January 28, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — In winter everything freezes. Our ears, our cars, our brains. Survival depends on thawing out a small place for ourselves -- lighting a mental match and holding it out to the darkness.
I respect the Minnesotans who manage to stay alert during winter. These are the people who get out on top of winter and bully it, really beat it to a pulp -- like the artists who carve ice sculptures in Rice Park, or the kids who make forts on their front lawn although their eyelashes are freezing together.
Even those goofy Holidazzle parade people. I've never been one much for parades, but there's something heartbreaking and beautiful about adults who wear lightsuits covered with Christmas tree lights, and march down freezing Nicollet Ave. just so the kids will cheer. There's another group of citizens who defy winter -- the word warriors. Our league of Minnesota poets, like Greg Watson in St. Paul. His neighbors call him "The Poet of Grand Avenue." He lives in a one-room apartment and writes a poem every day -- even in winter.
Watson is widely published, but probably not by anyone you've heard of. He's published by small presses like The Sulpher River Literary Review and The Naugahyde Press. I ran across him while surfing Amazon.com, which sells his book, "Cold Water Memory."
Here's a poem from that book.
In deep winter the bones of the highway
Crack beneath its frozen weight.
Plain dirt roads fill with ghosts
And cast no shadow.
Night bleeds into day like water into stone,
Beer cans glint into swollen banks
Of snow, proud as soldiers in formation.
In the clearings bare-knuckled trees
Stretch like splinters in the empty sky,
Distant refineries crackle and
Smoke to keep us alive.
Now is the time to drink whiskey,
Read the classics,
Let whiskers grow white.
Now the poets brood like professionals,
Cursing the wind, which cuts through flesh like razors.
But the poet knows nothing
For months he pines and prays for spring
And is soon complaining
Of the dung on his underused boots.
I like this poem because even though it's frozen, there's life inside. Greg Watson finds poetry in the small moments around him, the details that build his world. The men walking down Grand Ave., the coffee at the Bad Habit Café, the girls at the Uptown diner.
Watson is a security guard and doesn't make much money. He's never been published by a local press and he doesn't expect to be -- but he keeps writing. He says it's how he gets through winter. He's working on a series now for his older brother, Chris, who was killed in a car accident last year.
Greg Watson doesn't just write about winter and landlocked states. He writes about true love, lost love, crow dust, dark eyes, coffee grounds, deep autumn, and ancient photographs. His poetry is testament to what Albert Camus once said:
"In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was, in me, an invincible summer."