The publication of Blood Moon left Macalester-Groveland author Patricia Kirkpatrick feeling pensive. Her most recent collection of poetry appeared in March 2020, just as COVID-19 began to cast its long shadow over life as we knew it. “With few readings and reviews, I felt the book didn’t really exist at times,” she said, “and that made it hard to start writing new poems.”

During the pandemic, “I watched and read the news obsessively and I kept reading poetry, but I had a hard time reading whole books and barely wrote anything,” Kirkpatrick said. “I envy and admire the people who kept pandemic journals. I didn’t. It was as if we lived in a floating world, untethered to the normal passage of time.”

Patricia Kirkpatrick
Macalester-Groveland poet Patricia Kirkpatrick. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Blood Moon is a reflection of Kirkpatrick’s life and the world that influenced her views. An educator, advocate for the literary arts and the author of such books as Odessa, the winner of the 2013 Minnesota Book Award in poetry, Kirkpatrick said, “I also served as an editor at Saint Paul Almanac, working with people who were new to this country, new to English, new to writing itself. As they wrote about their experiences, issues of race came up, and I felt I needed to write about race, my experience of race as a white woman.”

Kirkpatrick was introduced to poetry by a teacher in the second grade. “I was a child who couldn’t catch a ball, but I started writing poetry when I was 7 years old,” she said.

Her stint at Saint Paul Almanac took Kirkpatrick back to her childhood and inspired the initial poems for Blood Moon. “It surprised me how often race was referenced in the stories of my youth and in expressions on the playground and around the dinner table, when people had very little interaction with people of color,” she said. “At the same time, I was seeing on television events like the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. I learned that I was white. What did that give me, what did it obscure?

Blood Moon is also concerned with phases of the moon and lunar eclipses, the moon as witness and companion, and with birth and death,” she said. “I hope the poems are connected by a sense of mystery, even hope, in transformation. What is seen, what’s hidden, what’s shared, what’s unknown, what
returns to us.”

An early fascination with poetry

Kirkpatrick was introduced to poetry by a teacher in the second grade. “I was a child who couldn’t catch a ball, but I started writing poetry when I was 7 years old,” she said. “In junior high, I was obsessed with Robert Frost’s poem ‘Acquainted with the Night.’ Then I left poetry until college, where I mostly studied social science. I was at the University of Iowa where there were writers everywhere. I started writing again and decided I wanted to be a poet. I moved to San Francisco after college, then to Saint Paul, then back to San Francisco for graduate school and various writing residencies, and back again to Saint Paul in 1983.”

Kirkpatrick was attracted to Saint Paul because of the writers who were living here at the time. “I was a waitress in the bar at the Commodore,” she said. The Commodore was where Saint Paul’s most famous author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived for a time in the 1920s, she noted. Kirkpatrick was writing for Preview magazine at the time, the precursor to Minnesota Monthly, and she contributed a piece titled, “Another Round, Another Generation at the Commodore Hotel Bar.”

Kirkpatrick said she started writing seriously in the 1970s, during the protests against the Vietnam War. “It’s natural to me that a poem speaks from one voice, but also is linked to the cultural and political moment in which we find ourselves—to our power, or lack of power, as citizens,” she said. “The real subject of poetry is always, ‘what is it like to be alive right here, right now.’”

Author, educator and advocate for the arts

Among Kirkpatrick’s books are Century’s Road: Poems by Patricia Kirkpatrick (2004) and Plowie: A Story from the Prairie (1994). Her poems have also appeared in such anthologies as Robert Bly in This World and She Walks in Beauty, edited by
Caroline Kennedy.

She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in writing at Hamline University, Macalester College and the University of Minnesota and in elementary and secondary schools, including J.J. Hill Montessori where her two now grown sons attended.

“Saint Paul has beauty and character in its neighborhoods, old houses and the Mississippi River,” she said. “It has bookstores, libraries and parks, and it has had funding for the arts and artists. I don’t want to see Saint Paul become too rarified a place for people—the writers, artists, teachers and families who often do extraordinary things—to live. Maybe we don’t need more granite countertops and high-rise apartments built right up to the street as much as we need to address what happened to the Black neighborhood of Rondo or how to close the racial opportunity gap in our schools.”

The value of reading

In order to better understand one’s neighbors and the world, Kirkpatrick said, it is essential to teach children the value of reading and writing. “Two years ago, I visited one of my sons when he was living in Uganda and got to teach some writing lessons to primary students there,” she said. “We barely spoke the same language but were able to read and write together. I’ll never forget that.

“When I read to my children when they were young, the form and rhythm of picture books came through my hands as I turned the pages. Now the same thing is happening as I read to my grand-
children.

“For me, poetry has always been something that comes and goes,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s like a bird at the window. I’m working on picture books now, trying to link some daily routines and rituals common to children throughout the world, maybe in an alphabet book, maybe with rhyme. It’s something I’ve never much pursued, but something my 3-year-old grandson loves

—Anne Murphy

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