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A photo of Garrison Keillor.

Garrison Keillor hosted the first The Green Light at the End of the Dock: Festival of Romantic Writing on May 9 to discover the best romantic songs (lyrics only) and poems (sonnets encouraged but not necessary) from U students, staff, and alumni.
(File photo)

Love fest: Garrison Keillor hosts romantic writing festival

Garrison Keillor hosts romantic writing festival

By Cass Erickson

"Not a summer's day but a thunderstorm,
Nature's wrath that gives life ..."
As Jenny Blaine read these words from her poem, Thor, God of Love, a peal of thunder interrupted, rumbling through Ted Mann Concert Hall as if to say, "I approve." As well he might. On May 9, Blaine won one of the top two awards in The Green Light at the End of the Dock: Festival of Romantic Writing, a contest hosted by Garrison Keillor (with a nod to Jay Gatsby's fascination with the green light on the end of Daisy's dock and all the longing it implied). The ubiquitous alum (class of '66), Keillor seems to enjoy his association with the English department and can't get enough of stirring up talent at his beloved alma mater. He's a man who likes variety and never lacks for creative solutions. So, since he couldn't squeeze in teaching a class at the U this year, he enlisted the Creative Writing Program's help in organizing the festival and got additional support from the Edelstein-Keller Endowment for Visiting Writers.

"We received many poems about the breakup of romance... we aren't interested in those... we remember those too clearly... what we need is the beauty of how it felt at the beginning," Keillor says.

He solicited romantic songs (lyrics only) and poems (sonnets encouraged but not necessary) from U students, staff, and alumni. "We received many poems about the breakup of romance... we aren't interested in those... we remember those too clearly... what we need is the beauty of how it felt at the beginning," Keillor says. Despite the violent storm that whipped through the Twin Cities on Mother's Day, a chummy entourage from the English department and poetry devotees nearly packed the house as blue jean-clad Keillor took the stage. In the singular cadence of his "Prairie Home Companion" radio show, he opened with a clever monologue about the passion of mothers followed by his recitation of an e.e. cummings poem, "Since Feeling is First." Clearly a poetry aficionado, Keillor, who has edited a book of poetry titled Good Poems, was in the company of kindred spirits as he was surrounded by 15 poet-finalists--some of whom were eccentrically dressed in bright scarves, gowns, and shimmering shawls--as well as three judges and "Prairie Home Companion" pianist Rick Dworsky on stage. Of the 300-some poems submitted by 87 contestants, Keillor selected 17 finalists. Each of the 15 finalists in attendance read their work, often followed by a piano flourish reminiscent of Keillor's show. Songs and poems ran the gamut from a bowl of cereal compared to the beloved, to an erotic poem about long distance love and the burying of a lover's shirt in bed like a bone, to a song about mangoes (see below) favored by a judge from Miami, to a parody of the tune "Matchmaker" about finding love online. There were also tender love songs accompanied by piano, guitar, and a three-piece girl band. The difficult task of selecting the winners followed, and the tone grew more serious. Along with Keillor, the judges--Vern Sutton, professor emeritus of the School of Music; poet and English professor Michael Dennis Browne; and Jennine Crucet, an MFA student in the Creative Writing Program--discussed their favorites and why. After much public deliberation, they awarded two $750 first prizes to Jenny Blaine and May Mahala (see poems below); two $500 second prizes to Margit Berman and Brian Hayden; and five $200 third prizes to Brian Johnson, Jen Johnson, Melissa Kalpin Prescott, Kelly Jean Settholm, and Joshua Verges. Keillor ended the feel-good evening by asking everyone to sing "You Are My Sunshine" as a recessional for the poets as they left the stage and headed out into the post-storm night air.

Love Boat Adrift? Our ship, a most beleaguered bark,
Once cut from port to port before the wave.
Ambitions drove a cold confusing arc,
We look and sigh and say, "What's left to save?"
"All hands on deck!" we cry, and selfless
Rush to work the pumps. An albatross could fly
Or herring gull take wing, all weight and thoughtless
Pinion safe upon the hands of sky.
But we (such silly things), we try to form
Our destinies on formless fantasies
And call it love. When what we want is warm,
As elemental as the evening breeze.
So long as hand with hand and leg with leg entwine
Our ship will safely sail though we be blind.
--Jenny Blaine

Room 208 His lips
juicy mango
opened luscious

He had that
casual grace,
slipping his arm
round her waist
She seemed to
fall into him.

Lying beside him
fallen
she stared up at
pinhole stars

Laughing his
mystic name
then
no yes no

she walked home
checked the baby
sat up alone Secretly
thinking
his hands
her waist
his head
soft thistle.

--May Mahala