Jessica Stolen-Jacobson Editor [email protected]
Athena Kildegaard of Morris will travel to Montevideo for a special event on Saturday April 23. In honor of National Poetry Month, Kildegaard, along with one of his former students, Brendan Stermer, will host a poetry reading in the Java River Yard (or indoors, depending on the weather). Stermer will open the event, reading his most recent original poetry, as well as some of his favorites from local poets. Kildegaard will read excerpts from his new book, Prairie Midden, published at the end of March.
The title of the book, Prairie Midden, is a tribute to the sites that archaeologists enjoy discovering, because “midden” is a term for a site where a community of people lived, where they discarded objects they no longer wanted or were no longer useful. “It may be potsuckers and stuff like that, but it turns out it’s a place where you really get a sense of what people’s daily lives were like, as opposed to a mound or a whimsical temple that doesn’t necessarily tell you as much sweetness in their daily lives,” says Kildegaard.
Kildegaard acknowledges that although she calls the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairie home, a strip that stretches from as far north as Canada south to northern Texas, the most of this landscape has been lost to agriculture. “We broke the grass and we planted everything and today it’s mostly corn and soybeans, but it was a remarkable biome, very rich in incredible herbs and flowers, and all kinds of creatures that lived in this space, including at the top of the food chain, wolves and bison. A lot of creatures, plants and mosses, and things have gone missing or are in danger because of the loss of the prairie,” she says. her reverence for this lost landscape that inspired Kildegaard to seek out writings of female settlers on the prairie, beginning her research in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society Museum in St. Paul. just doesn’t exist, or at least I couldn’t find it. I’ve looked at a lot of writing by women and women going back to the 1830s. What you find is that women held newspapers, but what they would say is that they were doing laundry or baking cookies s oatmeal. It was mostly indoor spaces, and if they wrote anything about what was happening outside, it was the weather,” says Kildegaard.
Because of this, her focus took a turn, and the idea of creating a book of poetry about the prairie, and what it was and has become, formed. Kildegaard, who teaches a course at the University of Minnesota Morris called Environmental Imagination, uses readings from environmental writers in his classes. “Until the 20th century, it was mostly men who wrote about the natural world. We think of Thoreau or Emerson, or we think of British writers. Before them, we don’t really see women writing much about the natural world until we get to Rachel Carson. There are a few women in the past, but not many. And the truth is, there weren’t many men writing on the prairie either. So it’s quite interesting,” she says.
Kildegaard decided she wanted to write a book that contemplated the loss of the prairie, she says, without being angry. “I mean, I’m mad that it’s gone,” she said. “When I’m in a remnant prairie or a restored prairie, I think it’s just amazing and beautiful.” Using this interest, she explored the idea of prairie girls – the eldest of a settler family who she believed was the person responsible for destroying the prairie, turning it into farmland. “So there are a lot of poems in the book, there is a series of poems. The first is Prairie Daughter 1836 and the last is Prairie Daughter 2036. So I kind of imagine the eldest daughter of this family over time, and they talk through the book. And then I have poems that are found poems, stuff that I found in the archives that I just transcribed and broke up into lines, so they sound like poetry. And then I have poems that are really my voice speaking to prairie girls. There are a few other strands that are sort of sung poems that just think about what we did to destroy the earth and how we think about it now,” she says.
The first poem in the book, Prairie Daughter, was written in the spring of 2016. After that, Kildegaard applied for a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board that allowed her to spend several weeks in the archives of the Gale Library of the Minnesota History. Center. “And then I wrote a lot and realized I had to go back,” she says. She applied for and received another grant from the Lakes Region Arts Council which allowed her to continue her research. She also used grant funds to partner with a singer from Battle Lake to work on a project where songs about the prairie and women’s lives were put together with poetry in a program that was performed in the area. some lakes.
Prairie Midden is Kildegaard’s sixth book. She has been drawn to writing, especially poetry since a young age. “I was very lucky to grow up in a family with two parents who love to read, and they both really love poetry. I grew up in St. Peter, Minnesota and my dad taught Gustavus. Actually , one of his first students there was Bill Holm (an author from Minnesota) Our neighbor across the street was a poet, so I was pretty much surrounded by poetry and started writing when I was tiny,” she said.
Her first book, Rare Momentum, was published in 2006. “I feel like every book is different in so many ways. My first book was made up of poems called Fibonacci – it’s a special kind of shape based on a mathematical sequence. The book I wrote before this one was published was called Course, which is about my mother’s death and grief, and the Minnesota River. It was a place where we spent a lot of time when I was a child and we put his ashes in the river. So a lot of my poems take place in the natural world in one way or another. I like to write poems and sequences. The book before Course was a book called Ventriloquist. They are three different sequences of poems, so they are poems that look like squares and they are all called Landscape with something. They just imagine paintings that don’t actually exist. I would say every book has different things in it, but I hope you can tell it’s always me,” she says.
His current book and the previous two were published by a Redwing-based press called Tinderbox Editions. The books are available from Small Press Distributors on the spd.org website. For poetry reading in Montevideo, Kildegaard believes his poems can resonate with members of the local community as one of his muses for writing was a writer named Paul Greco who grew up on a farm outside of Montevideo. Montevideo and wrote a book called Diary of a Prairie Year. Kildegaard is enthusiastic about reading poetry in Montevideo, as she loves the local community. “I love Montevideo and I’ve read in Java River before and I have a lot of friends who live in and around Montevideo,” she says.
The event took place after Kildegaard had a chat with his former student, Brendan Sterner. “He and I got pretty close and he’s a wonderful poet, so I just wrote to him and asked if there was any chance he was interested in doing a reading together,” she says. “And Java River is so supportive of events like this.” Poetry reading begins April 23 at 5 p.m. More information about Athena Kildegaard’s published works can be found on her authors’ website www.athenakildegaard. com.