Poetry Spill set for 2 a.m. Friday
A marathon outdoor poetry reading to commemorate the 1992 benzene spill in Superior will be held again this year. The brainchild of Northland poet and environmental activist Bob Olsgard, the "Poetry Spill" is held at the exact site where the toxi...
A marathon outdoor poetry reading to commemorate the 1992 benzene spill in Superior will be held again this year.
The brainchild of Northland poet and environmental activist Bob Olsgard, the "Poetry Spill" is held at the exact site where the toxic spill happened -- the railroad trestle over the Nemadji River just south of Superior.
On that night, a tank car full of toxic chemicals, including benzene, jumped the tracks and was dragged along until it fell into the Nemadji River, 100 feet below. The impact ruptured the tank, releasing a cloud of fumes. More than 50,000 people were subsequently evacuated from their homes in Superior and Duluth.
"This is about taking action to reclaim a damaged place for the spirit," Olsgard said. "When that tank car split and belched out its cloud of benzene, this place and the way we think about it were scarred."
The Poetry Spill is about healing that scar, says Olsgard.
"Through this act of celebration, we remember the event, and through remembering we honor the power this place holds to inspire us," he said. "No fish, animals, insects or plants will be harmed in the reading of poetry." This is the fifth year for the event.
Olsgard admits the time and place aren't exactly the norm for a poetry reading, which starts at 2 a.m. early Friday morning and continues until 10 a.m.
"The spill happened at 2 a.m., so that's when the poetry has to happen," he said.
But because of the remote location and odd hour, the Poetry Spill will again feature "call-in" reading. Poets can call their poems to a cell phone and participate in the event.
Olsgard said there is more to the Spill than spiritual healing -- the event is also a way to ask some hard questions about public health and
"Has anything changed? Do our laws and regulations protect this place and its people any better now than in 1992?" he asks. "What safeguards do we have to keep this from happening again tonight or tomorrow?"
Olsgard is quick to add that in 1997, the Lake Superior Binational Forum recommended that all shipments of toxic chemicals in the Lake Superior watershed should be marked and their whereabouts known at all times. This suggestion by the binational advisory group has no legal authority.
To commemorate the event, poets are invited to gather at 2 a.m. Friday morning at the site of the spill. Olsgard usually brings plenty of coffee and an umbrella. For more information, call Olsgard at (888) 281-1735 or phone in a poem.
To call the Spill at the cell phone during the event,