First Friday at the Mundt: Poetry by John Nelson

On Friday, February 7th at 4 pm the Karl Mundt Library hosted their first in a series of events, titled “First Friday.” The event that took place was a poetry reading with one of Dakota State’s own professors, Dr. John Nelson.

Dr. Nelson and Mundt Library Director Jan Enright chat a bit before Nelson began his readings.

Nelson recently had a collection of his poetry selected by the South Dakota State Poetry Society to be their yearly chapbook. The collection is titled West River and it consists of 26 poems about Nelson’s life and childhood growing up in Fort Pierre, just west of the Missouri River, in South Dakota. There were many themes within the poems, though some of the most common seemed to focus on Nelson’s memories, the wilderness, and the Old West.

During the event, Dr. Nelson read and spoke about 18 of his poems, seven of which were from the West River collection. Other poems were ones he had written previously, including his first poem that was published, titled “Anchor Man.” Some of his poems were written in response to other poems or about famous authors, like “Birdsong would always be the same,” “Robert Frost Clearing His Driveway,” and “Meeting in Pinewoods.” “Birdsong” was written in response to a poem by Robert Frost, “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same.” The other two poems are about some of Nelson’s favorite poets: Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens. Nelson was available to sign copies of his book after the event; books were available for sale in the Karl Mundt Library after the event for $10.

Dr. Nelson read and discussed 18 of his poems. In total, he’s had 60–70 poems published and has written countless others.

When asked where Dr. Nelson draws his inspiration from, he said it comes from a number of places. “I get inspiration from all kinds of things.  I like it most when some language comes to me, some memorable phrase or term. Sometimes something I make up myself, a new term that I’m happy when my goofy brain comes up with it, like ‘awesomism,’ about which I wrote a poem ‘I would like to be an awesomist.’  I like the sound of that.” He said that how regularly he composes poems also varies. “Sometimes several come in a day, but then weeks might go by with little or nothing.” He often composes his poetry using pen and paper then edits and revises the poetry on the computer.

Dr. Nelson said that he writes poetry because it’s something he enjoys. “It feels good.  It’s making some sense of the world, maybe making a little gem of words out of the random material of the day.” He has had 60-70 poems published since he has started writing poems, with 20 or so included in West River. Unsurprisingly, Nelson also enjoys reading poetry—some of his favorite authors are Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, and Ted Kooser. Ted Kooser even influenced Nelson’s own writing style. “There’s a poem of Kooser’s that I like a lot and helped me find my own approach to a poem.  It’s ‘So this is Nebraska.’”

Dr. Nelson’s submission was chosen by the South Dakota State Poetry Society for their 2019 chapbook publication and was debuted at the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books.

The library will be holding a number of other events on the first Friday of each month. The next event is a spelling bee for the faculty and staff on campus on March 6th. The following First Friday will be a discussion about birdwatching by an avid birdwatcher. The last First Friday of the semester will be an informative discussion about Karl Mundt himself on May 1st. All events happen from 4-5 pm in the Karl Mundt Library.

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