Minnesota Poetry: James Armstrong’s “Duluth”

James Armstrong is the author of Blue Lash, a collection of poems that examines the power and allure of Lake Superior. The book is divided into three parts: “North of Duluth,” “Isle Royale,” and “South Shore.” Author Louis Jenkins wrote of Armstrong’s work: “These poems have the handcrafted precision of a wooden skiff built by a master boatbuilder, rugged and durable yet light, quick, and capable of covering great distances.” Armstrong is currently a professor of English at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota.

Duluth

It’s a city like a shabby amphitheater

where the lake does summer stock

among old granaries and ore docks:

dinner theater, romantic comedies,

dance numbers out of Captain January.

The big ships lurk like Homeric props:

like the lobster traps

in a Midwestern fish restaurant.

But winter is highbrow: marathon

stagings of Strindberg and Beckett,

obscure operas in the minimalist mode,

the bare proscenium extending to the horizon,

the chorus in white robes,

the north wind singing the same note over and over

until the ticket holders

want to go home

and kill themselves.

— “Duluth” in Blue Lash by James Armstrong (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by James Armstrong. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

  • Verna LaBounty

    I have visited Duluth and parts of the North Shore – lovely countryside. Your poem captures its aura. I will search for you book at my book store.