An unlikely muse: Apple Valley resident finds poetic inspiration at Minnesota Zoo

Apple Valley resident Charlie Curry is assembling a chapbook of poetry inspired by his frequent visits to the Minnesota Zoo. The chapbook will include about 20 of Curry’s poems written over the past eight years.

Charlie Curry of Apple Valley has been walking at the zoo since 2005. His observations of zoo visitors inspired a collection of poems he recently assembled into a chapbook. (Photo by Kristina Ericksen)
Charlie Curry of Apple Valley has been walking at the zoo since 2005. His observations of zoo visitors inspired a collection of poems he recently assembled into a chapbook. (Photo by Kristina Ericksen)

Averaging about three visits a week, the recently-retired financial consultant walks the 2.5 miles of paths rain or shine, from below zero temperatures to hot summer days. Curry has been a member of the zoo on and off since it opened in 1978. He has been walking the trails regularly since 2005.

“It’s hard to not run into him here,” zoo director of marketing Bill Von Bank said. “He always has a smile on his face.”

Curry’s time at the Minnesota Zoo has allowed him to observe animals and reflect on their importance or about conservation and education –two of the zoo’s philosophies.

“It doesn’t take many visits to the zoo to see how much we’d lose if we lost the animals,” Curry said.

But Curry doesn’t visit the zoo just for the animals. Besides getting in some exercise, Curry enjoys observing zoo visitors.

“I like to watch people and their interactions,” Curry said. “And I like the quiet days when people just observe. The zoo is a place to come and walk, a place to observe. It’s a place to be.”

Curry cites the human connections, snippets of conversations and the interconnected environment as a few of his inspirations for writing. Growing up, Curry frequented zoos in Madison and Kansas City, though he never had many pets of his own.

Curry has been writing since he was a teenager.

“They were wretched,” he said of his early works.

It was only later in life that he began to take writing seriously. He currently belongs to a poetry group that evolved from a class he took from Juliet Patterson, a Minnesota writer. The poetry group’s members read and critique each other’s work.

Curry wrote poetry for sermons while he served as a minister. He has been published in various church newsletters, the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal and Community of Christ Magazine. Last year he won the Dakota County Library Poetry Contest.

“He has a passion for the zoo and for poetry,” Von Bank said. “With his poems he’s connected his two passions together.”

When writing, Curry finds taking notes helpful. He reflects over the sights and sounds of the zoo during his first draft, which is then revised and redrafted. Curry has friends and family read over his work for critiques. He then edits his poems, working on them for months at a time. Like many writers, Curry claims his poems are “never finished” and has a hard time putting them down.

“You know a poem’s good when people interpret it differently than you intended. It has a life of its own,” Curry said.

Curry’s poems are free verse and tend to be short with a reflective and observant tone. Many of his poems are people-oriented and recognize “interconnectedness.” His poems aim to engage readers and “look outward to look inward.”

“His poetry is really inspiring,” Von Bank said. “Charlie is a great guy.”

Curry is assembling his poems inspired by the Minnesota Zoo into a chapbook. It will contain about 20 of his poems written since 2006. Curry plans on entering it in contests upon its completion.

“It’s collected but not finished,” Curry said.

For aspiring writers, Curry gives this advice: “Get in the daily grind of writing. Find a voice and something to say.”

Curry also suggests trying writing exercises and reading other poets’ work to see their writing strategies.

So what’s next for the Apple Valley poet?

“More walking, more writing, and more discipline in my writing,” Curry said. He also hopes to produce more chapbooks and poetry collections.

For those interested in reading Curry’s chapbook, he can be found walking around the zoo or reached at [email protected]

Email Kristina Ericksen at [email protected]