‘WW1 America’ exhibit to open at the History Center; Poetry Month events

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
In the fall of 1918, Ruth Weir, a nurse from Faribault, was assigned to a British hospital in Rouen, France, where many men were dying of pneumonia, influenza, gas attacks and wounds. Weir and her fellow American nurses used this American flag to cover “the bodies of our boys.”

Immigration, race, women’s issues and a divided nation are among the themes of the History Center’s new exhibition — about World War I. Opening Saturday, April 8, following the 100th anniversary today of America’s entry into the war, on view through Sept. 4 (after which it tours to history museums around the country), “WW1 America” aims to help us understand ourselves and our nation today. Events that seem so long ago and far away are brought into focus by stories, images, multimedia presentations, music, and original artifacts, including a deck chair from the Lusitania.

A re-created newsstand presents news about the war in Europe before America stepped in. A Red Cross ambulance is the scene of stories from soldiers and nurses on the battlefield. Artifacts and images show the impact of new technologies, including poison gas. A walk-through victory arch contrasts the civic celebrations of 1919 with the bombings and riots of the time. A re-created hospital ward is a reminder of the flu pandemic that killed more people than the war.

Spanning the years 1914-1919, “WW1 America” is a big exhibit with a lot going on, including many public programs and events. A live stage show at the Fitzgerald on Friday night (see the picks below) will be followed by Saturday’s opening day with a history talk, costumed reenactors, live music, storytelling and family activities. (Veterans and active military get in free on opening day.) During the exhibit, Minnesota artist David Geister will paint a massive mural (8 feet tall, 30 feet long) featuring 100 people from the World War I era who influenced the making of modern America; you can watch him at work on opening day from 1-4 p.m. (Weigh in on which five people should be most prominent in the mural.) An online “WW1 Daybook” blog will feature a different exhibit-related item from the Historical Society’s collections each day.

A tremendous resource in our midst, the History Center keeps us honest about our past. With exhibits like “WW1 America,” it reminds us that we have much to learn from where we’ve been about who we are. If you go, make time to visit “Penumbra Theatre at 40,” about our nationally important African-American theater, and “Open House: If These Walls Could Talk,” a life-size re-creation of a house on St. Paul’s East Side that has been home to scores of immigrant families.

Plug into National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month, right now, and it’s easy to be part of the largest literary celebration in the world, begun in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. Just read a poem, or write one, or go someplace to hear other people read theirs.

The academy will happily send you a free poem-a-day if you sign up here. Each weekday, you’ll get a brand-new, previously unpublished poem, with a brief note from the poet. If you don’t want to read it yourself, you can click on a link to hear the poet read it. Weekends are for classic poems.

Knopf, which publishes many fine poets, will also send you a poem-a-day by one of its authors, if you sign up here.

The academy offers a helpful list of 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month. Gov. Mark Dayton, Mayors Betsy Hodges and Chris Coleman, mayors all over the state, how about a proclamation? We know you’re busy, but it wouldn’t take long, and honestly, it would be a nice break from the otherwise mostly appalling news.

This year’s Poetry Month began with the death of Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko on April 1. Yevtushenko was once so popular his readings filled stadiums. His poems were published in Pravda and memorized and recited by taxi drivers. After his death, many people revisited two of his most famous poems, “The Heirs of Stalin” and “Babi Yar.”

We live where poetry is in the air and readings are frequent and mostly free. A few coming up: tonight’s (Thursday, April 6) reading at Magers & Quinn by contributors to the anthology “It Starts with Hope: Writing and Images of Hope Donated to the Center for Victims of Torture,” with poets Ted Bowman, John Krumberger and Lynete Reini-Grandal. “Deep Heart’s Core: Poetry & Mystery,” a conversation between poets Katie Donovan and James Lenfestey at Merriam Park Library on Monday, April 17. A reading by poet Bao Phi at the Elmer Andersen Library on Tuesday, April 18, and later that day, Carol Connolly’s April Reading by Writers at the University Club. A BRIDGES reading Thursday, April 20, at the Barnes & Noble on Snelling, with poetry and spoken word. A reading by poets Emilie Buchwald and Margaret Hasse, back at Magers & Quinn on April 20. And oh, hey, Magers & Quinn again: a reading by contributors to “Resist Much, Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance” on April 21.

