The Wisconsin Poet Laureate is our state’s ambassador for poetry.
If you are familiar with any of the past seven Wisconsin Poet Laureates, you know that the person who takes on this honorary position serves as a true activist, opening our eyes to the poetry in how we understand our human experience.
Past Poet Laureates have traveled the state tirelessly to fulfill their calling to “enrich the lives of Wisconsin residents by sharing the values of poetry, creativity, and artistic expression across the state.” Current Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga has served as a strong advocate for social and racial justice, although her ability to travel and speak to crowds has necessarily been limited since March.
Looking ahead, we face many uncertainties. Still, we believe poetry has a part to play in helping us embrace human curiosity, listen carefully, and imagine new and beautiful ways to raise our voices.
The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission is now accepting applications for the 2021–2022 Wisconsin Poet Laureate position. Applications should be emailed no later than September 1, 2020. More information about how to apply, the selection process, and timeline can be found on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission website: wisconsinpoetlaureate.org/application-information
Kimberly Blaeser served as the 2015-2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate. In 2015, in an essay she wrote for Wisconsin Humanities, she reflected on her work as a poet with the opportunity to represent the state as Wisconsin Poet Laureate. We think it still offers so much inspiration about this calling, and the role of poetry in our lives in 2020.
About my Work
by Kimberly Blaeser, January 2015
In childhood, I followed the same sun-dappled trails as my brother, cousins, and all our childhood friends. We biked, swam, skipped along the railroad tracks collecting coal, and played whatever games came our way. In winter, we stared into the lighted water world beneath the ice and waited for something to find us. Perhaps we dreamed of the lunker, the fish that would become a story to tell through all the years ahead. But alone in my room through the long winter nights, I also stashed away poems, stories, books—and the sometimes mysterious ideas they brought. Imagining things beyond my experience and neatly recording my fears, thoughts, and sing-song rhymes, I began another journey—one toward a life in the arts.
A number of years ago while visiting my father and sifting through my old belongings, I came across a thin book I remember well. A look at the book jacket told me I had purchased it for half price—half of $2.50, less than the cost of a cup of coffee these days. Forgive me if I do not declare the title; I’d like you to think not of that single book, but of whatever fortuitous work passed into your own hands: a sketch, play script, photograph, collection of poems, or 33 ⅓ vinyl album—whatever work of art lighted another world in your life, making it as real and visible as a twenty-inch northern pike swimming among the reeds deep beneath the frozen surface world.
Today I would call the little book with the softly smudged country scene on its cover a work of philosophy; then I hadn’t yet that term. Paging back through text and time, I find metaphors—“the oak sleeps in the acorn.” I find statements about service and “spiritual aspirations.” Among the passages I underlined in the volume was this: “Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, and sage, these are the makers of the afterworld, the architects of our heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived; without them laboring, humanity would perish.”
In the recent weeks, as I have spoken about my appointment to the post of Wisconsin Poet Laureate, I have quoted Audre Lorde who bravely declared, “Poetry is not a luxury.” I agree. Indeed the humanities are not a luxury, but a vital part of a life lived leaning toward another light, a different vision of how to be in the world. Humbly, as I place myself among these seekers, I hold up my own small lamp of assembled words and images and invite you in.
To find more of Kimberly Blaeser’s work, visit her website at kblaeser.org