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Finding the right place

Faith and nature are sources of comfort for Dana Yost, and both are featured in his latest books of essays and poetry

January 15, 2011
By Cindy Votruba

Just like the line in the John Mellencamp song and the title of the opening section of his new book Dana Yost says he "can breathe in a small town."

Yost, former editor of the Marshall Independent who now resides in Forest City, Iowa, recently released his second book, "In the Right Place," which contains poems and essays about several topics - death, war, faith, illness and grief.

When he started writing the book a year and a half ago, Yost said he intended to just do it on writers in southwest Minnesota, such as Howard Mohr and the late Bill Holm.

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Former Independent editor Dana Yost writes about the people and places in southwest Minnesota.

"Then when I got into it, I didn't like how it was headed," Yost said.

He looked back at a couple of talks he did at Healing Waters Church and for Veterans Day in Cottonwood.

"I started to look at those and it gave me what were solid essays," Yost said. "It started to flow into people and places in the area."

"In the Right Place" shows how life is never easy in the upper Midwest, Yost said, and how there are people committed to the area. One such example is Paul Larson, who served as the mayor of Minneota for many years, right up to his death in December 2009. Both Yost's and Larson's families had moved to Minneota the same year - 1966, so they knew each other for a long time.

"There were a lot of facets in his life I tried to incorporate in there," Yost said.

He said Larson was very polished, intelligent and had a love of sports and keeping a small town intact as well as a big promoter of young people in the area.

"I really thought he stood for a lot of good things people are doing in southwest Minnesota," Yost said.

Other essays include ones on how the Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls has sustained itself in the area for three decades, small-town grocery stores and how Cy Molitor of Lynd assembled a reference guide of information on those buried in the cemeteries of southwest Minnesota.

"You get a feel of the heartbeat of the area," Yost said. "It's not really history or scientific studies."

Yost thinks it is important for residents of the area - writers, local government leaders, business leaders, anyone with deep roots in the region - to keep thinking critically and passionately about its future.

"I have seen a lot of people just walk away from it, and that's disappointing," he said. "But I have seen a lot of people give much of their lives, their fortunes and their passion to the area in efforts to make or keep it a good place to live for all of its residents. Sometimes, they do it in the face of criticism or skepticism, but they push one because they have a commitment to the area. That's laudable."

Toward the end of the book, Yost included an essay on a friend of his who was having a tough time with his career.

"As the book was coming together, I didn't want to end on a negative note," Yost said. So he wrote five last stories - "moments of sunshine" - to bring a close to the book.

Several of the poems featured in the book were written earlier last year Yost said, and some were published in literary magazines in Chicago.

"I had a spree this spring," Yost said. "I've been writing quite a bit more poems. They're just something new and challenging."

In his book, Yost wrote an essay on the late Minneota author Bill Holm and a poem on poet and former Southwest Minnesota State University English professor Phil Dacey. He said it was definitely different trying to capture the flavor of Dacey in just a few lines and leisurely building up Holm's character in the essay.

"You have to be much more exact with your images, the sounds," Yost said.

He had e-mailed Dacey about the poem "A Riff on Dacey" and submitted it to the Stone's Throw literary magazine based in Montana. Dacey had also submitted a couple of poems to the publication.

"They ran mine side by side with his," Yost said.

Readers will also notice an undercurrent of faith in his works, Yost said, which is a source of comfort for him.

"It's reflected in a lot of the poems," Yost said.

Yost said he still has his good and bad days, continues to see his therapist in St. Cloud, advocates for better public awareness of and support of mental illness and its treatment.

"I have found that southwest Minnesota and other parts of the rural Midwest to be an ideal place to link two important aspects - faith and nature - that help my mental life," Yost said. "I need quiet, routine, things that comfort and calm my mind in order to stay more or less healthy, and I've found all of that in rural churches and the quiet patches of prairie in our area. I like mountains and the ocean, sure. But I can also spend an afternoon on a hilltop at Upper Sioux State Park just looking at the rivers, the long, open plain and be awfully content."



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