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A Cultural Artifact: South Dakota in Poems

Christine Stewart holds up her book publication
Christine Stewart holds up her anthology, “South Dakota in Poems.” The book consists of work from poets who have lived or currently live in South Dakota. “South Dakota in Poems” is available for purchase on sdpoetry.org.

As a land-grant institution, we are proud to have so many voices represent and describe South Dakota. Christine Stewart, professor of English at SDSU, has also sought to describe South Dakota in her recent anthology publication. “South Dakota in Poems” is Stewart’s cornerstone project for the South Dakota Poet Laureateship and includes work from 90 poets.

Stewart said this publication is unique in that she was able to “choose among poems received to build a conversation about what is happening here in this state.” Since an anthology had not been done for over a decade in South Dakota, Stewart decided to pursue this publication early in her laureateship to spread awareness of poetry and writing throughout South Dakota.

Stewart sent out the call for submissions toward the end of 2019 and had poems due for review in March 2020. The due date had an impact on the content of the anthology, said Stewart. With submissions due before the COVID-19 pandemic began its significant spread through the state and the world, many of the poems seem frozen in time. “This [the anthology] feels like an artifact,” Stewart explained, as the poems discuss life in South Dakota pre-pandemic, something difficult to imagine now.

The anthology consists of poems that speak to various parts of South Dakota life, including personal stories, landscapes, traditions, perceptions and more. “I think people can see my goal is when anyone reads it cover to cover, they should be able to see themselves or somebody they know in there,” explained Stewart, “Or a scene or image that they have experienced living here.” Poems range from describing the hardships of life to road trips across the state on I-90. “They are not all celebratory,” Stewart discussed. “I wanted to balance celebration with critique.”

Stewart is excited to continue bringing the anthology across the state, even if that means virtually. “I can do virtual programs to discuss this book,” said Stewart. “I was planning on doing it face to face but we can still do it [programs] virtually to get the word out about these poems.” Stewart said that she can have poets from different regions present with her to promote poetry in their own communities.

When discussing the impact of the anthology, Stewart hopes it will “ignite sparks of possibility for readers and writers all across the state.”