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A priest-poet’s elegy
Lives lost in Fargo tragedy are commemorated

By Nan Cobbey

Episcopal Journal, February 2011. Vol 1 No. 1

Jamie Parsley grew up hearing stories of a tragedy that occurred 12 years before his
birth. Two of his relatives were victims of a tornado that swept through Fargo, N.D., on
June 20, 1957, killing 12 people and devastating the community. Parsley, a poet,
teacher and Episcopal priest, has just finished a book about the event and responses to
Fargo, 1957: An Elegy includes poems and pictures and a personal “processing” of a
difficult history.

“I would hear the story when the weather would get bad,” Parsley, now 41, explained.
“But there wasn’t a whole lot of detail. We don’t like to talk about our emotions too
much in this part of the country. There was a mystery about the whole story.”

That mystery peaked Parsley’s interest. Author of nine previous books of poetry, he is
associate poet laureate of North Dakota, named by the current laureate, Larry
Woiwode. Parsley still lives in Fargo where he serves as executive assistant to the bishop
for the Diocese of North Dakota and as priest-in-charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal

“Over the years I tried very hard to figure out how I was to process this story in some
way. Two or three years ago, I started doing research…researching the lives of all 12
people who died. Out of this came the poems.” Parsley found a “freedom” in writing
about the tragedy and the people who lost their lives by using poetry. “I couldn’t have
found that with any other type of writing. I was able to sort of give a voice to these
people, a voice they were not able to have after fifty-some years.”

Parsley hopes that readers will recognize “a commonality between all of us as human
beings in these experiences—these things happen in various forms in all of our lives. You
wake up one morning and you think ‘Well, it’s just going to be another day.’”

Fargo, 1957: An Elegy is available for $20 from The Institute for Regional Studies at
North Dakota State University, www.ndsu.edu/ahss/ndirs/.

Nan Cobbey, former associate editor of Episcopal Life, lives in Belfast, Me.