Category Archives: Minnesota State Fair

Making Time for the Joy of Poetry

The crown of literature is poetry. Somerset Maugham

Writer’s Almanac, the perfect post to the start the day, reminded readers this morning that it was on this day in 1985 that President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing an official Poet Laureate for the United States – the story of which may have the longest e-address ever! The LC description is brief and well worth a read. (

Thinking about Poets Laureate soon led me to dig a little deeper to learn just who those exalted men and women of words were.   In short order I discovered a great complementary website, again gathered and shared by the staff of the Library of Congress. Did you know that a few states have state poems? And several, including Minnesota, have Poets Laureate.

Learn much more about the history of Minnesota’s Poets Laureate, past and present here: The state’s    current Poet Laureate, is Joyce Sutphen, who has held the position since 2011. Learn more about Joyce Sutphen on her website:

On a cold winter day, when one hasn’t quite finished holiday cards or gifts, it’s just too enticing to keep on probing the literary treasures that capture the spirit of the day. So I was at the ready when the email from popped up. As is their special way, the folks there have gathered a selection of winter poems – a sort of happy holiday literary escape to lift the spirits of weary readers. Their picks:

“To Winter” by William Blake
“Winter is good – his Hoar Delights (1316)” by Emily Dickinson
“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
“Winter Field” by Joanna Klink
“The Feast of Lights” by Emma Lazarus
“Noel” by Anne Porter
“Recollections of My Christmas Tree” by Mary Ruefle
“Elegy in Joy [excerpt]” by Muriel Rukeyser
“Why Is the Color of Snow?” by Brenda Shaughnessy
“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens
“The Coming of Light” by Mark Strand

As a special holiday gift the editors at then dipped into their archives to share the charm of E.E. Cumming (yes, i was lower case back in the day)  Take time to enjoy Cummings’ 1960 holiday greeting and some reminders of his delightful way with words and ideas!

The Great Minnesota Get-Together 2016 – Some Reflections

Alas, it’s the last day of the Minnesota State Fair – and I’m not there. I was at the Fair for four days in the past week, though. Today seemed like a day to sort through the treasures I’ve accumulated, and to think about what I’ve observed and learned. There’s a lot of swag in my over-stuffed backpack and even more thoughts circulating in my head.

As I try to create a mental Big Picture of the Fair, I keep returning to a theme – the Minnesota State Fair offers a living narrative of the ways in which Minnesotans celebrate the inclusion of people with disabilities into the Fair-going mainstream.

I’ve thought and written about inclusion in the past, most notably two years ago when the fairgrounds expanded physical access options for people with disabilities.

( The good news, as reported by Access Press, is that more improvements were added this year. Two key improvements for 2016 were a free accessible trolley that transported fairgoers from parking lot to fairgrounds sites and more accessible restrooms near the children’s area.   Also new this year was a handy dining list that identifies convenient restaurants that accommodate people with disabilities; the guide notes eateries with essential curb cuts, more wheelchair friendly floor surfaces and room for a wheelchair or scooter at the table.

Thinking about my experiences this year I feel as if the potential of those improvements is being realized. My personal impression is that a whole lot of people, once excluded, were having a great time! More than this, I realize just how the updates make the Fair experience more enjoyable for everyone!   From the time I arrived on the fairgrounds I observed the difference and began to take notes for this post. I observed this year’s Fair through the accessibility lens.

As in the past there are complaints about access to rides on the Midway. Since I don’t step foot on the Midway, and since the Midway operates as a fairly independent entity, I chose to celebrate the feeling of total inclusion that permeated the whole of the Fair experience – Midway notwithstanding.

I hope I wasn’t being voyeuristic when at one point I paused to observe from a relatively remote corner of the Creative Activities building. From my stance I could see six fairgoers in wheelchairs, at least eight on walkers, three people with canes indicating limited eyesight, and a couple communicating with each other in sign language. Because it was the Creative Activities building – with emphasis on the fine crafts of weaving, quilting and other grown-up stuff — I didn’t see many children in wheelchairs – children who were no doubt engaged in some far more exciting Fair adventure!

