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Montevideo brothers make poems their podcasts of beauty

Brendan Stermer / submitted1 / 3
"Interesting People Reading Poetry" is a new podcast featuring prominent Minnesota artists and changemakers reading and discussing their favorite poems. 2 / 3
Andy Stermer / submitted3 / 3

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — Two Montevideo brothers have taken on a challenge as big as getting kids to eat their vegetables.

Which is kind of how they describe their goal of introducing regular folks to poetry.

"Interesting People Reading Poetry" is a new independent podcast co-produced by Andy and Brendan Stermer of Montevideo.

Each weekly podcast features a new guest who recites a poem and comments on what it means to them in the context of their own life or work. The podcasts also include a "Haiku Hotline'' in which listeners leave voice messages with poems of their own making based on weekly themes.

The featured guests are cultural changemakers with Minnesota roots, including well-known artists, musicians, politicians and activists. They are not poets. They are reading a poem of their own choosing, and by so doing, helping introduce poets to a new audience, explained Brendan Stermer.

In the first few weeks, the guests have included Benjamin Percy, who writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titan series for DC Comics; Maria Schneider, a nationally renowned musical composer; Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, making her the first Somali-American Muslim legislator elected to office in the United States; and Waziyatawin, a Dakota activist and director of Oyate Nipi Kte, a nonprofit land recovery organization.

It's all part of the Stermers' strategy to introduce as diverse an audience as possible to poetry.

"I mostly identify as someone who promotes poetry, a poetry promoter,'' said Brendan Stermer.

The Stermers obtained funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board to produce 20 or more weekly podcasts. They're available at no cost through iTunes and Stitcher and at the website interestingpeoplereadingpoetry.com.

Brendan Stermer, 22, got the idea for this while a philosophy student at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He hosted a program on the school's student-run radio station on poetry. Following graduation, he worked as an intern with Krista Tippett of American Public Radio and further developed his skills in radio and interviewing.

Stermer said radio is a perfect medium for poetry. While we've been taught to think of poetry as something to be read in books, it's roots are really as an oral arts form, he said. Poetry is meant to be spoken and heard.

The brothers explain in the introduction to their podcast that we've too often been taught to think of poetry like we do math problems: as something to be solved. The Stermers suggest that we instead view poetry like we do vegetables: as something that is good for us and enjoyable, if only we give it the chance.

Brendan Stermer's chance to discover poetry came when he was a middle school student in Montevideo. He said visiting artist Florence Dacey kindled an appreciation for poetry. He said his mother loves poetry as well, and encouraged him to read and write poetry as a young student.

His interest waned during his high school years, but re-emerged after he graduated and took on new life challenges. Like many others, he said he came to appreciate how poetry can help us make sense of our lives.

Poetry can be comical, lively, musical, or pick any other modifier that speaks to the pleasures that insightful verse can offer. Stermer said his hope is that he can encourage people "to dip their toes into the world of poetry'' and discover all of this for themselves.

His brother, Andy, 26, is an accomplished musician. He produces the music that accompanies the show and manages the audio recording.

The brothers intend to produce new shows weekly through November, and all of the podcasts will remain available indefinitely once released.

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