Robbinsdale poet earning international attention

By Valory Schoenecker/Murphy News Service

As Nicole (Coley) Spooner opened the door to her charming 1920s Robbinsdale home, an immediate rush of tranquility echoed her friendly smile. Spooner took a seat upon her cream-colored couch and began to describe the piece of her life she’d held onto since she was 12 years old.

Spooner earned her degree in creative writing at St. Cloud State, with a minor in mass communication and journalism. While at the university, she turned her creative focus to poetry.

“I think what really strikes me about writing is that anything you see can have a story behind it,” Spooner said. “There’s just so much behind every little thing that we don’t think about and that’s what I like to reach out and discover with my writing.”

Showing coat pocket

Nicole Spooner holds out the moth-bitten pocket of her mother’s coat from 1972, the same coat that inspired her poem ‘Walking in the Leaves Purposefully for the Crunch.’  Murphy News Service photos by Valory Schoenecker

Spooner’s poem, “Walking in the Leaves Purposely for the Crunch,” was published this week in the fourth issue of British literary magazine Firewords — a quarterly publication that features the work of emerging fiction writers and poets, coupling words with the creative page designs of talented illustrators and photographers.

“I was just looking for places that publish things similar to what I write and that was one of them. So I submitted it. It’s just like a long shot, you know. You’re throwing your stuff out there hoping it will get picked up and it did,” Spooner said.

This is the first time 34-year-old Spooner will be published in her adult life. In 1997, the Dakota County literary system published three of her poems and, since then, she has also dabbled in playwriting. Spooner wrote and directed three plays for the Very Short Play Festival in Northfield ranging from topics on social media to date anxiety.

“It was really fun to get to see the characters come to life and to get to see my words up on stage,” Spooner said.

Writing and creativity has always been important to Spooner. Coming from a long line of writers, Spooner launched into writing poetry when she was in sixth grade.

“When I started writing poetry, I think what I really liked about it as a kid was that you didn’t have to worry about the punctuation and the way you wrote it,” Spooner said. “It could be all over the page, it could be all in one line, it could be however you want.”

Spooner said she uses her thoughts when it comes to finding inspiration. She’s had to pull over on the bike path just to jot down whatever is running through her mind. If she’s at work, she will email ideas to herself. When she is trying to create a poem, she will usually find an image or a phrase to go off of, but in the case of her soon-to-be-published poem it was a coat and a note that made the scene come alive.

Spooner said she was raiding her mother’s closet a few years ago when she stumbled upon a rather beautiful coat. She threw it on. And as she admired the shredded inner linings of the pockets seemingly caused by moth bites, she imagined how it would feel to be her mom in 1972.

“In the pocket I found a note. On one side of the note, it was my dad’s handwriting that said for my mom to call her friend Nancy and her phone number was written there. On the back of it was a shopping list and that sort of just inspired me,” Spooner said.

The poem follows an optimistic girl walking through a trail of leaves on an autumn day. As the girl glides along the path, she examines a note left in the pocket of her mother’s coat. Positive, happy and smelling like lilacs and gardenias, the girl in Spooner’s poem encounters a choice she must make; remain walking through the leaves or risk feeling alone without the sound to keep her company.

Spooner brought the poem to a four-day writer’s retreat she attended in May 2011. The workshop is taught every summer by William (Bill) Meissner, an English and creative writing professor at St. Cloud State. Meissner was one of Spooner’s professors, so Spooner knew about the Mississippi River Creative Writing Workshop for many years. She never had time to attend the workshop when she was a student, but she was able to take off work a few summers ago and explore the infinite boundaries of creative writing.

“It’s just important as a writer to go to classes and be around other writers. I feel like that is so inspirational,” Spooner said. “It just brings out so much and there’s something you can’t always do on your own.”

Meissner, an author of seven books, including four poetry collections and a novel, “Spirits In the Grass,” which won the Midwest Book Award, said that Nicole Spooner was a fine student in his creative writing classes. “I recall that her poems were, from her first submission for the beginning poetry course, unique and vivid.  She was a class leader and jumped right into the class discussions,” Meissner said.

Spooner credits Meissner for her ability to creatively title her pieces. She said that while he was very encouraging, he almost forced his students to write unique titles, and that’s part of why he was a great teacher.

“Creative writing is an amazing activity because the possibilities are unlimited.  You’re just a grain of sand, and the whole ocean surrounds you,” Meissner said.

Spooner grew up in Lakeville and she resides in Robbinsdale. She is busy planning for her wedding in April. She works full time at an insurance company downtown and also teaches yoga part time. When grasping how grateful she is to be published, she said it just validates the effort she’s put in all these years.

“It makes me feel better to know that someone else enjoyed it and that they want to share it with more people. That’s really thrilling,” Spooner said.

Reporter Valory Schoenecker is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.


“The mirage of a Nebraskan library”

A poem by Nicole Spooner

“Here, corn follows the wind.

Or maybe, plays tag.

For miles the emerald fringe

lifts toward the white speckled sky

as if, this is all there is.

And so she waits. One hour before

opening on the drought-dried grass.

It scratches her ankles and slices her toes.

She thinks about sticking her now tasteless

Big Red in the crack, imagining it expanding ,

her gum sealing the shattered sidewalk

but then, she worries the birds might try to eat it.

For is it not the same color as worms?

Instead she spits it into the tinfoil wrapper

And pockets it till she reaches home.

Intently she focuses on the digital numbers of

her turquoise watch. They evolve so slowly

as ants scramble across the cement from the grass line.

Her pencil, freshly sharpened, rolls to the rings of her steno pad which is

balanced on her stack of weathered books.

Wednesday 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm and Saturday 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Between those hours

her time piece races forward, unlike her crawl toward her starting line.

Sun slips down her neck and between her angel bones,

but really, she knows it’s just sweat.

Her lavender tank top starts to stick to the small of her back.

The denim cut off shorts, hand-me-downs, are as dirty as her knees

and even more faded.

The song from the ice cream truck that cruises the streets

once a week is interrupted by screaming  kids.

No time for ice cream, she thinks as she reviews her list in her notebook.

305 down and how many more to go?

Impatience settles in her belly.”

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