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Joe Paddock

1937 -

Joe Paddock is a poet, oral historian and environmental writer who lives in Litchfield, Minnesota. His world view is ecological. His passion is inner ecology. He is a student of depth psychology, especially the work of Carl Jung, and of the texts of Taoism. In an effort to realize the insights contained in these studies, he has done dream work and practiced meditation for many years.

Paddock has been a Community Poet for Olivia, Minnesota, a Regional Poet for Southwest Minnesota, a poet-in-residence with Minnesota Public Radio, an adjunct professor in the Creative Writing Department of the University of Minnesota, and a humanist with the American Farm Project.  Joe was a founding member of the Land Stewardship Project, and worked with it during its formative years.

Joe is married to poet and playwright Nancy Paddock, his collaborator on Soil and Survival. He was born raised, and has returned to Litchfield, MN.

Books by Joe Paddock

A Sort of Honey, Red Dragonfly Press (2007) poems Keeper of the Wild, MN Historical Society (2001) biography of Ernest Oberholtzer

Handful of Thunder
Anvil Press (1983)

Soil and Survival, Sierra Club, Random House (1988) essays, with Nancy Paddock, Carol Bly
Boar's Dance,
Holy Cow Press (1993) poems
Earth Tongues, Milkweed Editions (1985)

Dark Dreaming, Global Dimming
Red Dragonfly Press (2009)

Circle of Stones
Red Dragonfly Press (2012)

Among other honors, Joe Paddock has won the Loft/McKnight Writer of Distinction
Award and the Milkweed Editions Lakes and Prairies Award.

Paddock's books of poetry include Handful of Thunder (Anvil Press);
Earth Tongues (Milkweed Editions); Boars’ Dance (Holy Cow! Press); and A Sort of Honey (Red Dragonfly Press); Dark Dreaming (Red Dragonfly Press); A Circle of Stones (Red Dragonfly Press)

He is the collector and editor of
The Things We Know Best, an oral history of the Olivia area, and the principal author of Soil and Survival (Sierra Club Books).

Paddock's recent prose book, Keeper of the Wild, a biography of wilderness preservationist Ernest Oberholtzer, was published in 2001 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

In His Own Words

As a Writer:

My approach to creativity is that it is essentially the same as creative evolution in nature, and “the ecology of creativity” is a phrase I’ve often used in describing my writing process. Just as outer nature abhors a vacuum and evolves to fill it, so too, when gently focused on a worthy subject, will the mind of the writer be filled.

As a Naturalist:

I don’t think of myself as a naturalist in a formal sense, but I’ve always lived in and within nature in a sort of participation mystique. In my childhood, I rather often experienced ecstasies in nature, usually when alone beside still water in perfect weather. Later, I ran traplines and collected biological specimens with my father. Later yet, my connection to nature shifted to the spiritual and aesthetic. Throughout my  adult life, I have ever turned to nature where I could be certain to discover poetic inspiration and healing joy.

On Aesthetic Experience:

To experience the land aesthetically one must give up the struggle to dominate it, and instead become receptive to its beauty and its drama. It is then that we merge, that we lose ourselves in the deep truth of our oneness with the whole.

As many an artist has found, there is nothing greater than to be alive in the creation, to have eyes and ears to experience it, to be able to participate in its processes.

Anyone who lives on and with the land, who works with its forces, also has access to these aesthetic experiences. The individual who has opened to them is proof against willing participation in the rampaging destruction of the natural world that has so characterized our time.

Aesthetic experience has less to do with effort than with openness.

On the Use and Importance of Poetry:

Inherent in prose, I believe, is a dilemma to which poetry (all art) is the answer. Communicating in prose, as we do, trapped in the prosaic levels of life, we can only intuit wholeness.

We yearn, but we cannot break from the linear ruts of the rational;
modern life, hungering for the soul, withers on its vine.

When writing poetry, we allow in the wholeness, we welcome it. We work with images and rhythms capable of conveying, of carrying, wholeness. The reader or listener is in turn given an experience of wholeness, a moment in time that is complete, one in which he or she does not feel the need to change or control the world.



The ancient Chinese critic,
Yen Yu, told us that when
Tao enters the poem
it becomes an “antelope hanging
by its horns from a tree,
leaving no traces to be found.”
The white spaces between
the lines in such poetry abound
with shifting herds of possibility.
Venturing into them, we are lifted
on the vast wings of emptiness
and carried away for a time.



In clustered dark fishing shacks,
stark against the white reach
of frozen lake, there are guys
out on the ice of old age.

After a day of staring down
through clear, chill water,
the old men have become calm
and care little that great pike
lurk within the shadowy dark
of bottom weeds. Calm, the old
guys do not care so much
to tangle with such fierce energy.
A few nice panfish now will suffice
to fill their quieted need.

As the winter sun begins
to set, a fisherman in a shack
at the far western edge
of the colony has reeled in
his line, has swung open
his door, and a black puppy,
released, runs round and round
what had held him in. The grizzled
man within has his radio on,
and a faint old-time waltz
three-steps, out across the snow.

The first owl of evening, hot
blood within soft feathers, calls,
then begins its deadly drift
among frozen limbs.

The old man in the far western
shack has been calmed by gazing
for hours into clear water, and
as he stares through his open door
into the bloody tangle of sunset,
there's a shine in the shallows
of his watery blue eyes, and
he's lifted by the waltz
into memory of being
lost within a whirl of skirts
on a dance floor, not so distant,
but gone now forever. Nevertheless,
a foot moves to the music, and,
as the black puppy licks his hand,
the old man’s eyes are calm.


The shadow of a bird
glides over me, and then,
in a limb above, an unknown
feathered creature peeps
softly till something in me
releases to its rhythm.

This planet is still alive
with birds. O, wrens,
pelicans, robins, condors....

Are there other planets out there
in the deep cold and fiery explosions
of space that hold even a single bird?

If I could, I would
take flight from this
constant roar of machines
in which we crouch. Instead,
I stare longingly, following
this season’s ringing migrations,
feet planted in this single place,
under a limb from which mystery
sings softly to me.

More Poems by Joe Paddock

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