Poems in the Boundary Waters: Residency at Tofte Lake

In a little over a month I'll be heading to a residency on a secluded lake near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota.

The Boundary Waters is part of Superior National Forest—over a million acres of glacially-carved landscape filled with cliffs, canyons, rock formations, beaches, lakes, streams, islands, and north woods forests. According to the US Forest Service, it's one of the most visited wildernesses in the United States, set aside in 1926 to "preserve its primitive character and made a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 with subsequent legislation in 1978."

While most visitors travel the Boundary Waters on foot and canoe, camping in the wilderness, I'll be based at the Tofte Lake Center as part of their Emerging Artists Program funded by the Jerome Foundation. I'll be there with two other Minnesota-based artists and four artists from Brooklyn, NY. Our group will include a singer, actors and dancers, a photographer, a playwright, a choreographer, a sculptor, a storyteller, and a poet (that's me!).

There are a few reasons why I'm looking forward to this residency. It will be my first time attending a group residency—at my previous residencies I have been the only person participating. I'm excited to be part of a cohort of interdisciplinary artists coming from different places, mediums, and backgrounds. This one will still be pretty self-directed in terms of creative output, but I'm looking forward to eating with other people, exploring with them, and learning about their projects. Solo residencies are important in terms of giving you time and space, but can sometimes feel a little lonely. I'll probably do a blog post comparing the two experiences (pros and cons of solo versus cohort) sometime in the future.

In preparation I've been learning a lot about Northern Minnesota and the Boundary Waters, which has been fascinating. The North Shore of Minnesota (along Lake Superior) is one of my favorite parts of this entire state, but I've never explored much to the northwest. I'll be spending my week there generating new work for my manuscript of erasure poems sourced from scientific and natural texts—specifically poems sourced from Minnesota-centric texts.

Erasure poetry is a form of found poetry where words are taken away from an existing text. Punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks are sometimes altered, but no words are added to the piece beyond the original source text.

You can see examples of erasures from an ornithology textbook over at Entropy Magazine. Some of the source texts I'll be bringing with me to the residency are listed and depicted here. Most of these were purchased from thrift stores, library or used book sales, or donated by friends. I've been particularly drawn to vintage instructional books. I find that these books have intriguing illustrations (that sometimes complement or add context to my poems) and surprising language, providing a good challenge in terms of finding the poetry in inherently "non-poetic" texts.

  • “The Compact Book of Small Game and Varmints” by Ray Ovington (J.L. Pratt, 1965)
  • “The Rock Book” by Carroll Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton (Doubleday & Co., 1948)
  • “A Laboratory and Field Manual of Ornithology” by Olin Sewall Pettingill (Burgess Pub. Co., 1967)
  • “How to Draw Trees” by Gregory Brown (Studio Ltd, 1957)
  • “The Adventure Book of Chemistry” by Lazer Goldberg (Capitol Pub. Co., 1962)
  • "America's Wonderlands. The scenic national parks and monuments of the United States" from the National Geographic Society of America (Washington, 1966)
  • "Minnesota, Past and Present" by Antoinette E. Ford (Lyons and Carnahan, 1951)
  • "Telephone Almanac for 1960" from the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (Bell Telephone System, 1960)
  • "Prairie Skies: The Minnesota Weather Book" by Paul Douglas (Voyageur Press, 1990)
  • "Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings Round Lake Superior" by J. G. Kohl (Ross and Haines, Inc., 1956)
  • "Gopher Tales: Stories from the History of Minnesota" by Antoinette E. Ford (Lyons & Carnahan, 1938)
  • "Minnesota Public Lands, 1983" prepared by Land Management Information Center Minnesota State Planning Agency in cooperation with Land Bureau Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (1983)
  • "The Rocky Coast" by Rachel Carson (McCall, 1971)

If you have any last minute ideas for Minnesota-specific books that seem to match the ones described above, please let me know. Books that are valuable don't work as well since I typically alter them as part of my process. But if you're thrifting and you see something that would be perfect, get in touch! I still have a few weeks left before I head out. I'll have limited internet/cell access while I'm there, but I'll be sure to share pictures post-residency. I'm crossing my fingers for a bear sighting!

Many thanks to the Tofte Lake Center for selecting me for the Emerging Artist Program, to the Jerome Foundation for making opportunities like this possible, to Lorraine Hansen for her book donations, and to my partner Tyler who will be holding down the fort while I'm out exploring the northern-most edges of Minnesota.