Peninsula Poetry: Annette Langlois Grunseth

Annette Langlois Grunseth has called Door County a second home since age 10. She comes from a family of writers and is retired from a career in health care marketing and public relations.

Grunseth earned the 2022 Hal Prize for Poetry and a 2022 Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America for Combat and Campus: Writing through War, a memoir of her brother’s Vietnam War letters and her concurrent year at UW-Madison during the antiwar protests. She also earned a Pushcart Prize nomination with her poetry chapbook, Becoming Trans-Parent: One Family’s Journey of Gender Transition

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Annette Langlois Grunseth

What’s your writing routine?

My writing routine fluctuates with the seasons. In winter, I follow several daily email feeds, finding inspiration to write poetry from reading the work of other poets. In spring and fall, I am inspired while bicycling along a river trail. Summer, you will find me paddling my kayak where nature inspires me to write poems, again, into my phone. 

What do most poorly written poems have in common?

A poorly written poem is one that is not well edited. It may ramble on without a point, contain clichéd images or forced rhymes. 

What do most well-written poems have in common?

Well-written poems have “tight” language, where every word has a purpose and offers a message the reader can understand. Good poems contain fresh images, connecting ideas and feelings in new ways. (And, good poems do not have to rhyme.) 

Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?

I want to be able to understand a poem after a few attentive readings. I enjoy poems that stretch my thinking and understanding, but [I] “glaze over” if a poem is obtuse. When I hear people say they don’t “get” or enjoy poetry, it makes me want to write accessible poetry to change that old stereotype. 

What books are you reading right now?

I am listening to two audiobooks: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I am reading A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr.

Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry in 2015 and continues to meet.

Milky Way 

The sky pours stars over us tonight.
        Imagine Greek goddess Hera’s breast 
        spewing a river of milk across the heavens.

East Asians follow a silver river. 
In Southern Africa, it’s the Backbone of Night.

         A dog spreads cornmeal across a Cherokee sky.
         The Lakota people call it the Place of Spirits.

Finns and Estonians seek their pathway of birds,
migrating south to this celestial map 

so that we too can find our way in the dark.

Growing up in the shadow of WWII my brother
grabs a pear from the Green Stamp fruit bowl,
pulls the stem out with his teeth, pretends to throw it,
making hand grenade blasting sounds.
He arranges green army men on the floor for attack and retreat,
plays war games in a foxhole dug into the empty lot next door.
As a Boy Scout he learns survival, camping out
on weekend bivouacs. With Dad, he hunts pheasant,
partridge, and sometimes deer. He becomes a good shot.
Like his father, uncle, and grandfather
he grows up to serve in the military.
His draft number comes up at college graduation, 1967.
After basic training he flies off to Vietnam hastily prepared.
He is issued old weapons from past wars; has no rain gear
for monsoon season. My parents buy a rainsuit and mail it to him.
His letters tell of living in a track as they sweep the jungle,
rolling through rice paddies, dodging snipers, and ambushes.
His letters describe mortar attacks, direct hits, and missing limbs.
Scouting and hunting skills keep him alive in that jungle.
He tells me, You have it easy because you’re a girl,
you weren’t forced into war, or that kind of fear.
Maybe I have it easier, but whenever I eat a pear
I feel his burden – my guilt ignites
as the taste of pear explodes in my mouth.

Ports Des Morts,
churning channel between
mainland and island
surges with white caps,
wind delivers a change of season.
Spray spews across the deck,
where Lake Michigan meets the bay.
Sails, like gulls, fly against a robust sky.
My hand pulls on the tiller
holding the heel. Hull cuts through rollers 
like a good decision.
We watch a gust of wind charge the channel
Dad shouts, Here comes The Boss!
I put the rail in the water
eager to hover on the edge,
only when his hand is nearby.
Feel the rush of water, wind, sails
as spring surrenders to summer.