Lake Superior and Marquette factor prominently in a newly published poetry collection, Inland Sea, by Northern Michigan University English Professor Lynn Domina. The title not only reflects content about the natural environment that has provided ample creative inspiration since she moved to the area eight years ago. It is also a metaphorical reference to humans' spiritual and psychological inland seas.
“Just as Lake Superior has its days where it's calm and inviting and other days that it's dangerous and wild, so does each of us,” said Domina, who will participate in a reading, Q&A and book signing on Wednesday, Sept. 13. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Peter White Public Library Community Room.
As a native of Merrill in lower Michigan, Domina recalls having easy access to lakes—Great and small—along with rivers and streams. She moved out of the state at 24 and lived in various locations across the country. The relative dearth of waterways in those areas had an impact on Domina. As she plotted her next professional move, she had a simultaneous desire to “live in a cabin on a lake somewhere.”
Two years later, Domina joined the NMU faculty. Her Marquette residence may not be the waterfront cabin she envisioned, but she does live four blocks from the Superior shoreline and McCarty's Cove.
“That vast body of water is so relaxing. I look at it all the time and also swim in it all summer, but I wait until the 4th of July to take my first dip,” she laughed. “I so appreciate that access because the lake is so majestic and beautiful. It is different every single day. When you're looking at and experiencing Superior and the U.P. environment all of the time, it emerges in your work, whether in specific mentions of places or references to the imagery.
The same thing happened years ago, when an editor encouraged Domina to attend a writer's retreat elsewhere. She said her initial thought was that it was unnecessary because she wrote well enough sitting home in solitude. However, the unique sights and sounds in the different setting where the retreat was held ultimately surfaced in her work.
Inland Sea was not a deliberate effort to compile a poetry book. Domina said it represents observations and experiences in the Upper Peninsula and beyond that she felt compelled to write about, and it developed gradually. Some of the works featured in the book first appeared, occasionally in different form, in anthologies, magazines and other publications.
One poem was inspired by her time living just outside a small village in the Catskills of New York. A woman who lived nearby reported that someone broke into her ice cream truck on two consecutive nights and left behind a mess. Assuming it was trouble-making teenagers and determined to avoid a third such incident, the neighbor sat on her porch with the light out to catch the perpetrators in the act. She soon discovered the guilty party was a black bear. Domina regretted not seeing the animal herself, but a few years later, she had a close-up view of a bear rummaging through her garbage, right outside the window she safely stood behind.
“Not all of the poems in the book are about the natural world,” she said. “Some are responses to the challenging national events we've witnessed in recent years, such as the murder of George Floyd. Those contrast a bit with what we perceive as the peacefulness of the environment, but they are not unrelated to the way we behave in terms of environment and with each other. It's about reconciling those challenging situations socially and individually.”
Domina was a voracious reader in her youth with an avid interest in science. Her love of writing was fueled by the encouragement of a high school teacher, which motivated her to major in English in college. Domina said she knew she wanted to be a poet long before she settled on a career path toward becoming a professor.
After serving as head of the NMU English Department, she has returned to teaching full time. This semester, her course load includes introduction to literature, a 300-level poetry course, senior seminar, and an Honors Program class on fine arts. Her scholarly interests revolve around Native American and 19th-20th century literature.
“I have to say I really appreciate NMU's support for faculty, both in teaching and research, writing, or other creative activities,” Domina concluded. “And I just love our students. They're enthusiastic and responsible and genuinely nice people. Even people who aren't affiliated with Northern have talked to me about how nice our students are.”
Inland Sea was released in late July by Kelsay Books in Utah. Lee Upton, author of The Day Every Day Is, wrote the following in a review: “The ringing, forthright beauty of these poems and the bracing evocation of a Michigan landscape emerge from a voice that earns trust. You believe Lynn Domina when she says “I want to live/here forever.”
Below is one of Domina's poems in the book:
The Road to Happiness
“A streak of light visible upon a breeze-wrinkled surface of water is called ‘The Road to Happiness' – Monte Reel
Cresting the hill west of Seymour,
past shiny signs proposing chicken sandwiches,
breakfast all day, larger coffee, biscuits,
new flavors, and past two Chinese
buffets rumored to be closing
forever, and past the auto parts store,
insurance agency, and cheap hair salon
where young women wax
my eyebrows, and always past a snowplow
spitting sand and the car wash that opens
only after temperatures rise
above 20, and past the school bus
carrying cheerleaders to the township
and the pickup stacked with storm windows,
I look up to see, again, the lake
stretching, I know, to another country,
and I take its blue measure,
and I take in its wind-brushed
surface, its narrow breakwater crusted
with ice, clouds dropping to a near horizon, and I know
I don't want to live forever,
but I want to live