On Thursday, April 13, Open Book will host a National Poetry Month Party.

The 2017 National Poetry Month poster includes this verse by Gwendolyn Brooks:

Books are meat and medicine

and flame and flight and flower,

steel, stitch, cloud and clout,

and drumbeats on the air.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, April 6) at Coffman Memorial Union: Timothy Snyder: “The Politics of Mass Killing: Past and Present.” The Holocaust has defined countless lives and reshaped our world. Snyder, a historian, author and Yale history professor, has spent years researching why and how it happened. This lecture – the keynote for an international symposium – is based on his book “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.” 7 p.m. in the Coffman Theater. Free and open to the public; register here.

Tonight (Thursday, April 6) at Dreamland Arts: “A Thousand Cranes.” Kathy Welch directs Kathryn Schultz Miller’s play based on the book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” about the young Hiroshima victim who started a worldwide peace movement. Told through Ivey winner Green T Productions’ stylized-movement-based storytelling, with original music by Miriam Goldberg, the play stars Sarah Tan of Singapore as Sadako, Ki Seung Rhee as her father and her friend, Kenji, and Catrina Huynh-Weiss as her mother and the spirit of her grandmother. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12). Continues through April 14.

Ki Seung Rhee, Catrina Huynh-Weiss and Sarah Tan
Courtesy of Green T Productions
Left to right: Ki Seung Rhee, Catrina Huynh-Weiss and Sarah Tan in “A Thousand Cranes.”

Friday at the Fitzgerald: “The War That Changed Us: Songs & Stories from WW1 America.” A prelude to the History Center’s “WW1 America” exhibit, this live stage show is hosted by Dan Chouinard, with a stellar lineup of guest speakers and musicians including storyteller Kevin Kling, explorer and author Ann Bancroft, author Patricia Hampl, U of M epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, MIT history professor Chris Capozzola, vocalists Arne Fogel and Maria Jette, and a nine-piece band featuring Butch Thompson, Peter Ostroushko and Dave Karr. Co-presented by MPR and the Minnesota Historical Society, it will be recorded and edited for later broadcast. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($23-50).

Friday and Saturday at the Ted Mann: Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus Spring Concert: “Hand in Hand.” Not one, but two gay men’s choruses will perform at this event – over 200 voices. For the first time in 24 years, TCGMC will share its stage with another LGBT chorus, Kansas City’s Heartland Men’s Chorus. The program includes the area premiere of “Tyler’s Suite,” dedicated to the memory of a young musician who died by suicide after being bullied by his college roommate. The nine movements were written by nine composers including Ann Hampton Callaway and Stephen Schwartz. 8 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($25-53).

Saturday at the History Center: “If WW1 Was a Bar Fight with Kevin Kling.” Also part of “WW1 America.” Kling narrates a theatrical version of the Internet meme that reimagines the war as a fight among belligerent bar patrons. (Example: “Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it’s looking at.”) 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($16). Also Saturday, April 22, at 2 p.m.

Saturday at Hopkins High School: Maria Schneider and the JazzMN Orchestra. In February, the five-time Grammy winning composer (and Windom native) gave a beautiful, emotional performance at the O’Shaughnessy with her orchestra. She’s back to lead our own JazzMN Orchestra in several of her compositions. As artist-in-residence, she has spent the week working with the musicians of JazzMN, customizing her music to feature their talents. The concert will also include the debut performance of a new work by trumpeter Adam Meckler and tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Al Jarreau. FMI and tickets ($31-37 adults, $10-20 students).

Otis Moss III
Otis Moss III

Tuesday (April 11) at Westminster Town Hall Forum: Otis Moss III: “Building the Beloved Community.” Moss is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Barack Obama’s church home when he was an Illinois senator. Known as “the jazz-influenced pastor with a hip-hop vibe” (Jet), he preaches a message of love and justice. Noon. Free and open to the public; no ticket or RSVP required. Arrive a half-hour early for live music; stay after for food and conversation.

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