Verse Like Water

Contact Information

Jeff Johnson
Central Lakes College, 501 West College Drive, Brainerd Minnesota, 56401
Office: 1-218-855-8102
Mobile: 320-260-4959

Jeff Johnson directs Verse Like Water. He has taught English and hosted poets for 32 years. Questions or comments about the series can be directed here!

Verse Like Water – Upcoming Events

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.


Verse Like Water is an ongoing celebration of great imaginative literature, and its purpose is to dream into being first class literary events for the Brainerd Lakes Region. As the premier reading series in the Midwest featuring only poets, Verse Like Water promotes reading, writing, and community building across the Brainerd Lakes Region.

While the series seeks poets who represent all possible backgrounds and stories from America, Verse Like Water repeatedly has showcased writers who are immigrants or refugees, as this is one of the important issues of our time.

Increasingly, area high schools are involved; many have brought students to hear and speak with the poets and to experience being on a college campus.

Readings are usually at noon in the CLC Chalberg Theater and are followed by a book signing and craft talk by the poet. The readings are free and open to the public.


Verse Like Water began in the fall of 2011. The series is funded by CLC Student Life funds and grants from the Minnesota Legacy Fund and accessed through Five Wings Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board. Minnesota Public Radio cosponsors each reading.

The series thus far has hosted six U.S. Poet Laureates, two MacArthur Fellows, and a number of writers with Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards, including Li-Young Lee, Naomi Shihab Nye, Richard Blanco, Marie Howe, Terrance Hayes, Richard Blanco, Charles Simic, Billy Collins, Robert Hass, Tracy K. Smith, Matt Rasmussen, Mark Conway, Vijay Seshadri, Juan Felipe Herrera, Luis J. Rodriguez, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Osama Alomar, Nick Flynn, Major Jackson, Kwame Dawes, Forrest Gander and many more. During the pandemic, several poets have visited us remotely, and readings are now always accessible on the CLC YouTube channel.


In the evening, members of the Central Lakes College English department take turns putting Verse Like Water to bed. After some warm milk, and hearing lines from her favorite epic poem—Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse—Verse Like Water sleeps, and dreams the dream of all reading series, which is that someday donors and sponsors will come forth to help promote great poetry, and the idea that literature is the only consciousness we have.

Across the last twelve years, Verse Like Water is grateful for the support it has gotten from Central Lakes College, the CLC Foundation, English and Theatre Departments, Five Wings Arts Council, The Minnesota State Arts Board, and Minnesota Public Radio. From our hearts, we thank all those who have attended these poetry readings, including students, faculty, staff, and community members from the Brainerd Lakes Region and across Minnesota. About a thousand people a year are inspired by these literary events, and we are thankful for this too.

It is expensive to organize, promote, and host a poetry reading. Even small donations can help with speaking fees, transportation, and the matches that accompany all grants. The Brainerd Lakes Region would deeply appreciate such collaboration, and contributions can be sent here:

Jon Aga
Associate Vice President of Advancement/CLC Foundation Director
Central Lakes College
501 West College Drive
Brainerd Minnesota, 56401

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