Farmer-poet publishes her third book
When Gail Rixen's tractor is dusty enough, she can compose a word or two of poetry on the dirty hood. Otherwise, she makes mental notes to jot down later when the haying is done.
Her poetry is set to the rhythm of her tractor plowing back and forth on her 144-acre farm, inspired by nature, animals and a hard-working life. Rixen's third book of poetry - self-published - is now for sale. It's titled "Living on Dew" and the Park Rapids native credits local teachers for drawing her to poetry.
"Mr. McCain would read to us in class and boy, that really caught me," she said of her eighth grade teacher Glenn McCain. She also credits Park Rapids High School teachers Martin Carter and Carlton Anderson for encouraging her expressions.
The 53-year-old woman has been a finish carpenter, a roofer and farmer. Although she has been a substitute teacher, she's mostly departed from her higher education degree in English, sociology and secondary education to follow another calling. Physical labor appeals to her, and inspires her poetry. "When I talk of being dead tired, that comes from the roofing and carpentry," she said.
Writing poems appeals to her genteel side and draws on her daily life.
Rixen was raised on a farm southwest of Park Rapids. Her mother, Betty, resides at Heritage Living Center. Her father Morris is deceased. Rixen and her three siblings, two sisters and a brother, all graduated from Park Rapids High School and the University of Minesota - Morris. In lieu of a book of poetry for Mother's Day, Rixen treated her mother to lunch outside the facility. "I think she'd rather have a day out" as a gift, she laughed.
Rixen lives on a farmstead near Puposky with her partner of 31 years, Tim Kroeger. The two raise hay for 25 ewes, harvest maple syrup and raise honey bees. Kroeger teaches geology at Bemidji State University in his "spare" time. They sell honey, maple syrup, produce and jellies at local farmers markets.
Her poetry isn't solely inspired by her life. She's intrigued by news. "I just can't keep my mouth shut," she observes. "I comment on society as it changes over the years but my work tends to be focused on nature." But she does shy away from political commentary as too divisive.
She admits her readers have mixed reactions to her works. "Farming is anachronistic," she said. "It doesn't necessarily touch those without a farm background so I try to bring them in."
Rixen is a member of Loonfeather Press in Bemidji, where she co-edits others' works for publication. But being a do-it-yourselfer, she decided to self-publish her latest collection and printed 500 copies that sell for $11 apiece. Her previous two books, "Chicken Logic" and "Pictures of Three Seasons," were commercially published.
The title poem in her newly released book refers to years of drought conditions experienced in the northern climes of Minnesota. She writes for her own edification, but also to share her life experiences and observations with others. And she keeps her carpentry skills honed building sheds on the farm.
Rixen doesn't have a special room in the house where she puts pen to paper. " I rarely have a piece of paper in my pocket" to commit thought to verse, she said.
That's what the tractor is for.