Though I admit that my first choice of Fair features is not the piglets, the calves or even the llamas, as I observed through a new lens I gained insight into the joy that has hitherto escaped me. I saw children and adults with developmental disabilities come alive as they communicated with the animals – often as their parents, siblings or PCA’s waited patiently and smiled a knowing smile as they shared the joy of these meaningful exchanges.

When the 2:00 parade marched down Cosgrove I tried to observe the crowd when fairgoers were not in motion. There were families with young folks pushing family members in wheelchairs; there were PCA’s helping elderly adults; there were couples in which one spouse was offering another physical and moral support. In fact, there were parade enthusiasts with an incredible range of physical and mental challenges. And there was a smile on every face!

Even more, I saw able fairgoers making way, lending a hand, flashing a grin and making accommodations for people and their gear.   Generally speaking, it’s every fairgoer for her/himself, but Minnesotans are quick to step aside for those for whom navigating the crowds is a challenge.

Needless to say, the Fair offers a chance to connect with a host of nonprofits and public agencies that work to improve the lives of people with disabilities. From these representatives I learned a good deal about ongoing challenges, ranging from the labor conditions of PCA’s to the barriers presented by public transit. My swag bag contains a number of colorful posters celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act!

Bottom line: The Fair offers a chance to see first-hand how Minnesotans embrace members of the disabilities community.   Fairgoers who need a helping hand obviously enrich the lives of good people who care and want to share the unbridled pleasure that the Fair offers every visitor. My thought is that able fairgoers enjoyed their visit to the Fair even more because we have a chance to extend the unique Fair experience to people for whom the gates have finally been opened. As Minnesotans, we take great pride and we just want everyone to experience this unique and wonderful state treasure!

Most important, the Fair manifests the ways in which people with disabilities are seizing the opportunity to capitalize on expanded opportunities to enjoy the sites, the food, the politics, the newborn animals, the music, the chauvinism and the camaraderie of the Great Minnesota Get Together!

Featuring Fun Food for the Mind at the Fair

The Snelling Avenue Bridge is re-opened – a good sign that the Great Minnesota Get Together must be nigh. As always, the state’s highways and by-ways are at the ready for action – in fact, they are already teeming with vendors, exhibitors, builders, chefs, entertainers, transit drivers and others converging on the Fairgrounds to do what needs to be done to ensure that all is in readiness for Thursday, August 27, when the gates open!

Liberal arts majors and their progeny may want to take note of some Fair favorites that are long on bargain, short on deep fried edibles.

Representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society are a visible and audible presence all week. They’re performing at the Schilling Amphitheater with their popular “History-on-a-Schtick!” vaudeville show. Or orient yourself to the fairgrounds with a cell phone walking tour around the grounds. Listen to fascinating stories of Minnesota State Fair history while you learn about the buildings and the stories those walls can tell. MHS also sponsors a booth in the Education Building where visitors can learn about the organization’s resources, the statewide network and outreach activities.

Wednesday, September 2, is library day at the Fair. The first treat of “Read&Ride Day” comes at the gate when public library cardholders will get discounted admission. From 9:00-5:00 Carousel Park will be abuzz with activities for every age, including yoyo tricks, magic, hypnotism, old-time and bluegrass music. For young readers and reader wanabes there are muscle and brain-building activities, picture books, a scavenger hunt, bookmarks and more. Visitors who show their library card will get a deck of “Get Carded: Make your next stop the library” playing cards.

Rain Taxi will join the September 2 reading bonanza with a full schedule of events, starting at 9:00 with the chance to write a short “good morning poem” using impromptu exercises with poet John Colburn. At 10:30 Moorhead teacher Kevin Carollo will craft cardboard animals, while poet Paula Cisewski will write an on-the-spot poem based on the requester’s Tarot cards.

