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Event to celebrate Robert Bly and his ‘Collected Poems’; Club Book’s winter/spring lineup

ALSO: Minnesota Opera to buy the Lab Theater; Ben Wendel Seasons Band at the Parkway; and more.

Robert Bly
Robert Bly’s latest and last book, “Robert Bly: Collected Poems,” was published in December by W.W. Norton.
Courtesy of Haydn Reiss

Right now, with snow blanketing our neighborhoods, parks and rooftops, would be a good time to read or reread Robert Bly’s “Silence in the Snowy Fields.” His first poetry collection, it came out in 1962 from Wesleyan Press. It was 66 pages long, softcover and cost two dollars. When you opened it, these were the first lines you read:

Sometimes, riding in a car, in Wisconsin
Or Illinois, you notice those dark telephone poles
One by one lift themselves out of the fence line
And slowly leap on the gray sky –
And past them, the snowy fields.

If you were a poet, or inclined toward poetry, or curious about poetry, or had to read poetry for a class you were taking, maybe you were hooked. Bly’s words, recorded over 60 years in 14 books of poetry (not counting his many books of translations), influenced generations of poets and readers.

Bly’s latest and last book, “Robert Bly: Collected Poems,” was published in December by W.W. Norton. It gathers all 14 of his poetry books on 576 pages between sturdy hard covers. On Monday (Feb. 11), a host of family members, friends, fellow poets and scholars will convene at Plymouth Congregational Church to celebrate the book, read favorite poems and honor Bly, who was born in Minnesota and, except for a few years in the Navy, at Harvard and in New York, has lived here all his life. (Bly was Minnesota’s first poet laureate.)

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At 92, Bly doesn’t get out much anymore, so we don’t expect to see him at Plymouth. He gave his final public reading there in 2015, as part of Plymouth’s Literary Witnesses series. Bly’s longtime friend, great supporter and fellow poet Jim Lenfestey ran that series for 15 years. The University of Minnesota held a big Bly conference in 2009 because Lenfestey organized it. The U’s Elmer L. Andersen Library has Bly’s papers because Lenfestey co-chaired the committee that raised the money to acquire them. Lenfestey, who made sure Monday’s event would happen, will be there.

So will a host of others. Bly’s biographer, Mark Gustafson, will open the event, after which a parade of fans and admirers will take the podium. These will include Bly’s editor, Thomas R. Smith; Rain Taxi’s Eric Lorberer (Rain Taxi is co-sponsoring the event); the Loft’s Britt Udesen; poet Freya Manfred and her artist sons, Rowan and Bly Pope; videographer Mike Hazard; William Duffy, co-founder with Bly of the seminal literary magazine The Fifties; singer Prudence Johnson; and poets Mary Moore Easter, Louis Jenkins, Jim Moore, Matt Rasmussen and Cary Waterman.

Zachary Cohen, principal bass for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, will make music. Birchbark will offer books for sale, and a broadside by fine printer and wood engraver Gaylord Schanilec created for the event will be available for purchase. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.

Here’s Club Book’s winter/spring lineup of authors

A Peabody-winning journalist, a No. 1 New York Times best-selling historian and a Top Chef finalist are among the authors the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA) will feature in its new Club Book season. Not just in one location, but in eight libraries across the Twin Cities metro. So whether you live in St. Paul or Minneapolis, Chanhassen or Woodbury, you’ll have the chance to see a big-name author nearby– for free. And if you can’t attend in person, you can listen later to the podcast.

March 11 at Wentworth Library in West St. Paul: Peabody winner and New York Times best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz, whose latest exposé, “An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago,” is due out March 5. March 14 at Roseville Public Library: Emily Bernard, whose “Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine” looks at growing up in the American South as a person of color. March 20 at R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury: Don Winslow, internationally renowned thriller writer whose new book, “The Border,” concludes an acclaimed trio about the U.S. government’s war on drugs. March 28 at Chanhassen Public Library: Chart-topping novelist and Minnesotan Leif Enger, whose “Virgil Wander,” published in October 2018, centers on a small industrial town past its prime.

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April 8 at Northtown Library in Blaine: Linda LeGarde Grover, award-winning writer and member of the Boise Forte Band of the Chippewa Tribe, whose “In the Night of Memory” hits shelves April 2. April 15 at North Regional Library in Minneapolis: Top Chef finalist Kwame Onwuachi, whose “Notes from a Young Black Chef” chronicles his personal successes and failures. April 25: Minnesota’s own Lorna Landvik – comedian, actress, playwright, novelist – with her latest, “Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).” The season wraps on May 7 at St. Paul’s Merriam Park Library with New York Times best-selling historian Charles C. Mann, whose “The Wizard and the Prophet” tells of two influential yet little-known scientists who laid the groundwork for the environmentalist movement.

