Rural Poetry

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In December 2005 we applied for and received a $3,000 mini-grant to help us promote poetry and place-conscious writing in the U.P. The process involved collaboration with the National Writing Project and the Rural School and Community Trust. The Nebraska Writing Project coordinated the initiative, which was inspired by the work of Nebraska poet and United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. Upon receiving the grant, we developed a Rural Poetry Initiative to celebrate and reflect rural life in the U.P. Students from across the Upper Peninsula submitted poetry, which was judged by Northern Michigan University faculty members. One student, Jeni Schrandt, was chosen to travel to Washington, D.C., as a representative for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to read her poetry at the Library of Congress.

As we began our journey in creating the UPWP Rural Poetry Initiative, we often borrowed inspiration from Ted Kooser. In his book of prose, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, Kooser writes: “Life is a long walk forward through the crowded cars of a passenger train, the bright world racing past beyond the windows, people on either side of the aisle, strangers whose stories we never learn, dear friends whose names we long remember and passing acquaintances whose names and faces we take in like a breath and soon breathe away.”

We pondered the idea of getting our students to write their “local wonders” and to help them see how even the ordinary things in life, when seen through the eyes of a poet, are extraordinary. We encouraged our students to climb onto that passenger train and examine their rural roots. We invite you, too, to take a ride with us and see what we learned. Through our students’ writing we easily discovered that it is the students themselves who are our “local wonders.”

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