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This report is taken from PN Review 148, Volume 29 Number 2, November - December 2002.

Letter from St Paul John Redmond

Some weeks after 9/11, I took part in a reading in Rosemount, Minnesota, a suburb of the 'Twin Cities', St Paul and Minneapolis. Already in conversation the events in New York and DC were less explicitly spoken about. Normal 'unspoken' life was resuming. If a gathering did focus on the heart of what had happened - the several thousand deaths - conversation followed a predictable, solemn, almost liturgical pattern. Attention willingly slipped, therefore, to those hot, speculative issues over which it was almost a relief to disagree: air-travel, anthrax, Afghanistan. Newly arrived in the States for a year of teaching, I did not (could not) avoid such talk, but I was reluctant to prompt it. This was especially true among strangers and that day in Rosemount was even more an occasion for social caution. Partly this was because I knew I would be reading to a mostly non-literary audience with poets I had never met before. Mainly, though, it was because we would be reading in a graveyard.

Rosemount's bland Laura Ashley-ish name conceals the hectic pace of its development. The Twin Cities, though ridiculously cold in winter, are economically strong and expanding fast in all directions. Sprawl (the word finds many uses in American life) is gobbling up the little towns. Jim Rogers, the organiser of the reading, drove me out through the Minneapolis suburbs on an unseasonably warm day. The weather made the invariably neat house-formations look over-comfortable and overwhite. He observed: 'American elections are ...

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