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Jan 08, 2021

Bay view Compass January 8, 2021

Favorite Poem—Poem About My Rights

January 8, 2021

 

By Margaret Rozga
Wisconsin Poet Laureate

How do I love the new year? With thanks to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for the framework question, let me count the ways. 

• A new Wisconsin Poet Laureate will soon to be announced. 

• A new book, my fifth collection of poetry, Holding My Selves Together, will be published in May by Cornerstone Press. 

• A soon to be new U.S. President and Vice-President will take office. 

• A new position, Curator of Community Dialogue, has been created at the
Milwaukee Art Museum. 

• Kantara Souffrant’s return to Milwaukee to assume that position and the development of partnerships with Milwaukee’s art community and the community at-large that it entails. 

• Dr. Souffrant’s choice of June Jordan’s Poem About My Rights as one of her favorites.

I first met Kantara Souffrant in 2017 when she volunteered to help organize events for the 50th anniversary of Milwaukee’s fair housing marches. A PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, she then took a position as Assistant Professor of Global/Non-Western Art History and Visual Culture at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Ill. She is delighted to have the opportunity to return to Milwaukee, her husband’s hometown, for this position at the Milwaukee Art Museum which aligns perfectly with her strengths and interests.

As early as her first year as a student at Oberlin College, Kantara found herself drawn to this intersection of the arts with social and racial justice. The Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin that year organized a conference on that topic, using a key line from June Jordan’s poem as the conference title, “My Name Is My Own.” 

Dr. Kantara Souffrant

The conference title abbreviates what in Jordan’s poem is extended and put into a context. “I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name / My name is my own my own my own” For Kantara these two lines capture the essence of the poem and its importance to her. 

Naming, she says, is both personal and cultural. Her parents named her in honor of the German philosopher and Enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant. She later discovered that her name is an Arabic word for “bridge,” a discovery that she embraces and that suits the role she is to fulfill at the Milwaukee Art Museum, understanding and working to eliminate barriers that keep many Milwaukeeans, especially African Americans and Latinx people, from experiencing the Milwaukee Art Museum.

For African Americans, she said, “Our names sometimes automatically identify us as Black. Our names can be a way to acknowledge ancestors. When you live in a world where you are invisible and people think you are a threat, your unique name marks you as someone who cannot be disappeared.”

The title of June Jordan’s poem, “Poem about My Rights,” puts naming in this political context. It begins in a way that allows the reader to enter the poem with Jordan, that I think of as a “pre-poem” way. “Even tonight I need to take a walk and clear / my head about this poem.” Poets are often advised to remove such “scaffolding” when they move from draft to finished poem. 

Jordan, however, would decline such advice, if she were given it. Her choice of entry into the poem serves her poetic activism and her activist poetics as it connects to their source, the denial of who she is. The opening lines of the poem continue with this emphasis.

about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin

Kantara believes that the arts, including June Jordan’s poetry, “help us move beyond our comfort zones so we can be better neighbors.” She looks to her own “radical optimism” to serve her well as she works to build partnerships between the Milwaukee Art Museum and dynamic organizations in the community, especially with Black and Latinx audiences. 

Best wishes to her in this new year and this new position in her goal and museum’s goal to create an equitable, inclusive, and supportive city. 

Best wishes also to the new Wisconsin Poet Laureate soon to be named. Writing these columns on people and their favorite poems has given me the joy of furthering my understanding of the many ways poetry
enriches the lives of the people who read it and often commit a favorite poem to heart. I am grateful to editor Katherine Keller and the Bay View Compass for giving me this opportunity. I wish all the paper’s readers many things and many poems to love in 2021.

To read June Jordan’s “Poem about My Rights” in its entirety, see
https://poets.org/poem/poem-about-my-rights

Dec 07, 2020

Through This Door: Wisconsin in Poems THROUGH THIS DOOR: WISCONSIN IN POEMS RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2020

Reviews:


Milwaukee Journal Sentinal--Jim Higgins: Laureates flock together in 'Through This Door: Wisconsin in Poems' (jsonline.com)

Freesia McKee's blog:  Book Review of Through This Door: Wisconsin in Poems – Freesia McKee

 

Milwaukee Public Radio Interview



WUWM's "Lake Effect's interview with Margaret (Peggy) Rozga and Angie Trudell Vasquez: New Poetry Anthology 'Through This Door' Showcases Wisconsin In A Different Light | WUWM
Dec 01, 2020

Bay view Compass. December 2, 2020

Invictus

December 2, 2020

 

By Margaret Rozga, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

How to sum up 2020? It challenged us. It continues to challenge. The pandemic radically changed both large contours and small details of our lives. Its disproportionate effect on communities of color and the killings of African Americans by police made issues of unresolved racial inequality in our state and the nation more evident. Divisive politics from the White House to the state Legislature exacerbated tensions. 

