Cloquet native debuts poems at 75
April 14, 2023
Not every poem Patrick Stevens writes will see the light of day. Some are crafted simply to get it all out.
"I'm venting a lot of anger in my poetry at this point about snow," Stevens said last week, before the warming thaw. "It's nothing I'm going to publish ever. It's more about getting it out on paper."
In December, the 75-year-old Stevens, with the help of some old Cloquet High School classmates, published his first book of poetry. Titled "Panning Gold," it features 40 poems across 146 pages, published by Finns Way Books of Oakland, California.
The works reflect on Stevens' time growing up in Cloquet between 1950 and 1966. It contains no references to the tumultuous times themselves - the wars, social upheaval or political turmoil. Instead, it's about a young person growing up in a small town before freeways, strip malls, fast food chains, cell phones, Google and 24-hour news.
Local and bygone references abound: Avenue C, Big Lake Road, Fish's Bar, Greek John, Heikala's cow pasture, the DM&IR railway, the Cloquet High School marching band and on and on.
These are not the rhyming poems of the Romantics. In "July Fourth" he writes:
"We thought of hot summer love;
watched shouting crowds stroll past
in tight laughing groups
to crowd Pinehurst Park
as we spun tilt-a-whirling
long into the night"
Stevens' writing voice is elegant, confident and soothing. He plants images in the reader's mind, and carries them away.
"Each of them is more of a story than you'd think of as a poem," Stevens said. "I don't like the feel of the sing-songy voice. I base mine on imagery and sound."
A lifelong teacher, nature lover and writer, Stevens has spent all of his career working in English, teaching high school in Minnesota before spending many years teaching language arts in Alaska, at public schools and later the University of Alaska. He returned to Minnesota in 2002, working as librarian and education director of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Widowed, he now lives in Moose Lake with his two dogs - his life its own brand of poetry. He grows flowers, hunts birds and deer, and rides his bicycle 10 to 20 miles a day. Each day, he said, is his own.
"I work on poetry every day, usually early in the morning," he said. "When the ideas are flowing really well, I'll go back later in the day and play with it."
He culled his 40 published poems from a cache of 70. It wasn't an easy journey to whittle it all down. The microdecisions he was tasked with - "fiddling" line by line and weighing every comma, every capital letter - was new to Stevens. But it wouldn't deter him from doing it again.
"I do have quite a bunch of poems," he said. "I may put out another book with a completely different focus."
Stevens' first book may never have become reality were it not for his class of 1966 classmates; Tim Jollymore and Kathleen Stamm both earned acknowledgement at the end of the book. Jollymore is also an author who publishes with Finns Way. Classmates confronted Jollymore, asking him why he hadn't helped his old friend get published.
"They were my two editors that helped me get this thing out," Stevens said.
The class of 1966 is a unique one in its continued closeness. Stevens said they're an important part of his social life, with members meeting for lunch monthly and talking online frequently.
"Everybody has mellowed out to a mellower self," Stevens said. "Nobody's giving you funny looks or trying to steal your girlfriend. It's all very normal and civil."
He includes in his book a poem about the 50-year class reunion. "We are mostly happy," he writes in "We, The Class of 1966." "Mostly satisfied with the way we've all turned out."
Growing up in Cloquet is something he'll never forget.
"We were free," he said. "We could do anything. Anything above 22nd Street was the woods. We went up there and played. We went everywhere, nobody thought a thing about it."
Copies of "Panning Gold" are available at the Pine Knot News, Zenith Bookstore in Duluth, and the Carlton County Historical Society in Cloquet.
Stevens thought an excerpt from "Cloquet, Minnesota: 1954" seemed like a good introduction of his work to readers:
"In those days
the town worked.
We worked all we knew
recycling pop bottles.
making paper, toothpicks
insulation, milled lumber
selling what we had
to whom we knew.
The town worked."
Meet a poet
Patrick Stevens will conduct a reading of his work from 6-7 p.m. May 9 at the Cloquet Public Library. You can purchase a copy of Stevens' book at Pine Knot News, 122 Avenue C in Cloquet and/or visit with him during the Pine Knot art show April 28 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.