Pulitzer prize-winning poet ponders with purpose and prose

As part of “Verse Like Water,” the visiting poetry program of Central Lakes College, Pulitzer Prize-winner Forrest Gander — an internationally known poet, novelist, essayist and translator — gave a free poetry reading Monday, March 21, at the Brainerd campus of the college.

Person reciting poetry
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and internationally known poet Forrest Gander recites his poetry Monday, March 21, 2022, at Central Lakes College during the conclusion of the 10th year of the college's Verse Like Water visiting poetry program.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Forrest Gander spoke his mind while recently at Central Lakes College — and he had a lot to say.

The Pulitzer Prize-winner and internationally known poet, novelist, essayist and translator gave a free poetry reading Monday, March 21, at the Brainerd campus of the educational institution.

“I’m really happy to be here. And I haven't been to this part of Minnesota before,” Gander said. “I really like Minnesota. A lot of my relatives from Sweden ended up here.”

Community members were invited to the college’s Chalberg Theatre for the public event, which was part of Verse Like Water, the visiting poetry program of Central Lakes College.

“Verse Like Water concludes this afternoon its 10th year of hosting readings with our most important poets,” Jeff Johnson, a college instructor, told the audience. “We have been bringing you writers across the pandemic.”


Gander's book “Be With” was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. “Concerned with the way we are revised and translated in encounters with the foreign,” according to his biography, his book “Core Samples from the World” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

His poet heart is wide open to our humanity.
— Jeff Johnson

“It's been a real kick for me to be around professor Jeff Johnson, whose ebullience and passion for poetry and the spirit are absolutely contagious. I'd love to be a student of his,” Gander said as part of his opening remarks.

Milford Mine Memorial Park honors the 48 miners working in the Milford Mine on Feb. 5, 1924 — most of whom died when the mine collapsed. The park is about 4 miles north of Crosby along Highway 6.

Gander was the Briggs-Copeland poet at Harvard University before becoming The Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literature at Brown University where he taught courses.

“‘Even amidst the madness of war, it is necessary to create those open spaces so the soul can breathe,’” Johnson told the audience, quoting a Ukrainian writer he said he befriended. “Poetry opens such spaces.”
Gander's books have been translated and published in more than a dozen other languages. In 2011, he was awarded the Library of Congress Witter Bynner Fellowship.

“His poet heart is wide open to our humanity,” Johnson said of Gander by way of introduction.

Gander read poems aloud at the college from other poets and from his latest book, entitled “Twice Alive.” The collection of poems “addresses the exigencies of our historical moment and the intimacies, personal and environmental, that bind us to others and to the world.”

“Drawing from his education in geology and knowledge of spiritual texts, Gander compares personal hardships to wildfires that wreak havoc yet lead to renewal, imbuing his poems with a sense of hope,” according to the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.

According to Gander’s webpage about “Twice Alive,” the notable poet “addresses personal and ecological trauma — several poems focus on the devastation wrought by wildfires in California where he lives — but his tone is overwhelmingly celebratory.”


Gander is a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow and has received fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim, Whiting, and Howard Foundations.

“We look to a great poet today — in a crisis time — to provide us with the ultimate antidote to violence, which is beauty,” Johnson said Monday. “And I know Forrest will help translate our fears about the past, present and future into the other thing we need, which, of course, is hope.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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