What is poetry’s role in view of these and other life challenges? Poetry can provide words that inspire and give courage. This is the view of Dr. Robert S. Smith, Harry John Professor of History and Director of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching, and Outreach (CURTO) at Marquette University. He turns to the inspiring words of his favorite poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) in his own difficult times. 

Though Henley’s name may no longer be familiar, he was among the most popular British poets of the Victorian era. His poetry with its themes of inner strength and perseverance grew out of his personal story and it brought him popular admiration and acclaim. He lost one leg due to tubercular arthritis, and rather than also lose his remaining leg, he sought out a doctor who was able to save the leg though it took multiple surgeries. The title of the poem is the Latin word for unconquered, and the second stanza of “Invictus” conveys a sense of Henley’s unconquerable personal courage and determination.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed 

“At various moments different stanzas resonate more boldly. But I do recite the last stanza to myself most often,” said Dr. Smith. The concluding two lines of that last stanza of Henley’s poem present what are among the most often quoted lines of English poetry. 

Dr. Robert S. Smith

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The powerful, rhythmically strong assertion in these lines has given courage to nations as well as individuals. Winston Churchill referenced these lines in his speech to the House of Commons in September 1941 to rally Britain in the fight against the Nazis in World War II. During the 28 years Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island, he recited the poem to other prisoners as a way to give both them and himself courage.

President Barack Obama turned to this last stanza to conclude his speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa. 

Dr. Smith explains that the poem helps him see beyond whatever might be current difficulties. He said, “[It] also reminds me that facing my fears, especially in those dark times, is exactly what is needed to get to the other side. Fear and suffering are major parts of life, but they can’t immobilize us.”

Continuing to move forward in the face of challenges shapes character as Professor Smith observed, “On the other side of a difficult season is a life that is greatly informed by those challenges.”

He carries this belief into his role as a parent. “The poem reminds me of the courage I must role model so that my son has an example of courage in the face of the challenges he will endure,” he said.

Professor Smith also approaches his work as history professor and CURTO director with the goal of furthering the values of perseverance and courage “Invictus” extols. He sees these values in the history of the long civil rights struggle, subject matter he teaches in his university courses. Similarly, the CURTO’s research and its community collaborations, outreach programs, and events foster a vision that empowers participants.

As one of CURTO’s initiatives prior to the pandemic, Dr. Smith brought Milwaukee area high school students to the Marquette campus for day and half-day seminars exploring topics of community concern. I was invited to participate as one of the panelists about Milwaukee’s civil rights history that focused on the 200 consecutive nights of marching in 1967-68 for local and national fair housing legislation. As each panelist presented a personal story, the students could see how individual commitment and perseverance can lead to a movement for social justice. We also joined the students for lunch where conversations continued on an informal basis.

Undeterred by the pandemic, Dr. Smith has organized virtual programs with the same goal of knowledge-sharing that is both in-depth and accessible.

Extraordinary challenges have been presented in 2020, including racial inequities, the pandemic, and its effects on the economy. Where there is a will there may be a way, if we have the courage and perseverance to find it. Before and during this challenging year, Dr. Smith’s favorite poem “Invictus” has given him a source of that courage. 

To read the entire poem: poetryfoundation.org/poems/51642/Invictus.

Nov 07, 2020

Through This Door: Wisconsin in Poems

THROUGH THIS DOOR: WISCONSIN IN POEMS

RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2020

 

From Superior, Washburn, and Ashland to Racine, Sturtevant, and Milwaukee.  From Door County to Madison and the Driftless area.  Wisconsin, you are here.  Your lived experience is here.  Your hopes, dreams, struggles, and joys are here in these poems.  A quote from U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s book, Crazy Brave, sets the overall theme for this anthology: “When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge.” 

The poems in the anthology are grouped into four sections: Through This Door, New Knowledge, In the Quiet, and Each Sunrise. The poems reflect on memories of the past, celebrate joys and recount struggles in the present, and envision hope for the future.

