Land of Sunlit Ice: Giving Region a Voice

note from Suzzanne Kelley, Publisher, NDSU Press

View from my front porch.

As I write, periodically gazing out my study window at a crisp, cold negative 24 degrees day, I revisit one of the first books I published when coming on board with NDSU Press. In a conversation with North Dakota Poet Laureate Larry Woiwode about his current work—back in the fall of 2015—we landed on the proposition of publishing a chapbook of poetry: Land of Sunlit Ice. We wouldn’t do it in simple fashion, but in alliance with newspaperman Allan Burke (the mover and shaker behind the Hunter Times and the Braddock News Letterpress Museums), the Iron Men of the South Central Threshing Association, and my Introduction to Publishing students. That inaugural project kicked off a series of publications, evolving into what we now call the Poetry of the Plains & Prairies (POPP) Award. January 17, 2022, kicks off our seventh call for poetry for this prestigious prize.

Hand-letterpressed covers, individually painted by Introduction to Publishing students, class of 2016.

Introduction to Publishing students from the class of 2016.

Pictured after installing a hanging propane furnace in The Braddock News Letterpress Museum in Braddock, N.D., are left to right, Ken Rebel of Bismarck, Tony Splonskowski of Bismarck, David Moch of Hazelton, Tracy Moch of Kintyre and Dave Duchscherer of Bismarck. They are all active in the South Central Threshing Association, Inc.

Getting off to a stellar start with this fabulous collection led not only to our chapbook series. The publication and the publicity surrounding our work led to our tagline: giving region a voice. I’d like to say that we thought of this all-encompassing phrase all by ourselves, but it came instead from an article about what we do, published in North Dakota Living’s article by Luann Dart “NDSU Press Gives Region a Voice.” At root, this simple tagline represents the mission of the press since its first conception in 1950. We are proud to continue that mission today.

But, what exactly is “region,” and how do we apply the term as a geographic and sensate parameter today?

Our mission statement declares that NDSU Press “exists to stimulate and coordinate interdisciplinary regional scholarship. These regions include the Red River Valley, the state of North Dakota, the plains of North America (comprising both the Great Plains of the United States and the prairies of Canada), and comparable regions of other continents.” We do this via publications in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. With our Contemporary Voices of Indigenous Peoples series, we sometimes step out of region, but on the whole, our mission represents region as defined herein.

Still, on the topic of “region,” enter once again Mr. Woiwode. In a recent interview, Woiwode addresses an ever-burbling question about defining our particular region, with a push to include our region as an outlier of the Midwest. To this, Woiwode responds:

Once, talking heads and weather-people on TV became commonplace, the Midwest started to stretch from Pennsylvania to Nevada—perhaps because media people don’t often travel from their studios on the coasts. Iowa and Illinois and Indiana are at the heart of the Midwest, with Wisconsin and southern Michigan and perhaps western Ohio as participants, but northern Minnesota and North and South Dakota and Montana and Wyoming are definitely not the Midwest . . . Nebraska clings closer to South Dakota and Wyoming than any midwestern state, and the grounding in evidence and practicality of the area comes naturally, because many resident families were farmers or ranchers for generations. Neither occupation runs on theory.

I rejoice at this clarification, for it fits my own recognition of our region, and it clarifies how “comparable” regions might well be defined.

Woiwode’s next statement also lands squarely with my understanding of writers of region, based on my own research in memory and collective memory.

My sense is that a writer’s first steps onto terra firma, the place where the writer learns to walk, whether prairie or high plains or beach or forest or the floor of an apartment and on to concrete and asphalt, that place is the locus of creative power, even if never referred to—it’s the center and source of the words that arrive from one who travels the distance of a novel or collection of stories or enough poems to generate the microcosm of a genuine interior. The rhythms and the texture of the language of that place will always be present in all the creative work that follows.

Genius. That rhythm and texture, that locus of creative power in a work about region—these are the golden threads of what we seek in our publications, from chapbooks of poetry to the magnum opus of a book about turkeys that we have now in production.

 

Related notes:

Submissions to the Poetry of the Plains & Prairies Award will run January 17 through March 17. We seek collections of poetry, 30-35 pages in length (one poem per page; single poems may extend beyond one page) by a single author. There is no submission fee. Send manuscripts to NDSU Press Submission Manager (submittable.com)

Land of Sunlit Ice, by Larry Woiwode (2016, out of print). For more information on our chapbook projects, view Thunderbird & The Land of Sunlit Ice, produced by Sandbagger News.

Larry Woiwode has been North Dakota Poet Laureate since 1995. Born in Carrington, ND, he spent his early, formative years on the land in the farming community of Sykeston. He is widely (and wildly successfully!) published with poetry, novels, biographies, essays, and memoirs.

Woiwode interview quotes from Middle West Review, Volume 8, Number 1, Fall 2021, p. 206.

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