Poet John Caddy named McKnight Distinguished Artist

The McKnight Foundation has named Minnesota poet John Caddy as the 2012 McKnight Distinguished Artist.

Over the past five decades Caddy has published several volumes of poetry infused with a deep respect for the natural world, and reflective of his Iron Range upbringing. Indeed much of his career combines poetry with environmentalism.


Poet John Caddy, 2003, Pioneer Press

Now a resident of Forest Lake, Caddy’s poetry books include Eating the Sting (1986), The Color of Mesabi Bones (1989), Morning Earth (2003) and With Mouths Open Wide: New & Selected Poems (2008).

A longtime educator, Caddy was one of the founders of Community Programs in the Arts and Sciences, or COMPAS. He recently retired from Hamline University, where he showed graduate students how to teach environmental education using the arts.

In 1994 Caddy suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. Yet he says his “spirit is more lively all the time.” Each morning for the past several years he has combined one of his nature photos with a new poem celebrating gifts received from earth, and posted it online.

Here’s one of Caddy’s poems from With Mouths Open Wide:

Embers and Char

Say you’re in the woods and touch

char on a pine stump that burned

a century ago, rub its hard satin,

run a palm along hollow and edge.

Char is what lets the stump last.

Suppose the char remembers glowing,

as you recall embers, how they drowse

you to lost moments of lovers

hunkered to fires–tendon and gleam,

sheen of scar, a throat’s apple,

the sweet belly crease.

Coals sing their heat, glow floats

scale to scale on changed wood,

shifts white, with a breath shifts red.

So we burn. Admit morning, the cold fire pit,

ash that forgets the shapes it lived.

There are still charred shoulders

and knobs, the bones remembering skin.

Char lets us last. Sure there’s smoke and eye-sting.

Lift out of the wind. Bless the fire.

Now in its 15th year, the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recognizes individual Minnesota artists who have made significant contributions to the quality of the state’s cultural life, and includes a $50,000 cash award. The McKnight Foundation will honor Caddy at a private reception later this year.

Note: Embers and Char appears courtesy of John Caddy’s publisher, Milkweed Editions.