Included are poems by the eight Wisconsin Poets Laureate who have been encouraging poetry writing and reading all across the width and breadth of Wisconsin since the beginning of the 21st century. It includes indigenous, Black, Latinx, and White poets. It includes poets published for the first time.  Open this door. See the fullness of Wisconsin and Wisconsin poetry. 

Pick up a copy at an independent bookstore: in Madison at A Room of One’s Own; in Milwaukee at Boswell Books or Woodland Pattern Book Center.  Or order directly from Art Night Books publisher and co-editor Angie Trudell Vasquez: angiectvasquez@gmail.com 

All profits from the sale of this anthology will support the Wisconsin Poet Laureate program.

Publisher: Art Night Books.  Email: angiectvasquez@gmail.com

Co-editors: Margaret Rozga, 2019-2020 Wisconsin Poet Laureate; 

     Angie Trudell Vasquez, Madison Poet Laureate

Book design: Wendy Vardaman. wendyvardaman.com

Copy editor: Jodi Vander Molen

 

Book description: 105 pages; 50 poets

 

https://www.wpr.org/shows/wisconsin-weekend-wisconsin-poems
Oct 31, 2020

Bayview Compass October 31, 2020

https://bayviewcompass.com/favorite-poem-i-too/

FAVORITE POEM— I, Too

October 31, 2020

 

By Margaret Rozga, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

Do you have a second favorite?” I asked Bay View resident Tim Thering, a history professor and campus administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha. He had named Langston Hughes’ “I, Too” as his favorite poem. That Hughes’ poem is an excellent poem and an essential part of the American literature canon, but it was also the choice of Andre Lee Ellis, whom I interviewed for the July 2019 column. I thought at first I can’t write about the same poem twice.

But, of course, I can. Excellent poems not only stand up to rereadings, they invite them. In this case, Andre and Tim came to the poem from different perspectives and thus brought different insights to the discussion of the poem. The poem that claims equality and asserts the strength of the “darker brother,” is deeply personal for Andre, who is African American. When he came home from school, upset that other children teased him for his dark skin, his mother gave him courage by reciting the poem to him. Here are its opening lines: 

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong. 

Professor Thering, who is white, says, “I recite this poem at the beginning of each semester to my students in History 102.” This introductory U.S. history survey course begins with the post-Civil War Reconstruction and includes the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement. It also includes study of the rise of Jim Crow segregation laws that reestablished many of the conditions of slavery.

Timothy Thering

As a historian who keeps up with current research, Tim teaches the in-depth analysis presented most cogently by historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall as “the long civil rights movement.” In other words, the fight for civil rights did not begin with the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools and end with the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Rather African Americans in an ongoing way have consistently found strategies to affirm their rights.

Poetry has been one of these ways. In Tim’s words, “Art can be beautiful, and it can also be an agent of change.” Tim’s recitation of “I, Too” is a way of orienting his students to this long term and multi-disciplinary perspective. The lines of the poem suggest multiple strategies. There may at times be a retreat, symbolized in being sent to the kitchen, but there is also resistance and fortifying resolve in the laughing, eating well, and growing strong. 

Hughes was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of literature, music, theater, and art as African Americans moved from the South to this New York neighborhood beginning about 1910 and continuing until the Depression and the end of Prohibition in the mid-1930s. Hughes’ poem, Tim says, “helps place the Harlem Renaissance in context.” Other events of the time include violence by white mobs against black communities after World War I in numerous cities including Chicago and Tulsa, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The poem offers a hopeful vision for the future:

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
Eat in the kitchen,
Then.

Nor is it just fear that will allow him a place at the table. Rather it is a revision of attitude and understanding on the part of those who had shunned African Americans. “Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed.” Hughes’ poem “I, Too” offers much to unpack in personal, aesthetic, and historical terms. It is worth rereading multiple times. 

Tim also answered my question about a second favorite, Martha Collins’ book Blue Front, especially the untitled opening segment in that book. In its entirety, this book-length poem focuses on the lynching of an African American in 1909 in Cairo, Illinois, taking a personal angle in its approach. Collins’ father witnessed this lynching as a five-year-old boy who frequently sold fruit near the site of the lynching. Her father amazed customers because even at his young age, he could correctly figure out what change a customer might be owed. Collins uses the phrase “he made change” both to describe her father at age five and to suggest the theme of making the change needed to end lynching.

