Doris Stengel remembers having her first poems published when she was just 9 or 10 years old. They were printed in the "Dakota Farmer," a publication distributed near her small hometown in North Dakota.
"Once you have your name in print, you're doomed," Stengel said, smiling.
Since then, she's seen her name in print alongside her poems many times, in journals, newspapers and books, and soon once again she's about to release a new book of poems, titled "Arrival and Departure."
It's the third of Stengel's books of poetry, which also include "Horizons Measured" and "Small Town Lines."
Her memories of poetry go back to first grade. Stengel still has the book she studied from in grade school called, "A Literature Handbook for the Elementary Schools of North Dakota." In it are the poems she remembers learning about and loving including "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe and "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.
"The Highwayman" tells the romantic story of a highway robber who falls in love with an innkeeper's daughter, who ultimately sacrifices herself to save the man.
"In junior high that was about as romantic as it got," she said. She thinks the poem could be the inspiration behind many of her own, which often tell stories. Many of her poems focus on what might have been, using historical tales to weave poems about characters of the past.
"I'm fascinated by human nature," Stengel said, saying that she's not a nature poet, and while nature makes appearances in her poetry, it's not center of attention. Stengel grew up on North Dakota's prairies, but says she married into the lakes and woods.
She met her husband, Casey, at Concordia College in Moorhead her sophomore year. They
married, and as he was two years ahead of her in school, he graduated and she later finished her English degree at the University of North Dakota, all while raising three children ages 2, 4 and 6.
They moved to Brainerd in 1963, where her husband was a high school counselor and Stengel was a substitute teacher. Later, she worked for the Area Education Center. The job influences her writing, as does her history on the prairie.
"I think your landscape shapes your writing," she said. "Your roots are important."
Her historical poetry includes stories of her grandmother, who Stengel remembers as a stern, strong woman who in her lifetime saw the deaths of six of her seven children.
"If I don't write these things down, they'll be lost," Stengel said, remarking that she's one of the only people with a knowledge of her family's history.
While some of the poems are serious or even sad, Stengel said the book also contains a fair amount of humor.
"I have this wicked sense of humor that gets away from me sometimes," she said.
She said that one of her goals for "Arrival and Departure" was to be exploratory, rather than
"I want (readers) to discover some of their own arrivals and departures in their lives," she said, adding that a person's life is constantly filled with both.
Stengel's poetry has been evolving over the years. In the early 1990s, Stengel saw an ad in the newspaper for a new poet's group in Brainerd, which she joined.
"That's how I grew, I started reading to other people, and we would critique each other," she
The group was later affiliated with the League of Minnesota Poets, and she has served as president of the League and later as president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS).
Many years after Stengel's first poems were published, she still gets a thrill from seeing them in print.
"When you see your name in print, you think, this is what poetry is meant for. It's meant to be read by other people," she said.
Stengel's book launch for "Arrival and Departure," published by RiverPlace Press, will be 4:30-6 p.m. Tuesday at the Q Gallery at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, room number 222.
The book can be purchased locally at Turtle Town Books in Nisswa and Book World in Baxter.