Poetry group is the reason for rhymes in Rochester

Poetry is alive, verse can thrive, if we muster poets in Rochester.

Southeastern Minnesota Poets
Poet Tim J. Brennan reads at the Southeastern Minnesota Poets' Bright Light Poetry Night event at the Chateau Theater in downtown Rochester on Thursday, May 11, 2023.
Contributed / Mark McMillan

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Southeastern Minnesota
Has a poetry group for you.

“Anyone interested in poetry or poets at any stage in their writing are welcome to join SEMNP,” says Rochesterite Susan McMillan, a coordinator for Southeastern Minnesota Poets, a Rochester-based group founded in 2008 by Paul Walsh to nurture and support poets and poetry. “All you need to do is show up at one of our meetings or email us at to be added to our email list,” she says.

McMillan’s love of poetry began at an early age. She wrote her first poem when she was 8, and her interest in poetry was spurred by her mother reading nursery rhymes out loud and a poetry-loving middle school literature teacher.

Formally trained as a technical writer, McMillan took some creative writing classes and completed a variety of poetry workshops. “Most of what I learn, I learn from other poets and by reading poetry,” says McMillan. McMillan has published poems on topics ranging from her Croatian, paternal grandmother to a poem about the death of an abusive man in a work titled "Memorial Service."

“Southeastern Minnesota Poets is a conduit for spreading information and opportunities to poets,” says McMillan. “We have created or participated in various projects, such as sidewalk poetry and art, our Bright Light Stories in the Night e-chapbooks and, most recently, poetry in honor of Quarry Hill Nature Center's 50th anniversary. We've also partnered with the Rochester Public Library to present a number of opportunities for listening to, learning to write, and sharing poetry."


SEMNP hosts meetings on the second Tuesday of every month at the Rochester VFW, on third Thursdays at a rotating venue, and on fourth Fridays online. Lea B. Jennings is a poet who regularly attends the Tuesday afternoon meetings at the VFW.

“The SEMNP meetings are very helpful, providing education from lead poets, mentoring, comradery and an opportunity for poetry reading. A monthly assignment will be identified for the next month’s meeting, which provides direction and inspiration for writers,” she adds. “Also, the Rochester VFW offers a lunch menu, popcorn, coffee and soft drinks,” she says.

On the second Thursdays in July, September, and November, SEMNP hosts Bright Light Poetry Nights at 6:30 p.m. at the Chateau Theatre in Downtown Rochester. The free one-hour events are family-friendly and feature poetry readings centered on a theme.

Southeast Minnesota Poets
Jean Prokott, the third poet laureate for the city of Rochester, reads during a meeting of the Southeastern Minnesota Poets group on Thursday, May 11, 2023.
Contributed / Mark McMillan

SEMNP’s status as a member of the League of Minnesota Poets helps connect it with fiscal support, educational opportunities, organizational support, contests, opportunities to meet other poets throughout the state, and opportunities for publication. In addition, SEMNP, through the League of Minnesota Poets, is also a member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.

Lisa Higgs, a SEMNP member, helps coordinate poetry events like the Bright Light Poetry Night readings with McMillan and Pam Sinicrope. She also writes grants to help fund special projects like the Heart of Our City Poetry Loop, which features poems paired with photography in various places in downtown Rochester.

Higgs has an MFA from Hamline University and participated in the Loft Mentorship program in the 2000s.

“When I was in college, I took a haiku writing seminar on the advice of my advisor, was hooked, and got a second major in creative writing to go along with my literature major,” Higgs says. Some of the poems Higgs has written can be found at

“We (SEMNP) have more ideas for poetry events than we have time or funds to consider,” says Higgs. On that note, she hopes the community will reach out and share their thoughts on how to help SEMNP grow.


“A lot of people like to write stories, poems, song lyrics, journal entries, bits of memories and family histories — oftentimes without any expectation of sharing this work with anyone other than those closest to them,” says Higgs. “Supporting poetry and other literary arts can offer these writers the opportunity to connect with others doing similar work, as well as finding a broader audience if they want one. SEMNP has spent the past several years focused on finding community and spreading joy and light through our events — finding connections has seemed so essential recently.”

“We've developed some good momentum in recent years, and are grateful for the support of our community (provided by) Mayor Norton, RNeighbors, the Rochester Public Library, and most recently Threshold Arts for making space for us to hold bimonthly readings at the Chateau Theater,” says McMillan.

Rochester Poet Laureate Susan McMillan reads a poem during 4th Fest on Sunday, July 4, 2021, at Soldiers Memorial Field in Rochester, Minnesota. She was the second poet laureate.
Joe Ahlquist / Rochester Post Bulletin file photo

McMillan believes the entire community can benefit from poetry as it provides inspiration, escape and healing.

“I believe poetry is the voice of the human spirit,” she says, “and we all need poetry whether we know it or not.”

More rhyme time

To learn more about the Southeastern Minnesota Poets group navigate to their website at

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