Listen: Barn poems, rural verse

On this segment of First Friday, MPR’s Maja Beckstrom profiles barn poetry. An inspiration of New York poet Mark Mendel back in 1982, the poetry resides on the side of Goodhue County Road 6, outside of Red Wing, Minnesota.

Beckstrom interviews the farmers about the Four Seasons project that adorns their barns…with mixed reactions.


(00:00:02) Oscar Thompson's Farm Place sits here on the side of Goodhue County Road 6 about a half mile north of the implement dealer only a few cars come through this stretch of road and sometimes the drivers slow down to read the foot tall white letters that march across his faded Red Barn on this windy day Thompson trenches across the frozen corn field to stand under the poem. It's been there 10 years and Thompson still puzzles over what it means.
(00:00:28) Yeah. It says only wins speaks in the empty treat. The mute farmer draws the fish in the March know I guess the fish is supposed to be a like a religious symbol. That's not the guy explained to me.
(00:00:41) This fish poem was the inspiration of New York poet Mark Mendel 10 years ago Mendel stopped at The Farmstead with an Agricultural Extension agent and asked to paint the poem on the barn. He'd already completed a project where he'd stenciled poems on too long, nylon banners and hired a plane to fly them above Minneapolis now he wanted to create what he called. He called a lyrical calendar on for Barnes in Goodhue County farmer. Oscar Thompson. Thought it was a bit odd, but he said yes anyway and a few months later Mendel showed up with scaffolding and a crew of eager students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design their brushwork put Thompson's Farm on the map of Red Wing tourist attractions
(00:01:20) when this first put up there's a lot of people here they come and you know stop here and there's people all figure out the feel here with tripods and cameras, you know, they even had bus tour I Once people in the cities come down they'd get out and take pictures and discuss the thing
(00:01:39) Mendel placed the for poem. So people could drive in a loop to view them and just down the road is the fall poem painted on a bright red. Barn that used to house Leonard and bernetta Dickies dairy cows the poem reads breathing in leaves ashes the wings course and the tractors turnover Shadows drawing the Harvest inside us bernetta. Dickey has mold over these lines. She thinks she has them figured out breathing in leaves ashes means burning leaves in the fall. Then we go on to the wings course, which is the which are the birds flying south for the winter and the tractor turning over Shadows, which is plowing the ground getting ready for the spring crops. Then we go into drawing the Harvest inside of us which relates to bringing the different crops inside to feed the livestock for the winter. I'll get better as we can bernetta Dickey likes the poem. She says it reminds her of the old burma-shave advertisement. She saw as a child painted on Barnes along Highway 61 out of Red Wing her husband Leonard. Dickey is less enthusiastic. He says it's modern poetry and modern poetry is like modern math. Neither makes any sense. In fact a few years ago when the barn needed a fresh coat of red paint. He wanted to paint over the verses but his wife put her foot down and he resigned himself. To saving the poem
(00:02:59) we thought about putting masking tape over it but that just didn't work at all and then somebody told us to get a little one-inch brush and paint around the letters and that's what we did. It took a long long time to get that side done.
(00:03:20) Mendel's winter Pope didn't have a staunch Defender like Burnett a Dicky the barn owner has built a shed against the building which now obscures half the text but down the road on a gray Barn these bold white words conjure images of Summer green lit limbs fan glance shirtless Contours in the downpour ancestors folded into valleys, honey in the burning
(00:03:47) hives.
(00:03:52) I'm Maya Beckstrom, Minnesota Public Radio Rochester


Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

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