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Marsh Muirhead, pilot, dentist, island generalissimo, is the spring-summer featured poet for Modern Haiku magazine. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

Bemidji poet draws on diversity of interests

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Marsh Muirhead talks about how he likes to observe how others live on the edge - aerialists, stunt pilots, bullfighters, and yet anyone would suggest that he too likes to live life more on the edge than off it.

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There are those who live for the edge, and everything else is just waiting, but he said he feels that he just goes up to the edge and doesn't go quite so far.

Muirhead moved to Bemidji in the ninth grade and graduated as president of the Bemidji High School Class of 1968. In 1967, he also was a contestant in the Teen Age Mr. America contest as a bodybuilder. He won Mr. Minnesota and went onto to compete in the Mr. America contest and continued to compete for about 20 years. Muirhead opened his office in 1978 and practices dentistry three days a week. In the 1990s, he went to pilot school and then became a flight instructor. A story he wrote and published, "From Sea to Shining Sea," was about a flight he took with a student, Andy Thul, to Florida and back. Then he became a freight pilot for UPS in 2001 to 2004, a job where flying in all kinds of weather was expected. And then he spent a life-changing week in Havana at a writer's conference and a "Casablanca" night with waiters in white jackets, good cigars and palm trees in the lobby - all very heady and cool, he mused. He is also the stock car enthusiast who attended and promoted stock car racing in Bemidji.

Muirhead is also a poet,

The first poem that was ever published was one for "Fire Ring Voices," a men's writing publication under the guidance of Mark Christensen, an English professor at BSU. The poem "Thin Ice" is a metaphor about how our whole lives are lived in a way on thin ice. Simultaneously, "Are You Saved?" which remembered his father's funeral, life in church and in church basement suppers for weddings and funerals, was published. He was recognized as a finalist for the Tor House Prize for a poem for flight students on navigation, but it is really a road map for navigating life. He is also the featured poet for the spring-winter edition of Modern Haiku.

He cites two teachers from BHS who influenced him greatly: Mr. Buenger, who taught Latin and English, and English teacher Edith Herington.

"Mr. Buenger was the first person to impress upon me how important is the life of the mind," Muirhead said. "Edith, on the other hand, was passionate about literature, poetry and fiction, and you have to be the kind of student who was susceptible to that kind of thing. And after I completed dental school at the U of M, I came back to Bemidji in 1978 to set up my practice and immediately started missing liberal arts, so I started a master's program at Bemidji State University in the last '80s and got my degree in 1991."

Muirhead speaks about the professors he had at BSU - Susan Hauser, Will Weaver, CarolAnn Russell and Don Anderson - and then added that he took every class that Stephen Gurney taught towards completion of his degree. As a matter of fact, the Island Republic where Muirhead is the generalissimo, Susan Hauser is the poet laureate and Will Weaver, the brigadier general, hosts many other literati with appropriate titles. The Island Republic is a three-acre island on the Mississippi River upstream from the Power Dam and is home to many fetes during the year. They publish "The Island Journal" and welcome works from other published writers, as well.

Murihead does confess to being a "little journalist" having printed his first newspaper in the sixth grade. He talked about going to the state fair with his dad and experiences early in life which impressed upon a young mind some basic truths: people do dangerous things, some die and others go on to live life on the edge. Muirhead majored in psychology as an undergraduate at the U of M primarily because he discovered at a very young age a fascination with why people do the things they do.

"When I was a little kid, I always felt like an observer of other people's stories," he said. "I am fascinated with aerialists, stunt pilots, bull fighters, it is something you are born with, you are always kind of a reporter."

Over time. he wrote articles for professional magazines like "Open Wheel" and "Stock Car Racing" and "AOPA Pilot," in which he published "My Life as a Flight Dog," and "Northwest Dentistry" where he now submits more photography than stories.

Muirhead calls his start with writing Haiku poetry "fiddling around," but when he attended a writer's conference in Key West with the editors of Haiku poetry magazines - Modern Haiku, Frog Pond, The Heron's Nest and Acorn - were there, he started getting serious about Haiku and began sending in pieces. Since 2008, there have been 80 of his poems published in major publications and he has also been chosen as a featured poet in a recent anthology.

Muirhead admits to having a restless personality which prompts him to venture forth and not be content with the status quo. "I live my life in different roles; sometimes the innovator and in other areas I will sit back and be an observer."

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Pioneer staff reports
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