Both of Professor Tim Thering’s favorite poems help to underscore an important point. Poetry not only can look inward at personal emotions but also can look outward at social conditions and historical events. Sometimes it does both at once. Thus it deserves a wide audience so that multiple perspectives can enrich our understanding of poems important to our cultural heritage. 

For a copy of Langston Hughes’ “I, Too,”  poets.org/poem/i-too

For more about Martha Collins’ book-length poem Blue Front, 
graywolfpress.org/books/blue-front.

Oct 02, 2020

Margaret Rozga's Articles About Poetry BayView Compass

My Country Tis of Thee       September 2, 2020  BayView Compass

Interviewing people about their favorite poems, my project as Wisconsin Poet Laureate, often leads to surprising discoveries. I’ve learned about poets I hadn’t known and about poems I didn’t know by poets I thought I knew well. A new kind of surprise awaited me when I asked Clayborn Benson, founding director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum, about his favorite. He named a writer I certainly knew, W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois, the first African American to earn a PhD at Harvard, the Atlanta University professor of sociology, history and economics, also earned a place in history as a cofounder of the NAACP. Was he also a poet? ...

https://bayviewcompass.com/a-favorite-poem-my-country-tis-of-thee/

 

Lost A Verse     August 9, 2020   BayView Compass

How to build community is a question that has long been one of my central concerns. Sometimes it comes with an answer so simple that it’s not obvious until someone brings it to life. One of those answers is Play Music on the Porch Day, a summer celebration scheduled each year for the last Saturday in August, 

An afternoon featuring live music brings neighbors out of their homes and into the common purpose of enjoying upbeat sounds and the friendly presence of neighbors. One year my upstairs neighbors and I cohosted such a gathering. For the last two years, three neighbors down our block have welcomed everyone nearby and those who happened by...

https://bayviewcompass.com/favorite-poem-lost-a-verse/

 

Notes to Myself and the Undefeated     July 1, 2020  BayView Compass

Poetry, what do you have to offer? Here we are, heading into midsummer 2020 not only still facing the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also still struggling with the ongoing disease of racism, seeking ways to move forward toward a more equitable society. As Wisconsin Poet Laureate, I sometimes ask and sometimes am asked what poetry offers on such topics.  

Sometimes I’m fortunate to find others who offer examples of poems that bolster the spirit. Kate Archer Kent is such a person. As host of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Morning Show, she sometimes invites artists, including poets, to on-air discussions of their work and its relevance to a wide range of listeners...

https://bayviewcompass.com/a-favorite-poem-notes-to-myself-and-the-undef...

Oct 01, 2020

Bayview Compass October 1, 2020

https://bayviewcompass.com/favorite-poem-now-sheba-sings-the-song/

FAVORITE POEM — Now Sheba Sings the Song

October 1, 2020

 

By Margaret Rozga, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

The pandemic has not in the least slowed down playwright and BronzevilleArts Ensemble Artistic Director Sheri Williams Pannell.

In the August 23 to September 12 run of the Milwaukee Black Theater Festival, she performed key roles in five of its events. She served as a panelist, as a host and discussion moderator, director of Home, one of the festival’s three featured plays, and director of The Concert for Unity, the festival’s opening event. She also performed in that first event, singing with Cynthia Cobb, Krystal Drake, and Raven Dockery in the quartet known as the Bronzeville Divas. They sang a stirring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” This James Weldon Johnson song is sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem.

Even as the festival was in full gear, Professor Pannell began the new fall semester teaching in UW-Milwaukee’s Theater Department and serving as its head of the Musical Theater division. I felt lucky to be able to connect with her in the midst of presentations in and deep-thinking about these events to help build the Milwaukee community and Milwaukee arts community we need. 

Sheri said she was happy to talk poetry with me, having come to a love of poetry early in her life. She read and loved the work of Maya Angelou even before attending a reading when Angelou performed in Milwaukee. Hearing Angelou “sometimes read, sometimes recite” her work, Sheri said, “I felt the power of her presence and her language.”

Sheri Wiliams Pannell

In keeping with her own multi-arts perspective, the favorite poem she chose to highlight is a collaborative one. Maya Angelou’s poem “Now Sheba Sings the Song,” is the text of the 1987 book of the same title that accompanies illustrator Tom Feelings’ drawings of Black women.

