Recently I met St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly at a meeting of the reading series she started, Readings by Writers. This is sometimes called the Third Tuesday series, and meets at the University Club on Summit Ave. Just prior to our meeting, Carol was named the recipient of the Kay Sexton Award, which will be presented at the Minnesota Book Awards on April 16. She shared some thoughts on her career and honors.
1. Your bio lists many different writing credits, including poetry, newspapers and magazines. But it says that you started writing when you were 40. Did you write before that at all?
I was married, managing a big family – seven children, an eighth child died – and a big house. In the 1970’s, I began to keep a journal. I decided to take a class at The Loft from Judith Guest, so as to move beyond journal keeping into fiction. That class was full. A poetry class taught by Candy Clayton had an opening, I signed up, felt I had reached home, and it all began. I was 40.
2. Did you always want to be a writer?
No. In my early life, I was a painter.
3. What has drawn you to writing poetry?
I agree with those who say poetry claims one, and that it is somewhat rare for one to claim poetry.
4. You have published two books of poetry, Payments Due and All This and More. You’ve even had Payments Due adapted for the stage.What’s next for you in poetry?
My next book of poems, now in its early stages, will be Payments OVER-Due.
5. You were named poet laureate by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman in 2006. What does this involve? What does a poet laureate do?
This was an unexpected honor, which I was honored and pleased to accept. A Laureate in some cases does very little. Since I am the first in Saint Paul, I could set my own commandments. My vow is to do all that I can to promote poetry and other poets.
6. Why do you think it took so long for Saint Paul to have a poet laureate?
Rep. Phyllis Kahn authored a bill to name a State Poet Laureate. No costs were involved. Nonetheless, Governor Pawlenty vetoed the bill. Duluth arts organizations banded together to name an official Duluth Laureate. It’s a two year term, and Barton Sutter was the first one. It was then suggested to Mayor Chris Coleman that Saint Paul should also have a Laureate. He said “Done,” appointed me, and mine is a lifetime appointment. Rep. Kahn then submitted her bill again, this time Pawlenty signed it, and Robert Bly is our Minnesota Poet Laureate.
7. You’ve been involved in many social justice programs over the years. Can you share your basic belief that guides these actions?
All women and all men are created equal, and are entitled to equal justice and equal opportunities. Those of us who are able, must do what we can to facilitate this.
8. What types of organizations are you involved with now?
My work as Laureate, and until recently as a columnist, is somewhat time consuming. Nevertheless, I am just off the board, but organizing fundraising for New Foundations, which provides housing and support services to homeless families, whose parents have the dual diagnosis of mental illness and chemical dependency. I am also helping to inaugurate Augsburg’s Women of Courage Award, a new entity, which is part of the Koryne Horbal Lecture Series.
9. Tell us a little bit about how the Readings by Writers series got started. Where did you get the idea? What types of organizations has it benefited?
I started the series as a favor to a friend, who was promoting a new restaurant, and felt that poetry readings would help. I agreed to do it if we could involve SASE, so they could do the press. SASE agreed. SASE then folded into Intermedia Arts, as did my series. Intermedia Arts then folded temporarily. I asked Public Art Saint Paul if we could join them, we did, and my series now benefits Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, a branch of Public Art Saint Paul. It’s a good fit.
10. What do you think of the Twin Cities literary community at this time?
Our literary community is great, vibrant, generous of spirit, and loaded with talent.
11. And finally, it has been announced that you will be the recipient of the Kay Sexton Award, given this year at the Minnesota Book Awards. Clearly, this is recognition of your years of involvement in the literary arts. What does this award mean to you? How does that make you feel?
I urged my nominators – Margot Galt and then Patrick Coleman – when they contacted me, not to waste their time. They ignored me. When I received the news that I was the awardee, I was stunned, then grateful. I remain grateful. I believe this award is a great affirmation for the work of those who receive it.
Note: Submissions are now being accepted for the next round of City Sidewalk poems. Go to the Public Art St. Paul website to find out more.