League of Minnesota Poets History
(Compiled by Charmaine Donovan and Christina Flaugher–with information provided by Meredith Cook, Ruth Wahlberg, and Valerie Bump)
In 1933, Minnesota poets Robert Cary and Irl Morse, developed the idea of a poetry series, Poetry of Today, which became a column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The goal of this series was to generate state interest in forming a state poetry organization. Other poets helped to further this goal through financial support and by writing letters to prospective members. On February 10, 1934, 33 Minnesota poets met at the Lowry Hotel in St. Paul and became the first charter members of the newly-formed League of Minnesota Poets. Marie d’Autremont Gerry became the first President. Three meetings were held during the year. By year’s end, there were 74 members.
The first two books published by the League that first year are instructive to the mission statement of the League. Anthology of Minnesota Verse by Maude Schilplin and Steps in Creative Poetry by Clara Clausen. These early members endeavored “to make Minnesota poetry conscious, and conscious to its own poets.” Publishing poetry by Minnesota poets was one way to make poetry a part of the state culture and showcase the organization’s poetry. Another was by instructing poets in the art of poetry so they would become more accomplished, well-rounded poets.
By the second year, League membership had increased to 153 members. A LOMP exhibit was held at the State Fair. The first non-member contest was held, sponsored jointly by the League and by state parent-teacher associations. Year Book, 1935, a 36-page first collection of poems by members sold for 25 cents per copy. The Moccasin, a mimeographed bulletin, was sent out irregularly to members, containing personal news, meeting information, and a few poems.
By 1936, The Moccasin was expanded into a poetry magazine, with emphasis on members’ poems. In addition, two 64-page brochures of members’ poems were published, selling for 25 cents each.
By 1938 the office of Librarian was developed. This person was responsible for books owned by the League, primarily books published by members. That same year, Anthology of Minnesota Verse, a 750-page enlarged and revised book was published, along with another book sponsored by the St. Paul Poets’ Seminar. These St. Paul poems were originally read on WTCN radio. A Board of Critics was formed to give constructive criticism to members at the cost of 25 cents per poem.
For forty years The Moccasin was printed quarterly for members, including information about upcoming League events. (Sometimes there were four state meetings a year, then three, and now two.) The Moccasin often included poems from regular League contests. Ten editors preceded the current editor, Meredith Cook, who has been editor for the past twenty years. Currently, The Moccasin comes out as an annual publication at the fall meeting; October. 2012 was the 75th year of its publication. Many members’ books were published between 1942 and 1950. The most successful of these, Minnesota Skyline, was printed in twelve editions, 20,000 copies.
In 1952, the League presented eight large-bound volumes to the Minnesota Historical Society that included a compilation of League poets’ verse, autobiographies, and photos. St. Paul Poets’ Seminar disbanded as a branch. Poetry Day, October 15, 1952 was commemorated with radio shows, school programs, and a double sonnet contest.
Between 1954-56, many books and brochures by members were published. An exhibit of paintings by members was so popular, the League decided to make this an annual event. A mock trial was performed to observe the 20th Anniversary of the League.
In 1982, the League of Minnesota Poets adopted a proposal to name Poets Laureate to five year terms. Elvira T. Johnson and Norman Boe shared the first-term honors. Following Johnson and Boe were Patricia Johnson, Wilfred Johnson, Susan Stevens Chambers, Maxine Russell, John Calvin Rezmerski, and Shirley Ensrud who was appointed in Spring of 2012. After a Poet Laureate finishes his or her term, he or she becomes Poet Laureate Emeritus.
In 1984, in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the League, a poetry contest on the subject of peace was held. Ruth Wahlberg, Two Harbors, received a bronze trophy (which was a replica of a statue in St. Paul) for her poem entitled, “Hear the Cries of the Children.”
In 1987, the League hosted their first national poetry convention in Mankato. The convention responsibilities were primarily assumed by the Southern Minnesota Poetry Society. Michael Dennis Browne and Judson Jerome were among the featured speakers.
In 1990 at the State Capitol rotunda in St. Paul, Grand Prize winner of the NFSPS Contest, Susan Stevens Chambers, runner-up Diane Glancy, and outstanding League leaders Norman Boe, Elvira T. Johnson, Patricia M. Johnson and Wilfred Johnson were honored in a public ceremony.
In 2000, LOMP hosted the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Inc., in Minnetonka. Doris Stengel was LOMP President. To give guests a taste of Minnesota culture, the event started with a potluck dinner held at a local church. Michael Bugeja was the keynote speaker. The theme was “Magnetic Minnesota,” an idea hatched by Marlys Tennyson Binger. Magnetic poetry sets were given away as gifts.
In 2002, at the National Convention hosted in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, League student member Christina M. Flaugher was awarded The Edna Muedt Scholarship for her manuscript Intervals in Life.
In 2005, the League began sponsoring the Cambria Eisteddfod competition in conjunction with the Blue Earth County Historical Society. The competition is two-fold. First, poets submit a sample of written work to be judged. These applicants are then narrowed down to five finalists who compete in an oral competition in the Welsh tradition. In addition to co-sponsoring the event, League member Doris Stengel has won and has been chaired as the bard. The League continues to co-sponsor Eisteddfod to the present day.
In June 2009, the League hosted “A Superior Convention” for NFSPS, Inc., on the shimmering shores of Lake Superior. This convention began with a harbor cruise, included s’mores at the hotel fire pit every night, and ended with a Sunday night gala to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Inc. Mark Doty was the keynote speaker. Susan Chambers and Dennis Herschbach co-chaired the Convention Committee. Doris Stengel and Christina Flaugher were Mistresses of Ceremony. League President Charmaine Donovan oversaw the event. In addition, student League member Colin Chambers was awarded the Florance Khan scholarship for his manuscript Gladly We Are Made Clumsy and Unwise.
In 2012, Shirley Ensrud was appointed Poet Laureate of the League.
In 2016,: Doris Stengel was appointed Poet Laureate of the League.