Poet laureate of Grand Hotel speaking at author event
Published 10:43 am Thursday, May 5, 2016
For more than 40 years, Midwest native James Lenfestey dedicated himself to following where the facts led him as a columnist and editorial writer.
The Minnesota writer and frequent visitor to Michigan’s Mackinac Island continues to use these same skills in the second act of his career, only now he follows his own emotions and feelings to craft a different sort of work: poems.
“In journalism, you gather the facts of the outer world and arrange them in a way that touches the reader,” Lenfestey said. “Poetry is the same thing, only you gather the facts of the inner world.”
For nearly two decades, Lenfestey has sought to better understand the connection that he and other human beings have toward poetry through his collections of poems, essays and stories, which include “A Cartload of Scrolls: 100 Poems in the Manner of the T’ang Dynasty Hermit Poet Han-Shan,” “Into the Goodhue County Jail: Poems To Free Prisoners,” and “Low Down and Coming On: A Feast of Delicious and Dangerous Poems About Pigs.”
Born in De Pere, Wisconsin, Lenfestey developed a love for language at an early age. While initially attending college for civil engineering, his passion for writing eventually took hold of his life as he decided instead to pursue a career in the arts.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Lenfestey went on to hold several jobs in academics, advertising and journalism before being asked to join the staff of the Minneapolis Star Tribune — a publication he frequently submitted columns to — as an editorial writer. He went on to serve at the publication until 1998, when he decided to step down from the paper in order to jump the barrier between objective, fact-based reporting to crafting works focused on personal emotion.
While living out in California during a short-lived career as a screenwriter, Lenfestey started a poetry festival — which eventually led him to try his hand at creating poems himself.
“This relationship with poetry just took me over,” Lenfestey said. “It became the dominant writing force in my life.”
Since then, Lenfestey has sought to use his work to investigate the deep and mysterious connection that people have toward the fine arts, including poetry, he said.
His fascination with this topic eventually led him on a pilgrimage in 2006 to discover the location of the cave that legendary Chinese poet Hanshan — a major influence in Lenfestey’s writing — supposedly created his works from. Lenfestey recounted his journey in his book “Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain.”
A longtime vacationer of Mackinac Island, Lenfestey was approached by the owner of the Island’s famed Grand Hotel, Amelia Musser, to serve at the establishment’s Poet in Residence 12 years ago. Since then, he has spent his summers hosting weekly poetry classes for patrons, sharing with them works of famed writers such as Robert Bly and Jim Harrison, he said.
“I call my talks sermons,” he said. “They’re based off the great literary traditions instead of the great spiritual ones.”
During his talk Saturday, Lenfestey will touch on his journey to better understand the power of poetry, and how people can use the art form to gain a stronger grasp on the complex range of emotions that are contained within every person, he said.
“Poetry isn’t an arcane subject,” he said. “You don’t have to know anything about it to understand what I’ll be talking about on stage. It’s a subject that touches everybody.”