Though not as well-known as Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman,” Sheri’s choice also celebrates the beauty of women and extends that theme in time and place throughout the African diaspora. Feelings was inspired to draw these 84 images of women in the United States and those he observed in his travels over the course of 25 years in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.

The book is thus able to convey a sense of the array of styles and skin tones among Black women. In her workshops with high school girls, Sheri found this inclusiveness an important means to counter the status given to lighter hues, even within the Black community. “Girls are trying to see where they fit,” Sheri said, and she wants them “to recognize their beauty.” Moreover, she sees both text and image in this book as helping the girls “appreciate the beauty of their other family members, and those outside the family.” 

Those various shades of skin color are praised in Angelou’s poem. Sheri cites these lines to underscore that point:

Throughout the poem the speaker highlights color as essential to natural beauty and links it to herself:

Jun 01, 2020

Bay View Compas June 1, 2020

FAVORITE POEM — Ringtone

June 1, 2020

 

By Margaret Rozga, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

I panicked,” Jay Bullock said about his reaction to being asked to name a favorite poem. As an English teacher for 22 years, the last 12 of them at Bay View High School, he has “dozens and dozens” of favorites. “I have favorite poems to read, favorite poems to teach in general, favorite poems to pair with each other or with prose texts my students read, favorite poems to recite at my students when they insist memorizing poetry
is too hard—you get the idea.”

Indeed after 28 years of teaching introductory literature classes at what is now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Waukesha campus, I do get the idea of how some poems emerge as best-suited for certain occasions and purposes. Some poems begin as the poet’s response to an emotional or otherwise significant personal or public occasion. When those poems succeed, they help readers identify their own emotions and sense of what the occasion signifies for them. Such a poem is the one Jay settled on as a personal and teaching favorite, Bruce Bond’s “Ringtone.” 

The poem, “clearly about the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting,” hit him hard. He said because he is a teacher, “School shootings live constantly at the back of my mind. The Columbine shooting happened when I was teaching at a school very much like Columbine High School. Coupled with how young and impressionable I was that early in my career, it left a lasting mark.”

In his current position, he said he doesn’t fear being in a school shooting as much as he fears that they will keep happening forever. “As the bodies of children pile up in places like Newtown, CT and Parkland, FL, I ache over what those teachers and parents must feel,” he lamented.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, he wrote a powerful essay for the Bay View Compass to express his compassionate view. He believes schools should “be among the safest, most loving places” that students know. 

As an English teacher, he appreciates the many ways Bond’s poem provides for rich discussion with his students. Though at Bay View High School, students have not experienced a school shooting, the poem immediately places the reader in such a situation: “As they loaded the dead onto the gurneys / to wheel them from the university halls.” Students can relate. They are aware of the prevalence of guns in our country. Some know of and some may have experienced gun violence outside of school. Others may have lost friends, or acquaintances, or family members to death by other causes. 

The poem’s metaphoric approach and structure also prompt discussion even in the prose writing classes, that Jay particularly enjoys. “We talk quite a bit about how literature is itself always a kind of argument,” he said.

This particular poem sees the ringing of the phones in the pockets of the students in terms of chirping birds:

“the startled chirping
in those pockets, the invisible bells
and tiny metal music of the phones”

The bird imagery continues to the last lines where the poem shows the emergency medical responders who are faced with conveying the sorrowful news when answering phones with song-based ringtones.

“Who could have answered there
in proxy for the dead, received the panic
with grace, however artless? A live bird
gone still at the meeting of the strangers.”

Jay encourages his students to unpack the poem’s unifying metaphor. He said his favorite part of teaching the poem is when students consider the phrase “a live bird gone still,” and the way its imagery describes both the answering of the phone and the deaths of the students.” He wants students to learn that when they write, “an artfully deployed metaphor in their own prose arguments, can be as powerful as these metaphors in poetry.” And learn they do.

I know I did. I learned about Bruce Bond, a poet I had not previously read before and learned an approach to teaching his poem “Ringtone.” I also learned of the depth of preparation and commitment to students Jay Bullock brings to his classes at Bay View High School. His work and that of his dedicated colleagues makes me Bay View proud.

The full text of Bruce Bond’s “Ringtone” can be accessed:  bit.ly/2WxHfbM

Read Jay’s Hall Monitor column about the Parkland shooting: bit.ly/360VuZR.

