MARQUETTE - Five finalists have been selected for the first-ever Upper Peninsula Poet Laureate post.
"Over 100 U.P. libraries, bookstores and writers were contacted for their nominations and these five received the most nominations," said Ron Riekki, a noted author who is project coordinator. "The position is being created to honor a poet that regional bookstores, libraries and wriers believe is of exceptional talent and who has been and will continue to be supportive of U.P. literature, especially poetry."
The winner will be announced this summer, Riekki said.
Candidates for the first Upper Peninsula Poet laureate include, clockwise from left, Elinor Benedict, Russell Thorburn, Randall Freisinger, Austin Hummell and Eric Gadzinski.
"With the awarding of the position, the hopes that - similar to the U.S. Poet Laureate position - the U.P. Poet Laureate will use the title for the further advancement of poetry in the region, leaving autonomy and creativity to the poet in any ideas they may have to help do so."
The consortium of libraries, bookstores and writers that created the post sprang up in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Book Tour, which is going to take place again this summer. The tour has brought writers to all corners of the U.P. in the course the last few summers.
"Previous U.S. Poet Laureate Don Hall's appearance in Marquette and Stephenson as part of U.P. Book Tour 2012, which was funded in part by the Michigan Humanities Council, inspired the U.P. Poet Laureate post's creation," Riekki said. "This is being done as part of the U.P. Book Tour 2013 that will be Aug. 4-14 this year."
National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell will headline this year's tour, Riekki said, with the event kicking off with a night celebrating Michigan women authors. Campbell will be joined by Ellen Airgood and Sue Harrison for this first special gathering Aug. 4 at Lake Superior State University.
Riekki said he hopes as part of this celebration of U.P. poetry, libraries and bookstores will feature the five finalists' books and invite them to do readings.
"They are five of our most important living Upper Peninsula poets," Riekki said.
The five finalists, in alphabetical order, are:
- Elinor Benedict of Rapid River, who is founding editor of the Upper Peninsula literary magazine Passages North. Her recent books include "Late News from the Wilderness" and "All That Divides Us."
- Randall R. Freisinger, an emeritus professor at Michigan Tech University in Houghton, whose books include "Nostalgia's Thread: Ten Poems On Norman Rockwell's Paintings" and "Plato's Breath."
- Eric Gadzinski, associate professor of English at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie. His poetry collections include "Lotus Eater" and "Sweetgrass."
- Austin Hummell, professor of English at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, who is poetry editor of Passages North. His books include "Poppy" and "The Fugitive Kind."
- Russell Thorburn, the author of "Approximate Desire," has been teaching poetry since 2000 in U.P. schools through the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs. He has taught college classes at Marquette Branch Prison and a Northern Michigan University, both in Marquette.
Leading up to the announcement of the U.P. Poet Laureate, the finalists will be giving radio interviews, Riekki said, with an appearance on WNMU TV's "Media Meet" also to be scheduled.
Three of the finalists - Hummell, Gadzinski and Thorburn - are featured in the anthology, "The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works," which was released Wednesday by Wayne State University Press.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.