by ALEXANDRA RETTER
The written word is now embedded in the sidewalk of Winona.
The poetry walk, which officially launches this Friday, is made up of poems stamped into segments of sidewalk downtown. The poems may be found on Third, Fourth and Fifth streets. Nine poems are included on the poetry walk.
Lorraine Kilmartin, who wrote a poem that is part of the poetry walk, does not typically write poetry. She enjoys writing very short pieces called flash fiction.
She said she wrote poetry when she was younger, and she first wrote a poem around the time she was in fourth grade. Her aunt was a published poet who encouraged her when she wrote and helped her develop a love of writing. Kilmartin was a teacher and an editor in her professional life.
In her poem that is part of the poetry walk, she wrote about her memories of her father from her childhood until his passing. She tried to capture her father’s sense of playfulness, she said.
James Armstrong is another writer whose work is included on the poetry walk. He started writing poetry when he was in grade school and became serious about doing so in his late 20s. He received formal writing training while earning a master of fine arts degree. He has taught creative writing for 25 years, and books of his poetry have been published. He is a former poet laureate of Winona.
His poem on the poetry walk is an excerpt from a longer poem included in his book of poems about Lake Superior. In the poem, he details “my confrontation of the deep spiritual power of Lake Superior.”
“I think the definition of awe is to confront something larger than you are …. more lasting than you are,” Armstrong shared. “I think when we confront the lake, we have that feeling.”
He added that many people have such a feeling when they are exposed to a natural feature, such as the Mississippi River locally, and he often writes about how natural landscapes impact him.
Emilio DeGrazia began writing poetry when he was in sixth grade. He was formerly the poet laureate of Winona.
He wrote his poem that is featured on the poetry walk after observing his daughter, who was nine at the time, sitting on third base during a pick-up baseball game and looking very content with the world while he was concerned about world events and how they would impact her.
Kilmartin thought about the different experiences she has had with walking when she began to write her poem, she said, as she knew selected poems would be part of the poetry walk. She realized that a number of her memories of her father involved movement, so she wrote with that idea in mind, she shared.
“I hope that they get the message that life changes as we age and loved ones age, but that our feelings about life and about the people we love are kind of eternal,” Kilmartin said of what she wishes people take away from her poem.
Armstrong’s inspiration for writing his poem came from his interest in natural history and human history, he said. Great natural energies created landscapes, he noted, but human interaction with natural features may last just a moment in the grand scheme of things. “We have these giant planetary forces, but then it’s also us standing on the edge of the lake for a fragile moment in time,” he shared.
When he writes poetry, he usually sits down, and a line will come to him. He then sees where the line takes him as he keeps writing.
“I want to write in a way where you’re discovering something,” Armstrong noted. “I never want to use poetry as rhetoric to convince someone of something. I’m trying to find out what I think about that” subject, whatever it may be.
He hopes that people who read his poem experience some of the same emotions he felt which motivated him to write it, he said. People write poetry to share their emotions and try to connect with someone else who feels or could feel the same way, he stated.
DeGrazia noted that he typically revises and reworks his poems as part of his writing process. He hopes that individuals who read his poem feel a sense of solidarity with parents and their concerns for their children, he noted.
Kilmartin hopes individuals gain delight from the poetry walk, she shared. “It’s just a wonderful surprise, and I’ve enjoyed coming across different poems etched in the sidewalk,” Kilmartin said.
When it comes to what she enjoys about poetry, she said she loves the creative process. She appreciated developing interesting lessons for her students when she was a teacher, and she now enjoys weaving on a loom and considering which colors and textures to use. “I always feel most alive when I’m creating something,” she stated.
Armstrong hopes that people are able to pause and reflect by reading a poem on the poetry walk amid their busy days, he said. “That kind of sense of time being infused with a deeper meaning is often what poetry is trying to achieve,” he shared.
He values poetry as a spiritual practice and way to remind himself people are not just on earth to make economic transactions and do their jobs, he noted.
DeGrazia hopes those who go on the poetry walk recognize that there are others with thoughts similar to theirs, he said.
Members of the city’s Fine Arts Commission have aimed to expand public art in Winona for some time, Winona Arts and Culture Coordinator Lee Gundersheimer said, and they hoped to acknowledge poet laureates of the city historically being named. Winona had a poet laureate for over a decade. The city now has a creative laureate. “We’ve had a history of celebrating the written word for quite some time, so we wanted to ensconce that more permanently,” Gundersheimer noted.
Some commission members toured a poetry walk and highly appreciated it, Gundersheimer shared. They decided one could be created in Winona, he added.
The concept of a poetry walk was then presented to city planners, who were enthusiastic about the idea and hope to include public art in as much of their work as possible, Gundersheimer stated.
The poetry walk idea ultimately became a budget item for the city and a reality after about two years, he noted.
Students majoring in art and design at Winona State University created the font for the sidewalk stamps used to imprint the poems. Winona landmarks inspired the design.
A poem by Minnesota’s poet laureate is included in the walk. In the future, poems by the poet laureates of nearby states may be added to the walk so visitors from those states may enjoy poetry by their poet laureates, Gundersheimer said.
The featured poems were chosen blind by a committee of local individuals who regularly work with poetry and art, such as writers and literature professors, Gundersheimer explained, so they could not tell if the writing was by a published poet or a student, for instance. The Fine Arts Commission asked for poem submissions in 2019.
“The focus is to celebrate writers of all stages of their career,” Gundersheimer shared.
The poems were placed in pieces of sidewalk that were already being repoured, Gundersheimer noted.
Gundersheimer said the walk’s organizers hope it brings foot traffic downtown and assists local businesses.
The sidewalk stamps of the poems have been saved, he shared, and residents who have their sidewalk repoured may request that a poem be stamped into their segment of sidewalk.
Gundersheimer said he hopes individuals who go on the poetry walk “enjoy the beauty of written language” and appreciate a bit of creativity coming into their daily lives as they pass by the poems and consider what the poem’s words mean to them on a given day. He also hopes individuals share the poems with family members, friends and visitors.
An official kick-off for the poetry walk will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, October 30, outside Blooming Grounds at 50 East Third Street. The launch is free to attend, and a number of the poets will read their poem at it.
Those who are having their sidewalk repoured and are interested in a poem being stamped in it may reach out to Gundersheimer at 507-457-8255 or email@example.com.