Also from Rain Taxi, from 1:00-2:00 Minnesota hip-hop writer and performer Dessa will sign copies of her Rain Taxi chapbook, A Pound of Steam. From 2:00–3:30 poet-troubadour Brian Laidlaw will lead a drop-in songwriting workshop. And from 3:30-5:00 graphic novelist and comics professor Ursula Murray Husted will create a gigantic collaborative comic – fun for all ages.

** Public Library Day is funded by the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

P.S. Just as I polished off this post the latest news from Minitex popped up – featuring a tempting smorgasbord of top ten fun things to do at the Fair.  Click and learn!


Before the Museums Came – A Virtual Tour of the TC’s Arts Heritage

Open Access Week (October 20-26) just wasn’t long enough to explore all the permutations on the theme. And so we saved the best for last with celebration of a most wonderful open access book. Before the Museums Came: A Social History of the Fine Arts in the Twin Cities, is the brilliant and beautiful creation of publisher, social historian and attorney Leo John Harris. The book and the creator deserve a bonus day of celebration.

Before the Museums Came offers a virtual walk through Minnesota’s fine arts history – actually through the private fine arts collections of some of the state’s most renowned titans of business and politics.   Harris, creator of the open access book, is perhaps best known as the founder of Pogo Press, publisher of arts, history and popular culture. Harris has ventured into open access publishing with his usual commitment to produce a work of significance and beauty.

Focus of this social history of the area’s arts community is on the era spanning the years 1835 till establishment of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1915. Among the noted collectors whose names and stories are known to 21st Century Twin Citians are T.B. Walker and J.J. Hill, both of whom established massive private collections of art from around the globe, collections that established the roots of today’s museums.

Capitalizing on the potential of open access publishing Harris leads a tour through the private collections as well as the institutions and organizations that were created in support of the fine arts. He guides the reader through the early art exhibits and events, the collectors, dealers and artists whose efforts breathed life into the thriving arts community that locals and visitors from around the world enjoy today.

John Lindley, director of the Ramsey County Historical Society, writes that “Harris adroitly explains how art dealers, critics, architects, academics, public libraries, and artists all contributed to the vibrant community interest in the fine arts. As a social history of the fine arts, this book succeeds in documenting the Twin Cities art community prior to 1915 with depth and detail that is unavailable elsewhere. “

The thoroughly researched text is enriched and supplemented by reproductions of artworks, photographs of key players, exhibition sites, studios, art galleries, catalogs and ephemera.  The result is both a scholarly work and a unique reading/viewing experience.

Don’t look for a coffee table book at your favorite indie! This is a virtual tome, downloadable at the click of the key. It’s published by DeGruyter Open (formerly Versita), one of the world’s leading publishers of open access content.   Though the emphasis of Open Access Week is on scholarly and research works, Harris’ unique exploration of the Twin Cities arts heritage is a breakthrough adventure that will not just inform but delight anyone with an eye for the visual arts and a love for the storied roots of our robust arts community

Click here to explore the heritage and to wonder at the possibilities when creativity and technology share a mission and a vision.



For Twin Cities Readers Book Fare Trumps the State Fair!

For some among us the iconic Minnesota State Fair should eschew the politicians, dump the Skyride, douse the corndogs and replace it all with a tasteful gathering of bibliophiles, Minnesota writers, readings, book talks, exchanges of bon mots among the literati. That’s why we have the Twin Cities Book Festival, the ultimate antidote to the State Fair.

Once again Rain Taxi will restore the natural order to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds when writers, publishers, readers, booksellers and their ilk will gather for the Twin Cities Book Festival. It’s Saturday, October 11, 10:00 AM til 5:00 PM and it’s happening in some of the Fairgrounds classiest settings, including:

  • The Progress Center where there will be an all-day exhibit of publishers, magazines, literary organizations, local authors, booksellers and more.
  • And there are readings and talks on the Reading Stages in the Fine Arts Building, just next door. Participants include Julie Schumacher, Laird Hunt, Okey Ndibe, Hoa Nguyen, Steven Pinker, and an ever growing-list of authors who write for adult readers.
  • There are sites for children’s authors and activities (Michael Dahl, Chris Monroe, Phyllis Root and Lauren Stringer, to name a few),
  • Options for middle grade readers (Margi Preus and William Alexander among others)
  • And teen favorites (Marie Lu, Pete Hautman, Carrie Mesrobian and other YA authors)
  • There’s an author hub featuring Dessa, Michael Fallon, Julie Kramer, John Rosengren, Ben Weaver and who knows who else…. (If you really must know “who else” keep checking the Rain Taxi website ( or Facebook for updates….)
  • So no one goes home bookless there’s a used book bonanza,

And it’s all free and open to the public!

