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State of the Arts

Library Corner

By Mark J. King

‘Revolution and the Romantics’

Last week at a meeting to plan for an upcoming Readers Theater performance at the library, the role of local arts and humanities programs came up in discussion. I mentioned that given the rough-and-tumble historic origins of our mill town, we have never exactly been a hotbed for the arts. Local poet Séamas Cain countered that up until the 1960s, Cloquet had a committed and very active arts community. Library book club member Betsy Dugan added that the library book club's inception around the turn of the century places it among the earliest reading discussion groups in the state.

Library arts programming has largely taken the place of the women's cultural organizations that fostered arts awareness in small Minnesota towns in the late 19th century to the 1960s. Today's library sponsored reading club is composed of a balance of men and women members.

Cain and Dugan are among six participants collaborating in the library's upcoming Readers Theater and print art exhibition "Revolution and the Romantics" (6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8). The idea for the event developed after children's librarian Lis Boutang uncovered a series of exhibit prints from library storage. The free-standing display panels consist of reproductions of 19th century paintings (most notably by Turner and Constable), complemented by texts by the ground-breaking British poets who were the catalyst for an artistic revolution. The exhibit was originally funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1987 and was created by The Wordsworth Trust in the U.K. in association with Rutgers University. The exhibition will be open for viewing beginning at noon Tuesday, March 8, through March 10.

In order to give a sense of the Romantic movement's ideas and influence, members of the Readers Theater have selected a range of poetry and other texts. Excerpts from the works from the six major poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Shelley and Keats) will be presented. Commentary from the perspective of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley) and Lady Caroline Lamb, who were closely involved with the Romantics, have also been included. It was Lamb who famously commented that Lord Byron was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."

Literary Journeys of Ulysses

A second Readers Theater is planned later this spring on the legendary Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses). The script, which was developed by book club member John "Sandy" Dugan, traces the character of Ulysses from Homer's "Odyssey" to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series for young readers. The program was presented as a community event in Chautauqua, Ill., a few years ago. Current participants will add their personal touches to the script, drawing from their own reading.

Immersion into Japan's Heian Court

A World Literature Study Group will also get underway in the spring. The first reading selection, which is planned for a year-long reading project, is Lady Murasaki's "The Tale of Genji." Written over a period of years by a member of the imperial court, the world's first novel was released a chapter at a time. Study group members will be able to replicate the experience of the novel's first readers, who read and discussed the serial at a leisurely pace. The story follows the exploits of a playboy prince as it presents multifaceted and psychologically realistic characters. The novel eventually transitions to a second generation of characters, as it acquires a more philosophical and reflective tone. A first meeting is scheduled in June and advance registration is required.

If you are interested in participating in arts and cultural programming at Cloquet Public Library, please contact me at 218-879-1531.