Angela Shannon ‘obeys the Spirit’ through poetry

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Local writer acknowledged among top MN poets

It may not have been as dramatic as the calling of a novitiate to spurn all worldly goods and commit her life to a convent, but Angela Shannon sees her life’s work as a poet as an “obedience to the Spirit.”

“I’m supposed to write,” the author of Singing the Bones Together insists. “I don’t try to direct my writing, I try to craft it as well as I can,” says Shannon, who also works full time as a professor in the English Department at Bethel University in St. Paul.

Published in at least a dozen different journals and anthologies, including Water-Stone, TriQuarterly, Essence, and Ploughshares, in addition to her book, she’s stayed the course and kept writing while at the same time earning degrees in theater as well as an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She is also a married mother of two daughters.

Shannon’s poems often focus on history, community, people, and culture. “I believe that we carry our history with us, and that it’s a part of our everyday experience,” says Shannon. This concept is exemplified in her poem “Carrying Home.”

I am carrying home in my breast pocket:

land where I learned to crawl,

dust that held my footprints,

long fields I trod through…

An early influence in Shannon’s life, while living in Chicago, was former United States poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks. In Shannon’s book, she gives thanks to Brooks for “exemplifying poetry in how she lived.” She also credits Reginald Gibbons, professor of English and Classics at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, as a mentor and friend.

Shannon’s work was recently included in an anthology published by Minnesota Historical Society Press in April of this year. The book, Where One Voice Ends Another Begins, edited by Robert Hedin, is described as a “comprehensive survey of the best [of] Minnesota poetry [showcasing] the work of 76 of the state’s premiere poets.”

Contributions to the book list well-known names such as Louise Erdrich, G.E. Patterson, Wang Ping, Robert Bly, and James Wright. Robert Hedin, editor and director of the Anderson Center in Red Wing, included Shannon’s work in for a variety of reasons. Shannon’s poems contain “clarity and concision. They have a long thematic reach and there is beauty in the lyrical resonance,” according to Hedin, who identifies Shannon as a “relatively new member to the Minnesota writing community, and she brings a renewed and refreshing perspective.”

Part of Shannon’s drive to write and publish her work stems from a personal philosophy of obligation. “I think that it’s important to publish, to get the poems to the place that they should be. Just as there’s a reason to write it, there’s someone who needs to read it,” Shannon says. It’s incumbent on the writer, she suggests, to keep submitting one’s work even if it’s only a single reader who needs to see the poem. “It’s the writer’s job also to try and place that work,” she states firmly.

Shannon was born in Oklahoma and raised in Tampa, Florida. After living in Chicago, she moved to Minnesota with her husband, Star Tribune theater critic Rohan Preston. They married in 1993 and have two children, Adera, 10, and Adisa, four. Shannon teaches mostly poetry, but also some composition and other literature classes, at Bethel University.

Susan Budig welcomes reader responses at tomandsusan@juno.com.