The Festival is sponsored in part with funds from the Legacy Fund distributed through the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.


Spotlight on access – physical and virtual – at the 2014 Great Minnesota Get-Together!

The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt form normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life. – Robert MacIver, sociologist

It’s State Fair time — when new taste treats compete with cheese curds for olfactory prominence, military issue 4-H dorms house weary teens demo-ing the latest in control of frac-sand or groundwater pollution, research-in-progress shares space with Goldie Gopher at the aU of M show-and-tell. Still, as J.V. Bailey (for whom the building that now houses the Minnesota State Fair Foundation is named) observed the “the State Fair approaches in scope and effort an institution of learning.“

Writing in 1934 Bailey celebrated that “the State Fair teaches by exhibit, lecture and pamphlet, the means whereby two blades of grass can be grown with less cost and less effort than ever before.” A noble goal that has inspired, instructed and entertained Minnesotans of every era and every age for over 150 years!

Fair-going veterans and newbies alike are well advised to prepare for the adventure with a good online primer such as ( In case you’re tempted – or inspired to rectify the situation-  Wikipedia is out-of-date.)

The real wonder – and irresistible attraction – of the Minnesota State Fair is that the Fair continues to interpret, share and adapt the Minnesota story. The 2014 “Great Minnesota Get-Together” overflows with ideas, many having to do with access – for Fair attendees and for those who prefer a Virtual Fair Experience

Access on site

At the top of the list for many will be the increased accessibility of fair displays for people with disabilities. This includes the area that was once Heritage Square, now a new transit center, resplendent with restaurants, shops and heritage center. (Good to know that my favorite, the once-threatened Minnesota Newspaper Museum, lives on at the 4H Building!) Gone are the steps to the area that posed a barrier for anyone with mobility issues.

There are also more resources this year. Metro Mobility will have additional stops and ASL interpreters will be on hand. Wheelchair battery recharging can be found at the Care and Assistance Center.

There’s an Attraction Access Guide to assist fairgoers in making choices about rides available at all ticket outlets on the Midway and Kidway. Look for the free park and ride lot with free wheelchair-accessible bus service for people with disabilities and their companions.

This is but the tip of the physical access iceberg – The full range of expanded resources is spelled out in the most recent issue of Access Press on newsstands now – or find the issue online by clicking on

Access from home

Been there, done that and want to refresh the memories? Tried listening to the walking tour from home? There’s an app for that! or call 1-877 411 4123 – listen and remember the sights, sounds and smells.

Want some visual background? Click on the inventory of photographs of the State Fair, 1953-1968 at the Minnesota Historical Society site: photo company

Even the prestigious Library of Congress pays archival homage to the Minnesota State Fair circa 1909 –

And there are countless good reads and listens – histories, reminiscences, newspapers, podcasts, including these and more:

The Minnesota State Fair: Origins and traditions, by Kathryn R. Goetz, originally published in MNopedia, republished in MinnPost, August 20, 2013. A readable intro to the history of Minnesotans’ favorite gathering.

Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History, by Kathryn Strand Koutsky, Garrison Keillor, foreword by Linda Koutsky.   Coffee House Press, 2007

State Fair: The Great Minnesota Get-Together, by Susan Lambert Miller, foreword by Lorna Landvik, Minnesota Historical Society.

Minnesota State Fair, The History and Heritage of 100 Years, by Ray P. Speer and Henry J. Frost, Argus Publishing Company, 1964.

