2018-07-07 / News

Lenfestey To Host Poetry Seminars Starting July 11

By Marley Tucker


James Lenfestey James Lenfestey Journalist, editorial writer, and author James Lenfestey, who has found Mackinac Island a hospitable place to indulge his love of verse, will begin his 15th season of hosting poetry seminars at Grand Hotel on Wednesday, July 11.

“The presence of the arts here on the Island has exploded over the years, and I am very thankful for that and to the Grand for allowing me to do these seminars for the past 14 years,” Mr. Lenfestey told the Town Crier. He says poetry can be interpreted differently from one person to the next, but for him, it’s a vehicle for expression of one’s inner world.

A love of reading as a youngster and early English classes fostered his fascination with poems. While he’s a writer of prose by profession, he said poetry has always interested him because of the emotional depth it provides its readers. His interest in the miracle of language began, he recounted, as he looked at it outside everyday instruction.

A particular poem by Robert Frost titled “Out, Out—” encouraged his ongoing curiosity with poetry and the marriage of words and sound that emerge under a poet’s pen. A freshman in high school, he saw that the language of poetry could do so much more than he ever thought possible, Mr. Lenfestey said.

His summer seminars at Grand Hotel have changed each year as he seeks to bring new thoughts and ideas to every session.

“Think if this course in poetry as a series of gallery exhibits of individual painters, all celebrated as giants by their peers,” he explained. “Each week, we will read, recite, and discuss a single poet, chosen because I have loved the work.”

Mr. Lenfestey organizes his seminars by first focusing on classical poets from ancient literature and then continuing forward in history to living poets and their work in the present day. He does this, he said, so people can see the differences over time in the way emotions and philosophies are discussed.

He focuses on one poet per session, establishes the context and history behind the person writing the poems, and discusses what drove them to express themselves in such a way. After seminar participants read a poem, they discuss how it affects them and their thoughts.

Poetry, like the other arts, should be full of mystery and beauty and surprise and delight and understanding and sorrow and solace, but it can be more than that, acting as sacred texts or markers for our personal and collective journeys, writes Mr. Lenfestey in his 2018 summer seminar pamphlet.

He was born and grew up in De Pere, Wisconsin, and educated at Dartmouth College. He pursued a career in journalism as an editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Mr. Lenfestey is the author of “Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain,” a Minnesota Book Award finalist, and has written multiple collections of essays and poems, including a new novel, “A Marriage Book: 50 Years of Poems from a Marriage.” He is chair of the Literary Witnesses poetry series. He and his wife, Susan, live in Minneapolis, making a pilgrimage here to their East Bluff home every summer.

The Lenfesteys purchased their cottage in 1987. When he left the Star Tribune in 1998, he had time to focus on creative writing and live on the Island during the summer months. He began his tradition of teaching at Grand Hotel at the request of Amelia and the late R. D. Musser after John McCabe, who led Shakespeare seminars at Grand Hotel for many years, died in September 2005.

“Journalism is the relentless pursuit of the facts of the outer world and arranging them into a story that the average reader can understand,” said Mr. Lenfestey. “Poetry, in my view, is the relentless pursuit of the facts of the inner world, and attempting to then bring those facts into the outer world. Every Wednesday, I get to use the great poets of history to illuminate our interior life.”

On Wednesday, August 29, guests who attend his seminar will have the chance to present their favorite poems. This, Mr. Lenfestey said, is a different experience every year. Just as people learn from these sessions, he learns new things, too.

“Poetry is about changing one’s life and it is for anyone. I always say that. It’s like going to church on Sunday. The class is for everyone and is designed to touch everybody,” said Mr. Lenfestey. “One of the obvious secrets is that a teacher learns from their students at every opportunity.”

While a lot of preparation is required for the sessions, he doesn’t consider it work. Mr. Lenfestey said it brings him joy to see people learn more about poets and search their work to find poems that resonate.

In addition to the poetry sessions offered at Grand Hotel, Mr. Lenfestey helped found the East Bluff Poetry Gathering held every year. Island residents come together to present poetry to their peers. This year, the gathering will take place in August.

The summer season of poetry seminars, held in the Audubon Bar at Grand Hotel, begins at 10:30 a.m. July 11. Sessions are held each Wednesday from 10: 30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. through August 29. The sessions are free to the public. No materials or prior commitment are required. Guests can attend as many sessions as they wish.

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