In the channel between the island
and the shore, the St. Croix reconsiders, eddies
flows upstream for just a stretch
until the tributary turns it back
A strong Gulf blow will do it, too,
you'd swear the river ran toward Solon Springs,
stranding paddlers betting on the current
when the house is always wind
No shame in it—it's a lesson
we've all learned
There are rivers and intentions,
then only rivers
- From Ready for Rain, by Laurie Allmann, courtesy Nodin Press
On the spring equinox in 2016, Laurie Allmann started her artist residency at Belwin Conservancy in Afton. She spent the next 90 days until the summer solstice exploring the 1,400-acre preserve along Valley Creek and in the surrounding bluffs and uplands.
Allmann explored almost always alone, choosing parts of the property that were not used by the education program nor open to the public. Sometimes she would walk great distances in a day, but often stayed in one spot for hours.
Then she wrote poetry.
Two years later, with a publishing contract secured, Allmann continued her poetic process on the first day of summer, and continued writing about the seasonal cycles until the end of winter in 2019.
Allmann has always wandered and written about “traces of wildness” throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and interpreted it as both a poet and a naturalist.
“I don’t try to be obtuse in a poem,” she says. “I just like things to be spare and clear and real, and try to do a little justice to the natural world and the people who illuminate it for us through their careful scientific research.”
Allmann has lived in the St. Croix Valley since 1981, moving to the area right after college. She calls May Township, MN her home. From 1981 to 1993, she served as program director at Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center near Hastings. Since then, her career has included numerous positions with environmental organizations, including Arcola Mills, the Minnesota Land Trust, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.
In 1996, the University of Minnesota Press published Allmann’s collection of essays “Far from Tame: Reflections from the Heart of a Continent.” The book won a Minnesota Book Award.
Her writing draws directly from the natural world and environmental science, finding poetry in context and questioning.
“These poems aren’t so much about what I know, but about what I learn in the process, through personal experience but also chasing down the answers to the questions that always arise,” Allmann says.
(Note: St. Croix 360 has been privileged to publish several items by our friend Laurie over the years, see a list of links at the bottom. She has also lovingly babysat our dear children.)
This August, Allmann released a new collection of poetry based on her year of observation and writing. “An Hour from Now” starts on that first day of spring at Belwin, imagining sights and feelings familiar to many who live here.
Allmann says the beauty of her residency at Belwin was that she didn’t have to tell them what she was going to do before she started.
“It allowed my experience on the land to determine what happened,” she says. “What happened from the first day was poetry.”
From south to north, a vee of swans
crosses a gray March sky,
while more than 90 million miles out, our nearest star
crosses the celestial plane of earth's equator
imagined into space
Here, the season's needle
drags and skips
The ice is off the river,
but the backwaters are still locked in
and morning fields are hard with frost
It's 41 degrees, snow in the forecast,
just the faintest blush of green
from February rain and record-breaking heat
across a landscape mostly buff and brown
- From Equinox, by Laurie Allmann, courtesy Nodin Press
Fast-forwarding to this time of year, Allmann describes sturgeon fishing on the St. Croix River in terms of geologic time.
it ain't broke, don't fix it
for two hundred million years,
a fragile span of cartilage encased
in rows of armored plates,
a token row of spikes along
the spine softening with age,
no bones or teeth,
so few defenses,
yet—by all accounts—
less gone than dinosaurs
- From Rocket Fish, by Laurie Allmann, courtesy Nodin Press
You should get a copy of the book to read that whole poem, and all the others.
The cover and interior feature illustrations of cormorants by Vera Ming Wong, which Allmann says she has loved for many years and was privileged to be able to feature in the book.
Allmann has several upcoming events at which she will be reading and selling her book:
Sunday, Oct. 27, 5 p.m.
ArtReach St. Croix
224 4th Street North, Stillwater
Sunday, Nov. 17
White Bear Unitarian Church
6 West 5th Street, St. Paul, MN
Jan. 17, 2020
Marine Public Library
April 26, 2020
Earth Day event with Dan Chouinard
The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, WI
The book is also for sale at many local independent bookstores.
Laurie Allmann on St. Croix 360:
- A gravel mine on the St. Croix River bluff at Scandia? – April 2012
- Bearing Witness for the River – September 2012
- Pining for Better Habitat – June 2013
- Listen: Following the Wings – June 2015
- Poem: The Color of a River – April 2016
- Night of the Sturgeon – December 2018