Seed Queen:The Story of Crop Art and the Amazing Lillian Colton, by Colleen Sheehy, Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

Once again, Minnesota Public Radio is just one of the radio stations that will be broadcasting from their booth. Though with all of the politicians who will be roaming the grounds this season it’s hard to predict who will show up, here’s the link to MPR’s fair schedule:

History at the Fair

If you do go to the State Fair, don’t miss Minnesota History Day – Sunday, August 31.

A critical feature of the re-designed area on the West end of the fairgrounds is the History and Heritage Center, home of the State Fair History Display. To keep up with plans for the history display follow developments on Facebook:


Thoughts while perambulating the Great Minnesota Get-Together

Though Arianna Huffington would be appalled, I’m sure,  her words kept coming to mind during my hours of rapture at the State Fair.  As I trudged the streets, dodged the revelers, and ignored the pervasive essence of grease, it was her prose that set the mental pace.   Huffington’s gentle essay, “Hemingway, Thoreau, Jefferson and the Virtues of a Good Long Walk” posted on her August 29 blog, framed my thoughts at the Great Minnesota Get-Together..

Huffington writes that “a journey – one that can also be full of adventure and knowledge – doesn’t have to involve planes and cars and passports.  The benefits of a journey are always available simply by walking.”

In truth Huffington does not envision walking at the State Fair…Though hers is a more bucolic background with references to communing with nature, I kept thinking of the common experience I was enjoying.  I was alone, anonymous, in a sea of nature (albeit human), devoid of technology (since none that I possess could either cope or compete), in a reflective – and learning – mode.   The Fair, if visited in the guise of a disengaged observer, frees the spirit – no deadlines, no meetings, no business at all except to soak it all in.

And then there’s the walking.  A leisurely walk to Heritage Square is a healthy hike, if one pauses for an irresistible ice cream cone (caramel denali).  The trek to the horse barns or the art gallery or a real tour of International Square puts some wear on the sneakers.  Even the MPR booth on Nelson and Jackson is a healthy jaunt, especially if you start at the North end of the grounds.

The wonder is that the blocks slip by as the mind drifts, occasionally soars, trying to capture the essence of The Fair.  The infants in arms, physically challenged amputees negotiating the Grandstand steps, families in matching day-glo t-shirts designed to keep the brood in tow,  4-Hers shuffling their prize winning efforts,  high school bands marching proudly behind the Kemp’s cow, ethnic food vendors, groomers and trainers of domesticated animals, politicians, exhausted workers, homegrown royalty, artists, musicians, dancers, farmers, crafters, cooks and others who take well-earned pride in their efforts.  Each vignette is a story demanding the sort of reflection that germinates during a long walk to the next story.

In Huffington’s construct her models walked for various reasons:  for Jefferson, the purpose of walking was “to clear the mind of thoughts,” a theory that discourages mobile thinking about life, the universe and the essence of Minnesota.  Nietzsche, on the other hand, believed that “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” while Hemingway saw walking as “a way of developing his best thoughts while mulling a problem.”   Walking at the Fair is not about thinking deep thoughts or even mulling a problem.  Still, it’s a sort of mindless thinking that has therapeutic implications.

Huffington concludes that “maybe the connection between our minds and our legs is that one of them is going to wander.  Sit still and our minds want to ramble – get up and start walking and our minds can slow down and be focused.  Perhaps forcing the brain to process a new environment allows it to engage more fully. “

Obviously, normal people go to the State Fair for entertainment, food, maybe even to snag an inflated giraffe, the thrill of the space needle or the chance to kick tires at the remnants of Machinery Hill.

My personal preference is to imagine the Fair as an annual opportunity to “move through the world not just physically, but spiritually.”   Huffington quotes Geoff Nicholson writing in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science and Literature of Pedestrianism:  ‘Writing is one way of making the world our own, and…walking is another.”

That’s what I was thinking about as one of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans – and neighbors – mentally unleashed for hours at the Fair.  I’m glad no one asked what was on my mind.