May 02, 2020

Bay View Compass May 2, 2020

FAVORITE POEM — At the Ten-In-One, aside from the Born Freaks

May 2, 2020

 

By Margaret Rozga, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

My favorite poem?” He smiled, looked away, then back at me, and sighed.

“Wow. That is really a difficult choice,” said Joe Foy, Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Alverno College.

We first met some 20 years ago when he was a newly hired assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin – Waukesha where I was a professor of English.

We have talked over the years about teaching, about civil rights, politics, popular culture, and even theater, but somehow we hadn’t talked about poetry. Yet once I posed my question, I realized that he found the question difficult not because he didn’t know poetry, but because he had many favorite poems. “I have been consistently moved and haunted,” he said, “by TS Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men,’ and I was once told by a friend in high school that I was the reason Eliot wrote ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ which I really hope was a horribly wrong assessment.” 

Among Dr. Foy’s other favorites are Maya Angelou’s “Alone” and the 40th Psalm. The poem that emerged favorite, though, is a poem by Marian University English professor Christina Kubasta. She read it at the start of a meeting of the Marian University’s College of Arts, Sciences and Letters (Fond du Lac, WI) about the time Joe began as the college’s dean. Professor Kubasta’s poem, “At the
Ten-In-One, aside from the Born Freaks” brings him a sense of purpose.

The poem’s title presents the subject of a sentence, a fragment that is then picked up and completed with the verb in the first line: “aside from the Born Freaks / are Working Acts, Strongmen & women with particular talents / perhaps.” The poem continues with attention to the people put on display in a sideshow tent. But it does more. As Dr. Foy notes, the poem “is about human exploitation and isolation and identity as told through performers in what is horribly referred to as ‘Freak Shows’ at a circus.” That exploitation often went unacknowledged, but it is brought forward here, for example, in the case of the Strong Man: 

Jobs without insurance, with no-notice rotating shifts, poor safety 

records, laughed out of the boss’s office when he says he wants a job
where he can spend time with his wife, his little girl (when she was a baby

he could hold her upright in the palm of his hand). Because if you’re blue-
collar, or working-class, this is what work is: Take what you’re given

The pace of these lines alternates between the stop/start of briefer phrases and the rush of longer ones pleading for recognition of shared human bonds and dignity. The three long “o” sounds in “no-notice rotating” gives that phrase particular punch. The parentheses are another way of bringing attention to the day-to-day life and poignant memories of the workers. 

The poem takes us several steps deeper into what’s behind the scenes. Injured, workers “end up at the hospital, / where they’ll drug test you before they treat you.” For these accidents, moreover, the circus owners take no responsibility, but “blame the dockworker from the Texas-/ Mexico border.” 

The strong images and insistence on seeing what lies behind appearances at the sideshow give the poem its power. Joe describes the effect it has for him. “It is a beautiful tragedy and it makes me feel both terribly sad and also angry and also inspired to make the world different—to make it a place where the most vulnerable feel the love that their mind, body and souls deserve, and to make it a place where people seek to build up and support and live in beautiful diversity. It makes me want to end exploitation and advocate for justice.”

Through its word craft and the deep seeing of the poet, poetry can and does help us as readers see what we may have missed, what had been kept from sight, and in doing so, it can steer us in a positive direction as we do whatever our work is in this world.

Here, courtesy of Professor Christina Kubasta is a copy of her poem, a favorite of Dr. Joe Foy.

At the Ten-In-One, aside from the Born Freaks 

are Working Acts, Strongmen & women with particular talents,
perhaps. Barkers hint what’s behind the curtain. Behind the curtain, 

a man is fingerless, digits lost to blast or machine — the magic
is what he learns to do with his stumps. Beside him is his woman, 

who attests what he’s learned to do with his stumps (this isn’t suitable
for women or children, this kootchie-show). The Strongman is huge, always

has been; he’s here after being worked like a beast anyway.
Jobs without insurance, with no-notice rotating shifts, poor safety 

records, laughed out of the boss’s office when he says he wants a job
where he can spend time with his wife, his little girl (when she was a baby

he could hold her upright in the palm of his hand). Because if you’re blue-
collar, or working-class, this is what work is: Take what you’re given–

when the beam in the truck springs loose, you end up at the hospital,
where they’ll drug test you before they treat you. When the beam

in the truck springs loose, they’ll try to blame the dockworker from the Texas-
Mexico border before they file the report. When the beam in the truck springs 

loose, they’ll put you on light duty, no driving, but make you drive to work every
day to check in, against doctor’s orders. And when your father is dying, you

cannot take off, because you didn’t request the time two weeks ahead, cleared
through the floor manager, the foreman. Death isn’t orderly like lines 

through the Side Show, like the careful tease of the Barker’s script.
You’ve seen human skeletons, the Fat Lady, the Tattooed Lady, too much skin

& not enough. Jars hold pickled punks, some strange animals. One sad man
reminds you of your cousin, prescription-addled. Before the end

is the Blowoff Act, and they ask for more, they always ask for more.