Club Book is coordinated by Library Strategies, the nonprofit consulting group of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, and supported in part by Legacy funds. FMI.

Minnesota Opera to buy The Lab

Minnesota Opera announced Wednesday afternoon that it will buy the Lab Theater, the 350-person performance space located right next door to the Minnesota Opera Center on North 1st St. in Minneapolis’ North Loop. The purchase will add another 6,000 square feet – and a 350-person theater – to its Minneapolis campus, currently 50,000 square feet.

Lab Theater
Courtesy of the Lab Theater
Carved out of the foundation of a historic Itasca warehouse along the Mississippi River, the big stone box was the Guthrie’s second stage from 1988-2006.
Don’t panic, Lab lovers. The opera has said that the current managers and tenants will continue their work and performances without interruption through at least May 2020. “We believe it is important that we maintain this space as an artistic home for local companies in the Twin Cities,” Minnesota Opera President and General Director Ryan Taylor said in a statement. “We are still formulating plans at this time, but we do anticipate a need in the future to renovate the space and we want to make sure that we fully understand community needs as a part of that process.”

Carved out of the foundation of a historic Itasca warehouse along the Mississippi River, the big stone box was the Guthrie’s second stage from 1988-2006. Since then, Executive Producer Mary Kelley Leer has hosted emerging and established performing artists in theater, music, dance, cabaret, fashion and burlesque. Companies including Theater Latté Da, the Moving Company and Minnesota Dance Theatre have staged shows in the Lab.

So has the Minnesota Opera, whose “Memory Boy” was there in 2016 and whose fully-staged Project Opera productions “Brundibar” and “The Gondoliers” will take place there Friday and Saturday (Feb. 8 and 9). Project Opera is Minnesota Opera’s youth training program for talented young singers. FMI, times and tickets ($5-15).

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 7) at Metropolitan State University, St. Paul campus: “In the Company of Others” gallery talk by photographer Den-Zell Gilliard. A young street photographer and south Minneapolis resident, Gilliard has been mentored by Wing Young Huie and Inna Valin and strongly influenced by Gordon Parks. This exhibition features selections from three of his series: “Sunday’s Best,” “Odyssey of a Black Boy” and self-portraits. Reception from 6-8 p.m., artist talk at 7:30. In the Gordon Parks Gallery on the third floor of the Library and Learning Center, 645 East Seventh St., St. Paul. FMI. Free.

A photo by Den-Zell Gilliard from “In the Company of Others.”
Courtesy of Metro State University
A photo by Den-Zell Gilliard from “In the Company of Others.”
Friday at the Parkway: Ben Wendel Seasons Band. First, the remarkable band: multi-reedist and Kneebody co-founder Ben Wendel, pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, bassist Matt Brewer, drummer Eric Harland. All leading, in-demand, accomplished jazz artists. Second, the project. Inspired by Tchaikovsky, Wendel wrote a suite of 12 original compositions, then recorded one per month with 12 different duet partners and released them as a series of widely praised YouTube videos. Hundreds of thousands of views later, he’s out with an album and the above-named band. It’s all so imaginative, and the music is so interesting, and the band is so great. Here they are playing “February.” 8 p.m. at the tastefully renovated Parkway. FMI and tickets ($15 advance, $20 door).

Friday at Orchestra Hall: Walker, Osowski, Cox and Washington. Last October, award-winning mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski released her debut album, “Haunted Blue.” A series of original compositions by jazz pianist Jeremy Walker, with lyrics by poet Greg Foley, featuring bassist Anthony Cox, it’s an exquisite set of jazz-tinged, 21st-century art songs – an exciting new direction for the artists and for us as listeners. On Friday, Walker, Osowski and Cox will perform in the jewel-box atrium at Orchestra Hall. Joined by Brandon Wozniak on saxophone and Kevin Washington on drums, they’ll dip into “Haunted Blue” and play other music as well. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($32).

Friday at the Ordway: We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. featuring Damien Sneed. Midway through a 36-city, coast-to-coast North American tour, multi-genre recording artist Sneed will bring his roof-raising show to the Ordway. An ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists, led by Sneed at the piano, the program will include traditional and modern gospel, classical, jazz, Broadway and spirituals interwoven with words from King. One reviewer called it “a concert of black musical excellence to exalt and uplift.” 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($27-32). Pre-show extra at 6:30 in the atrium.