Literary pick of the week: “Duet in the Little Blue Church”

From working-class family life to the grueling history of pioneers who arrived on the Midwest prairie, Sharon Chmielarz’s poetry spans time and place. After four decades and 13 poetry collections, she presents a representative selection of her wide-ranging poetic interests and imagination in “Duet in the Little Blue Church: New and Selected Poems” (Nodin Press, $19.95).

Chmielarz will host a launch party for the book at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Open Book, 1022 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. It’s free and open to the public.

This South Dakota-born poet has been applauded by literary stars, including Joyce Carol Oates (“Quite lovely poetry”).

Chmielarz’s publisher points out that her poems are often related “in a wry and enigmatic conversational style” that bears comparison to such modern Polish masters as Szymborska and Milosz. The European element is strong, but so is the immigrant experience of the Great Plains.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Chmielarz’s first two books “Different Arrangements” and “But I Won’t Go Out in a Boat” were awarded New Rivers Press’ Minnesota Voices prizes. “The Other Mozart” was made into an opera. Her works have been published in national literary and review journals.

Here is the collection’s title poem, which shows why Chmielarz says “My relationship to my own father is/was possibly the major impetus that first drove me to write.”

Listening to him

you’d think we two sang

the way the saved sing,

making the connection

between loss and love,

holding its music,

cracking stars,

my dad’s bass to my alto.

Listening to him,

you’d think sorrow

our beacon,

joy, the rose

light over snow.

You’d even think

disappointment –

sitting in the back pew,

unfrozen from frowning –

had opened its mouth, as echo.

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