The Laurel Poetry Collective

It’s not my first one–this collective. Early in my poetry writing, I took part in the Lake Street Writers Group. It was the 70s, with an explosion of interest in personal expression, in poetry about streets and lanes, farms and factories, childhood and memories. Like feminists, we gathered to talk about craft in relation to ourselves. Across town, the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota was meeting to form their gallery, their journal, their careers. We Lake Street Writers were undoubtedly influenced by feminism, though we contained as many men as women.

Lots of little magazines grew up around us. When I started to publish a poem here, a poem there, Minneapolis/Saint Paul offered many choices of little magazines: The Lake Street Review, edited by Kevin Fitzpatrick; Sing Heavenly Muse, edited by Sue Ann Martinson, Milkweed Chronicle, edited by Emilie Buchwald, with art and design by Randy Scholes. There were others that came along later, like the Great River Review. Many of us writers found work in what was first called Poets in the Schools or PITS–sure to evoke a smirk. Then came an expanded version: Writers in the Schools, and finally Writers and Artists in the Schools, WITS and WAITS. A poet could make something of PITS, WITS, WAITS. A poet could make money with PITS, WITS, WAITS.

This literary proliferation also spawned book publishers like New Rivers Press, and Milkweed Editions, Holy Cow! Press and others. This love of literature, contemporary and voiced on the spot, led a group of poets to form one the Twin Cities’ finest artistic organizations (my opinion, of course), The Loft: A Place for Writers and Readers. The Loft started above a bookstore in Dinkeytown, then moved to space above a former dry cleaners on Lake Street. then to a school building in Tangletown, and finally to its lavish (by comparison) offices and performance space within a renovated brick building on Washington Avenue, called Open Book.

With all this expansive growth, certain efforts drew national attention and expanded to a national audience–like the publishers mentioned above, and Greywolf, which migrated here from the West Coast. Other literary efforts slowly disappeared for lack of funds, exhaustion of primary movers, or who knows what. Soon academies got into the act.  The wonderful “teaching artists” from WAITS wanted a living wage. Couple them with eager younger writers, and it’s natural that MFA Masters in Fine Arts in Writing) programs would sprout up around the country.

The Laurel Poetry Collective was spawned from just such a program at Hamline University. As Hamline’s wonderful poet and poetry teacher Deborah Keenan guided poet after poet to a final manuscript, and kept them writing in weekly sessions after graduation, a hunger arose. Many of them wanted a full-length book. Yet finding publishers was complicated. An older idea emerged: the collective.For ten years the Laurel Poetry Collective has been publishing “beautiful and affordable” books, designed by Sylvia Ruud with a similar format and “look,” linking them as part of a whole.

Now we are celebrating our final gathering: an anthology called Body of Evidence. It’s a beautiful and affordable book. Tonight we will read from it at The Loft. Delight, exhaustion, and applause!

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