For more about Christina Kubasta and her poetry, see www.ckubasta.com

Dec 01, 2019

WPLC Issues Statement in Support of Immigrants

The following statement was passed unanimously by the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission:

 

The rise in angry rhetoric against immigrants, particularly immigrants of color, the policy of child separation, and the treatment of children in detention camps in the Southern Border of the United States point to a climate of xenophobia, in the United States, that is as dehumanizing as it is inhumane. Because we understand that the role of the arts involves education and because we affirm its responsible function in working for justice, with this statement, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission stands with immigrant communities and asserts that immigrants are vital contributors to the social fabric and promise of the United States of America. 

May 06, 2019

Margaret Rozga's Articles About Poetry

Margaret Rozga writes frequently about favorite poems for the BayView Compass. Read some of her columns here:

October, 2019

September, 2019

June, 2019 

May, 2019

April, 2019

And here are some other recent articles in other media:

January, 2019, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Margaret Rozga Named Wisconsin Poet Laureate

February, 2019, Milwaukee Neighborhood News

Summer, 2019, CBS-Milwaukee, Poetry in the Park 

 

 

Jan 13, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Announces Karla Huston as Wisconsin Poet Laureate

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Jan 13, 2017

Madison.com announces Karla Huston as Wisconsin Poet Laureate

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Jan 13, 2017

Appleton Post Crescent Announces Karla Huston as Wisconsin Poet Laureate

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Jan 13, 2017

Volume One Announces Karla Huston as Wisconsin Poet Laureate

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Jan 13, 2017

News Talk WHBY Interviews Wisconsin Poet Laureate Karla Huston

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Jan 13, 2017

WTMJ Radio Interviews Wisconsin Poet Laureate Karla Huston

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Oct 25, 2016

Who Owns Water? Kimberly Blaeser on "To the Best of Our Knowledge"

Interview with KimPoem and commentary by Kim

Mar 10, 2016

Catching Up with Kimberly Blaeser

http://www.wisconsinacademy.org/magazine/catching-kimberly-blaeser

Spring 2016 article on Kim in Wisconsin People and Ideas. Thanks to everyone at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters.

Mar 10, 2016

Wisconsin Gazette article on Kim from March 8, 2016

Apr 21, 2015

Midwest Lit: First Wisconsin Poet Laureate Ellen Kort Dies

Anne Strainchamps remembers Ellen Kort at Wisconsin Public Radio.

Apr 21, 2015

Ellen Kort Remembered in the Appleton Post Crescent

Wisconsin's first Poet Laureate, Ellen Kort, is remembered with gratitude.

Jan 24, 2015

"Milwaukee Talks: Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Kimberly Blaeser"

Senior Writer Molly Snyder interviews Kim for OnMilwaukee.

Jan 18, 2015

"Meet Wisconsin's New Poet Laureate"

Gayle Worland features the story in the Wisconsin State Journal Sunday edition.

Jan 18, 2015

"She Who Believes In Unicorns"

Featured on the Wisconsin Humanities Council Blog, Humanities Booyah!, a 2010 essay by Kim with a new preface as she accepts her appointment as Poet Laureate.

Jan 14, 2015

"Meet Kimberly Blaeser, Wisconsin's New Poet Laureate"

Wisconsin's next poet laureate hopes to hear more poems in public places, saying that poetry “has a spiritual role to play” in our lives.Wisconsin Public Radio's Chick Quirmbach covers the story, featuring Kimberly's reading of "Family Tree" and "Manoominike-giizis."

Jan 08, 2015

"Nurturing Wisconsin Poetry: A Conversation with Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser"

Silena Milewski interviews Kim for Express Milwaukee

Jan 07, 2015

"UWM's Kimberly Blaeser Named the Next Wisconsin Poet Laureate"

Jim Higgins covers the story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Featuring video of Kim's poem, "Refractions."