Brookings is well known for its vibrant downtown. A new artistic element captures the literary work of some notable South Dakotans and encourages visitors to envision our area in an entirely new way. The one-of-a-kind Poetry Walk was recently installed, featuring the works of all seven people who have served as the state’s Poet Laureate over the years. Visitors can stroll along a self-guided tour viewing permanent plaques which bear a selected poem as well as an illustration of each poet and his or her dates of service. The plaques were recently placed at bump-outs along Main Avenue. Poems were selected to showcase the artist’s unique writing style and topics range from the seasons to small town living.
A Poet Laureate is chosen in this official position by the governor. He or she is charged with promoting the creation and reading of poetry. He or she participates in a variety of projects and activities such as the South Dakota Festival of Books held each September. Appointed in 2019, Christine Stewart-Nunez is South Dakota’s current Poet Laureate. Her work stands outside of Kool Beans Coffee and Roasterie at the corner of Main Ave and 3rd Street. A bit of history about the six other Poets Laureate, along with the location of their plaques can be found below:
Charles Badger Clark, US Post Office
Clark was South Dakota’s first Poet Laureate serving from 1937 – 1957, although he preferred the nickname “Poet Lariat”. After reading his poem in front of the US Post Office, you will understand why. Clark wrote five volumes of poems in addition to other works. Custer State Park officials manage Clark’s home, known as Badger Hole, which is located in the park and open to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Adeline Miriam Jenney, Nick’s Hamburger Shop
(Poet Laureate 1957-1973) The daughter of missionaries, Jenny was born in Macedonia and returned to the United States where she attended school in Illinois and Wisconsin. Jenney held various positions in the literary and educational fields, including teaching English at Yankton College where she served as departmental head. Her many accomplishments include serving as an editor in the manuscript department of Good Housekeeping magazine and as the editor of the poetry journal Pasque Petals. She also edited three anthologies of poetry published by the South Dakota Poetry Society and wrote a historical novel.
Mable Frederick, Ray’s Corner
(Poet Laureate July – October 1973) Little is known about Mabel Frederick. She was a resident of Sioux Falls and was an active poet during her lifetime. It is believed her short tenure was due to illness and death.
Audrae Visser, Ram Pub
(Poet Laureate 1974 – 2001) Audrae Visser wrote her first poem at the age of 12 and was first published at the age of 21. During her 52 year career, she taught elementary and high school in Hot Springs, Pierre, Elkton, De Smet and Flandreau in addition to schools in Minnesota. She spent one year in Nagoya, Japan, teaching children of the U.S. Air Force. Visser published ten books of poetry and won numerous awards, including second prize in the 1984 National Federation of State Poetry Societies contest.
David Allen Evans, Lash Boutique
(Poet Laureate 2001-2015) Evans is a broadly published poet and story teller who got his start on an athletic scholarship. He played football at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA and by the time he graduated, he was writing poems and short stories. Evans is the author of five books of poetry and was a professor of English and Writer in Residence at South Dakota State University from 1968 to 2006. He was the first South Dakotan to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Lee Ann Roripaugh, Skinners Pub
(Poet Laureate 2015 – 2019) Roripaugh is a professor of English at the University of South Dakota. She has written five volumes of poetry and received numerous awards and honors over the years for her work. The daughter of Robert Roripaugh (Poet Laureate of Wyoming 1995-2002) and Japanese immigrant Yoshiko Horikoshi, much of her work is influenced by the American West and Japanese culture. The South Dakota State Poetry Society was the driving force behind the Poetry Walk. The project was funded through the South Dakota State Poetry Society, Brookings Public Arts Commission, Visit Brookings and the South Dakota Arts Council.