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Reflection, Motivation, and Inspiration

January 17, 2017

Alumna Ellie Schoenfeld celebrates life and community as Duluth's newest Poet Laureate.

It’s morning. Ellie Schoenfeld sits at a wooden table in her kitchen. Just outside the window, birds flit around the bird feeder. Her mug of hot coffee steams. An unlined journal lies open to clean, white pages. There are hours of free time ahead of her, and as she holds a scrap of paper in her hand, she feels a spark of anticipation.

Duluth Poet Laureate Ellie Schoenfeld

Duluth Poet Laureate Ellie Schoenfeld

Ellie says that her poems most often, “start as a line or phrase out of nowhere.” She writes it down, “right there, whereever I am.” If inspiration comes while she is driving, she pulls over as soon as she can, searches for a “random scrap of paper” and writes. Sometimes, the whole poem comes out at once. Other times, she writes down a phase to work on later. At the table in her kitchen, she sorts through notes and scraps of paper and finds both "scribbles that are incomprehensible” and promising ideas. 

The system does work. Ellie is a prolific writer and Duluth’s newest Poet Laureate.She has published three solo poetry collections, The Dark Honey: New & Used Poems (Clover Valley Press 2009), Difficult Valentines (Fallow Deer Books, 2004), and Screaming Red Gladiolus (Poetry Harbor, 1999). She has work in anthologies and has collaborated on poetry/music CDs. Ellie graduated from UMD in 1987 with a degree in German and in 2007 with a master’s degree in social work.

Ellie’s poetry is legendary in the Duluth arts community. It’s eclectic. The poems are funny, haunting, disturbing, and heartfelt. Audience members often make requests. Her feminist Barbie poems and the poem about God as a wise, wrinkly old man in an aqua tutu are favorites.

Poetry has a reputation of building communities and providing a therapeutic outlet. Ellie has put these concepts to the test. She was the co-founder of Poetry Harbor; a community poetry group that has  hosted free poetry readings and published local work. She helped with a reading series at CHUM, a drop in center for the homeless, and served on the board of Spirit Lake Poetry Series. She has worked with a group in the Federal Prison Camp and with an HIV-positive support group.

During her two-year term as the 2016-18 Duluth Poet Laureate, Ellie will organize five public events. She is the sixth Duluth Poet Laureate since the position was founded in 2005 to honor local poets and encourage the appreciation of poetry. 

Two of her poems, “I Ride the Greyhound,” and “Patriotism,” were read by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac.”

Here’s “Patriotism.”

                   

Patriotism

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
ultimately
recruit us all
to its side.

Published in The Dark Honey

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