University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Winter 2010 Newsletter

Creative Writing Program

Zipline Poetry

Poet Joanna Rawson is the 2010-11 Minnesota Writer of Distinction

Image of Joanna Rawson (Stephen Mohring)In the wake of Michael Dennis Browne's retirement, the Creative Writing Program is pleased to be conducting a search for an Assistant Professor of Poetry, a tenure track position which will start in Fall 2011. The application deadline was mid-October. The search committee will interview candidates at the Modern Language Association Convention in early January, and finalists will visit campus soon after.

Meanwhile, the Department of English enjoys the teaching and manuscript advising of Northfield poet Joanna Rawson, the Creative Writing Program's 2010-11 Minnesota Writer of Distinction. Rawson's first collection Quarry won the 1997 Association of Writers and Writing Programs' Donald Hall Prize in Poetry and was published through the University of Pittsburgh. Her second Unrest is out this year on Graywolf Press. "I've taught Graywolf poets [to students] ever since I broke teeth," Rawson reports, semi-seriously. "And this pantheon has been such good company since Unrest came out."

Senior editor Jeff Shotts had sent Rawson a congratulatory note back when Quarry was published, suggesting she show him any new collection. More than a decade later, Rawson complied, and Shotts accepted the manuscript. "The poems in Unrest happened over, say, five years," Rawson relates. "I'm not all that prolific, and I don't try to be--I don't crank out. With young children around [ages four and seven], I tend to crash and sleep during the times I used to write poems. That's okay, and it will be okay for a long time."

Rawson also works for University of Minnesota Extension as a Master Gardener, giving advice on rain gardens and composting. In addition, she writes freelance book and art reviews, not to mention providing meals for the occasional student from nearby Carleton College, where her husband Stephen Mohring teaches sculpture, wood, and 3D art.

Rawson did a lecturer stint in the Creative Writing Program in 2000 and is excited to return to University teaching. "Grad students, and I'm recalling my own stint as one, sometimes dash for safety once they begin to see their work as part of a big, sometimes intimidating historical tradition," she acknowledges. "So part of what I'm looking forward to is getting risky again, getting raw again, and taking the zipline and base-jump risks that refresh and reinvent the language in poems."

Unrest pieced together resonances around bees, immigrant stowaways, life during wartime, and gardens into an SOS signal of alarm and also, alarmingly, inertia--the normalizing of precariousness. Rawson finds herself presently occupied with punishments, especially capital: "How people kill each other under official sanction, how states and localities and mobs put citizens and residents and persons to death and why," she describes. "This isn't something I understand yet, in poetry at least, but it's the main informant of my current writing life."

The Minnesota Writer of Distinction is made possible by the Edelstein-Keller Endowment.

December 7th, 2010