMU and Marquette because she heard about the great writing program and wanted to work with Hummell.

“[NMU and Marquette] seems like a place where things are welcome,” Durst said. “People on campus, in the academic poetry world, are very passionate. They’re really dedicated to generating poetry that’s coming from a deeper place. For me it’s been really cool to be around people that can challenge themselves to develop that type             of poetry.”

A spoken word and lyric poet, she agreed that Marquette influenced her poetry.

“There’s a lot more natural elements that show up in it,” Durst said, “a lot more metaphors when it comes to experiences you have because of literal cold temperatures and being in a                     cold climate.”

The cold climate Durst, Hummell and Scarpino mention affects not just the written words but actions of the community. Hummell said when he first moved up here, neighbors would snow blow his driveway and not take credit for it.

When he got his own snowblower, he cleared every house in a two-block radius.

The poetic community embodies that caring attitude, Durst said.

“There are different groups doing open mics just to encourage people to come together as a community to tell stories,” Durst said. “It’s something as humans that’s really valuable.”

To close out poetry month and welcome Scarpino as U.P. Poet Laureate, there will be a poetry reading and discussion at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 23 at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center in the Peter White       Public Library.

“[Poetry] helps us experience other people, other cultures, other time periods,” Scarpino said. “It helps us to know what we think and what we feel. It helps us to express ourselves and see our own ideas and thoughts mirrored back at us. I think it’s a really wonderful, accessible          art form.”