Arts & Sciences Alumnus Publishes Award-Winning Poems about North Dakota
College of Arts & Sciences
Lisa Linrud has lived what she writes.
It's what makes her verse so authentic, so uncontrived and vivid as a blue-gray suppertime sky, drunk with rain, over the rolling patchwork of Anywhere, North Dakota. You could say it's ingrained in her DNA.
Growing up on a farm outside Velva, N.D., Linrud, 25, admits she sometimes took the austere beauty of her rural surroundings for granted. It wasn't until she was a student at the University of North Dakota, a bit removed from the land and its people, that she began to reflect deeply on her rural upbringing, how it influenced her and how times change — and not always for the best.
She penned these thoughts — struggles and triumphs — as a collection of poetry, titled In Grain, while she was studying for her master's degree in English at UND. The work paid off immediately, earning her The Graduate School's 2010 "Distinguished Thesis" award, one of only three given each year for outstanding achievement.
Linrud's works were published in a book of poetry with the same name. In Grain is printed in chapbook format and is available at finishinglinepress.com and on Amazon.com, Inc.
UND Discovery recently talked to Linrud about her new book and what influenced her poems, and to learn more about her.
UND Discovery: What is the inspiration for the poetry that appears in your book?
Lisa: I grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota, but I didn't have an intense interest in the workings of it until I began writing. I needed to write a poem for a workshop I was in, so I sat down, and "Rural Route 2, Box 36" is what came out, in a much rougher version. When I finished writing it, I was surprised. Every poem I wrote after that held with this agricultural theme — it became what obsessed me. I spent the next two years writing and revising poems exploring this agricultural lifestyle, the beauty in triumphs and failures, the complex nature of the relationships between the farmer and the land.
The inspiration comes from my family's experience and the experiences of those farmers in the area where I grew up. I would talk with my parents at the end of the day and hear about how the crops were doing, the ups and downs of spring and fall. I would listen to them talk about their days, and sometimes they would say things that just sparked a poem. Through writing I had the chance to explore the issues I was hearing them talk about. It was a way for me to participate while I couldn't be there.
UND Discovery: What feelings or emotions were you trying to convey or translate for the reader?
Lisa: America is moving toward a corporate farming monopoly, and we're losing something very beautiful in the process. It's easy to say that the family farm has failed, and that's what will be remembered; the family farm also thrived. Farming communities face a wide array of challenges, failures and successes. The poems explore the connection the people have with the land, the interdependent relationships between the family and the family farm. This relationship is paralleled in the relationships between the family members themselves as they move both together and apart.
UND Discovery: Does your poetry tend to be an introspective journey done for personal reasons — maybe therapeutic — or is it something purposely done to honor the culture and memories of your heritage? Or is it simply to entertain others?
Lisa: I think it probably began as exploration of this culture and this need to share with others what is happening here, what it means to be a farmer with a small operation in rural North Dakota. For many, there is a popular romanticized image associated with the Midwest that overlooks the realities faced by the farming community. With today's agricultural transition into large corporate farms, I wanted to illustrate the beauty hidden within the challenges of the family farm before the family farm becomes obsolete. It was also therapeutic — I don't think it would have been possible for the writing not to change me in some way. It was a way to be a part of the farm and my family's work when I wasn't physically there with them.
UND Discovery: Talk about your literary and/or poetical inspirations growing up. Was/is there anyone that you tried/try to emulate?
Lisa: I fell in love with Jack Gilbert from the moment I read him. He writes with a 'minimum of decoration,' as he called it in an interview with the Poetry Foundation. He uses exactly the right words, which create this beautiful and sometimes devastating effect. I found that his writing influenced mine greatly. B.H. Fairchild was also certainly influential. And I absolutely have to mention Edna St. Vincent Millay. The female speaker in her poems was very powerful and sometimes gave me strength to keep writing.
UND Discovery: Are you surprised at the critical success that your poetry has received so far?
Lisa: Very much so. It's always nice to have someone confirm that the work you're doing is important, that it matters.
UND Discovery: Well, this is an impressive introduction for you to the ranks of published poets. And then there's the thesis award you won at UND. What did that mean to you?
Lisa: I was shocked and very honored. Just to be nominated was an honor, and then to be chosen was so unexpected. UND graduates many accomplished students each year, and I was overwhelmed to be recognized.
UND Discovery: Is there anyone at UND who really mentored you?
Lisa: My adviser, Heidi Czerwiec, was incredible. She spent as much time on this project as I did, poring over drafts. This collection wouldn't be what it is without the class members in the poetry workshops I was a part of; much of their feedback went into revising these poems. Those workshops are really invaluable — you just don't have that opportunity to receive that much feedback on your work. There were also many professors that took time out of their busy schedules to help me. I really love that about UND.
UND Discovery: I take it, then, that UND was a nurturing environment for an aspiring writer? Was your creative work always poetical?
Lisa: The first time I really took writing seriously was my English 120 class. We wrote research papers but were allowed to incorporate creative elements, and I was exposed to many different styles of writing. That really sparked my interest and I signed up for the Intro to Creative Writing class. I thought at that time that I was a fiction writer, but my professor quickly recognized I needed to write poetry. I, of course, thought I knew everything at that time, and so I continued to take fiction classes and write fiction to prove him wrong. Several fiction classes later, I ran into that professor again, and he gave me a book of Jack Gilbert's poetry. It all changed after that.
UND Discovery: You graduated from UND with your master's last year. What are you doing now?
Lisa: I currently live in Grand Rapids, Minn., and am a full-time faculty member at Itasca Community College.
UND Discovery: And your future aspirations, literary or otherwise?
Lisa: I want to spend more time writing and find the next thing that obsesses me. I am also really excited to have the opportunity to mentor students here at ICC the way the faculty at UND mentored me.
University of North Dakota. "Arts & Sciences Alumnus Publishes Award-Winning Poems about North Dakota" (2012). UND News Archive. 253.