Poet's Places

By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Dessa's My North

From her appearance on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s The Hamilton Mixtape to her lauded performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, Minneapolis-born Dessa’s reputation as vocalist and MC precede her. But long before this Doomtree collective member made her mark as a singer and rapper, she was a struggling writer and poet who dabbled in the local spoken word poetry scene. In fact, it was her spoken word performances that first caught the ear of the people who would ultimately be key to unlocking her musical potential. Dessa’s poetic roots are writ large all over Minneapolis, but the City of Lakes is hardly Minnesota’s only home to poets.

Here are the explorable hometowns of some other Minnesota-born poets of note.

Bob Dylan, Hibbing

Hullrust Mine in Hibbing
The Hull Rust Mine View in Hibbing is the world's largest open pit ore mine

Before Minnesota’s foremost poet son headed south down Highway 61 and into the annals of music history, he was just a Hibbing kid named Robert Zimmerman. And a jaunt north to his Iron Range hometown is worthy on both Dylan and non-Dylan fronts. After the requisite stop at Dylan’s boyhood home, take a tour of Hibbing High School, an art deco masterpiece of a high school that not only produced Dylan, but also produced other notables, including NBA Hall of Famer Kevin McHale and winemaker Robert Mondavi. Birthplace of the now-ubiquitous Greyhound Lines, Hibbing is also home to a fantastic museum dedicated the legendary bus company. But the reason the city is there in the first place is iron mining. Not only does the largest open-pit iron mine in the world reside on the outskirts of town, but you can also see one of the region’s working mines up close and personal on the Hibbing Taconite Active Mine tour.

Robert Bly, Madison

Minnesota’s first poet laureate—and founder of the “expressive men’s movement” in poetry—Robert Bly was born in the southwestern Minnesota farming community of Madison, the county seat of Lac qui Parle County. The self-proclaimed Lutefisk Capital of the USA, a gigantic “Lou T. Fisk” white fish statue greets visitors on the way into town, and every November (during peak lutefisk season) they host a lutefisk eating contest and variety show at the Prairie Arts Center. But Madison offers more than just lye-soaked cod. Visit their area history museum to explore the one-room building that Robert Bly used as his study early in his career—with Bly’s books and furniture in place—which the poet himself donated in 1999.

Louise Erdrich, Little Falls

Before Louise Erdrich was running Minneapolis indie bookstore Birchbark Books and regularly making the shortlist for accolades ranging from the Pulitzer Prize in Literature to the National Book Awards for novels like A Plague of Doves and Love Medicine, she was just a kid growing up in Lindbergh land, Little Falls. In addition to exploring the city’s iconic main street, to-dos in Little Falls include a visit to aviator Charles Lindbergh’s birthplace, museums like the Minnesota Fishing Museum and even Pine Grove Park Primeval Zoo—70 acres of exotic wildlife ranging from cougars, to yaks and timber wolves.

Bill Holm, Minneota

National Endowment for the Arts fellow and two time Minnesota Book Award-winner Bill Holm spent much of his life as an English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. And the late poet and humorist didn’t grow up that far away, either, born and raised on a farm just outside of the western Minnesota town of Minneota. Like lutefisk is to Madison, the maligned boxelder bug is Minneota’s celebrated-but-unofficial mascot. The town even hosts a weekend-long tribute to the most nefarious of seasonally-swarming nuisance insects, Boxelder Bug Days, wherein tractor pulls, BBQ cook-offs and boxelder bug races ensue. Beyond boxelders, Minneota has a townball team, the Mudhens, plenty of solid country cooking and access to some of the best pheasant hunting in the state.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Dessa's story, view it here.

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