About this entry

more notes, clippings…stuff on my desk


Norbert Blei


This is early November in Door County. This is the time to steal away to one of our most beautiful parks, to breathe the crisp, cold air; to set your eyes on the panoramas, the vistas, horizons, the sheer beauty of the blue waters that glitter and sparkle and shine just for us, a vision of such clarity these precious moments now that the trees are bare and Ol’ Man Winter is gathering his wonders of ice and snow and wind, preparing to knock on Door’s door when we least expect it.

This is Hill 17 now…preparations (the padded fence) already in place for winter sledding, kids and grownups, doggedly trudging up again, gleefully sliding down, back and forth, back and forth…greeting winter head-on from the top of the hill.

This is just one of the parks, one of many Door County places where you may find me ‘in church’ on Sundays—or any other day of the week, all seasons

STURGEON BAY: PAST & PRESENT, An Invitational Exhibit, August 28-November 9, 2010

Sorry. I’m too late in getting this news out. Nevertheless it’s worth recording, worth getting my two cents in. I was more than a little late myself in getting to Sturgeon Bay to see this show, which I went back to enjoy, reflect upon at least three more times.

(Personal Note: I’m more than a little late with everything these days, as I continue to battle, deal with, question, lose/re-gain faith in the ‘recovery process’ going on four months of post-op at this point. Some days are diamonds, some days (still too many) are coal. Entirely black. Unproductive.)

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with Sturgeon Bay, seemingly so alien to the natural beauty and attraction of rural Door County which awaits one just outside the city limits.

For sometime, however, my attitude has been changing. This exhibit of paintings at the Miller Art Museum lifted my spirits considerably. All that the artists captured about Sturgeon Bay is worth noting…celebrating.

There is (was) more there (here) than meets…well, that not only meets the eye, but that only the eye of the artist sees. I’ve finally begun to see the light of Sturgeon Bay–the light, history, buildings, work (shipbuilding, etc.), the hardscrabble beauty of the place caught in these luminous works. As I writer, I wish I could say there was a single book which “says it all” as much as these artists do in color, composition, pen and brush. There is not a single work that ‘doesn’t get it.’

Some of the county’s long-standing artists of considerable reputation are included, Charles Peterson, James Ingwersen, Emmett Johns, Karsten Topelmann, (the ‘seniors’ if you will), to mention just a few of our masters.

Among the other artists I do not know that well (or at all) the way I do the ‘old timers’, I would include/celebrate the following works as personal favorites: “Sturgeon Bay Lights” by Lori Beringer, “Rainy Day—Sturgeon Bay” by Aaron Holland, “February Thaw” by Mary Bosman (one of our most underrated, beneath-the-radar artists in the county), “Winter Repairs” by Tom DeMint, and “Getting the Red Room” by Cheryl Stidwell Parker.

I wish this exhibit were longer, traveling throughout the county, available for summer visitors…or in some way permanent.

If you missed this show, you missed the heart and soul of Sturgeon Bay.

FRANCES MAY: 1914-2004

For more than twenty years, whenever I had the opportunity in print, readings, talks, workshops to mention Frances May, I always referred to her as ‘the unofficial poet laureate of Door County.” This was a small part in jest, but a greater part in earnest conviction. She was that good. Deserving such acknowledgement.

Whether it meant anything or not to her but a hearty Frances laugh (and she did find it amusing when I acknowledged her presence and talent before a stranger or a group of my Clearing students), I was never certain. Awards both meant something and nothing to her. Frances’ whole life was poetry. Nothing else mattered. Not even family, when you got right down to it. Oh, she loved/understood her husband (who didn’t have a clue about what made the old girl’s heart really beat) , her son, her grandchildren. They were always out there somewhere in her field of vision. But words were her natural habitat. Shaping them into poems. Her every breath was poetry in the making.

I don’t know how many stories I’ve written and published about Frances, but fearful of this turning into yet another one, when my sole intention from the get-go was a just short news items (ah but it’s hard when you start talking about Frances to not stop talking and sounding like Frances, a non-stop talker who could talk you into oblivion, on and on and on and on….), let me just say that Door County has finally, officially recognized Frances May as our first Poet Laureate, posthumously.

I went to her gravesite the other day to officially tell her, but she was already beyond pleased and honored, laughing and telling me about it (you can’t put a good woman, a great poet down even six-feet-under) till I finally had to say: “Frances, Hold it! I have to go! I have a million stops to make. Bless you, woman—you old broad (a word she loved to use to describe herself). You were always a winner in my book(s).”

So let’s honor Frances as she honored all the beloved. good words that came to her so beautifully, bountifully.

Her first book was NIGHT LETTERS published by Stanton & Lee, 1971, (out-of-print). The legendary Wisconsin writer, August Derleth, was a friend, a great admirer and early publisher of her work. Here’s an early Frances May poem from that book:


Frances May

As long as we trusted
in love for love’s return,
warm and bright as the summer noon
I waded the crick with him
to cool our feet from the dust,
up to my knees in fern;
drank the cold water he poured
into my mouth from his cupped hands,
sinewy, strong as the gourd.
Then, under a Johnny Appleseed limb
to a bob-o-link’s three chord tune,
I gave my heart to the hired man
with golden buttered home-made bread,
raspberry jam and a clean tin spoon.

I helped edit, put together Frances’ third, very fine book, THE SUMMER I WAS A HORSE (1989) and published her last book, posthumously, THE RAIN BARREL, Cross+Roads Press, 2005. Here’s a final poem from our first Poet Laureate of Door County (so perfect, so Frances May) that I selected to lead-off that book.

To All My Friends

Poets don’t die.
They go away somewhere to hide
from the pretenders.
The borderline is a circle
of stumps you can see past
if you stand on your toes
and let the grass spring up
between your toes.
The cotton in your head floats away
and lets you see clearly.
I see bluebirds,
minnows in the creek,
and go back to my violin.


Early November morning, downtown Ellison Bay, Wisconsin.

Everyone’s gone away…nobody’s home…