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Poetry takes center stage at 2013 Bemidji Public Library Book Festival

About 20 area writers with varying writing skills attended the "In the Mouth of Language" poetry workshop Saturday morning, which was directed by Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen. The writing event marked the last of several workshops held during the annual Bemidji Public Library Book Festival, which concluded Saturday evening with a poetry reading by Sutphen at the Headwaters School of Music and Arts. Trent Opstedahl | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The elements of poetry took center attention on Saturday, concluding the 2013 Bemidji Public Library Book Festival.

Nearly 20 avid writers met with Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen Saturday morning for her "In the Mouth of Language" workshop to hone their poetry writing talents.

"Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes and there are a lot of great poets here," Sutphen said. "The wonderful thing about workshops is you start writing and you don’t know where you’re going to go."

With Sutphen’s goal of having each participant leave the library conference room with five or six freshly written prose pieces after the more than two hour workshop, many participants expressed their comfort of meeting with other writers to Sutphen.

"Language is our substance, just like painters like paint," Sutphen said to her audience. "In any language that you speak, there’s a language within that language called poetry."

Coming from differing backgrounds, the local writers created a variety of pieces by responding to prompts given by Sutphen, stirring emotions of all sorts among those in attendance.

Poems of philosophy, hardship and joy were just a few of the sentiments reflected in Saturday’s workshop, which were able to tell participant’s stories that sometimes cannot be put into words.

Laura Burkhart understands this channel of communication, being a longtime writer herself.

"I find poetry to be very therapeutic," said Burkhart. "It can help clear things up that I otherwise might not understand."

The Kentucky native said she can remember her passion for writing since she was just a small girl in school, and has passed along her appreciation of writing to her daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, 15, has been writing most of her life, even writing a children’s book with her mother when she was five years old.

"Mom did most of the typing while I did most of the telling," said Elizabeth, who hopes to one day become an opera singer.

"She talks and talks and talks constantly, and I just have to listen because she has so many stories to tell," said Burkhart. The mother/daughter duo said they hope to one day publish their children’s book.

Sharing a few of her career experiences, Sutphen, who serves as an English professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, gave hope to the writers who hope to have their work published.

"Sometimes I’m embarrassed being recognized as this big time poet," she said. "I didn’t do this on purpose, I just like writing poems."

Describing herself as a "60s kid," Sutphen said she just began following her dream to write and everything fell into place.

"That’s the wonderful thing about writing – you can just get stronger and stronger," she said.

Patt Corne, who said she has been attending many of the Book Festival’s workshops throughout the week, has been avidly pursuing to make her fine arts skills stronger for the last seven years by enrolling in at least one art course a semester at Bemidji State University.

"I like poetry a lot," she said. "It’s a wonderful story that you can feel and it’s so memorable."

Offering an opportunity for others to feel a memorable story, Sutphen also hosted a poetry reading Saturday evening at the Headwaters School of Music and Arts.

"Everything (in the world) is so fast, except poetry," Sutphen said. "It slows things down."