By Jared Raney
Poetry is a way to see the world in a different way, to understand from a different perspective, said Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kim Blaeser when she visited Rhinelander last week.
A handful of Northwoods men and women gathered in the basement of the Rhinelander District Library to hear from this very special guest.
According to their website, “the Wisconsin Poet Laureate is the state’s leading voice for poetry,” and “strives to enrich the lives of Wisconsin residents by sharing the values of poetry, creativity, and artistic expression across the state.”
“In general you’re the ambassador for poetry, or more largely the arts,” Blaeser said of the prestigious position. “I feel in a way that making poetry happen, bringing it alive in a public space, is something that gets to your heart or your soul… It brings people together, and it creates an energy that wasn’t there before.”
Blaeser has many goals for her time as poet laureate, among them reviving the practice of reciting poetry, which she believes has become a lost art. In general she hopes to make the arts more accessible. One way she has done that already is by helping to create a poetry radio show that will run once a month out of Milwaukee.
“People are afraid of poetry, really,” Blaeser said. “Poetry is so, I think vital… in other places of the world, it’s really ceremonial. And I’d like to have us revitalize that in Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin Poet Laureate is chosen by an 11-person panel, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, for their contributions to poetry and the arts in Wisconsin. They are appointed for a two year period, during which they are required to visit each region of the state and complete at least one major project, though Blaeser said she has many.
“It’s just this wonderful opportunity… for me, just to see the different kind of pockets of humanity is fun,” Blaeser said. “I feel like I’m really seeing the grassroots arts at work.
The Commission described Blaeser’s poetry as “drawing on literal observation and the power of metaphor,” and creating “complex harmonies between the vibrant natural world and the resonant human imagination.”
Best known for three major poetry collections, her list of accomplishments is too long to list. Though not originally from Wisconsin, Blaeser now teaches at University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.
“I’ve been really surprised—I thought I had a sense of the poetry scene in Wisconsin. But there are so many little pockets, in small communities,” Blaeser said. “That’s been really fun to just discover what’s out there, and what exciting things people are doing.”
“We’re in really tough times financially in Wisconsin, but people just keep doing their stuff,” Blaeser said. “I feel so much like the arts influence the way we are in the world, how we choose to be as human beings. And it’s nice to see other people feel the same way… just doing all this stuff to bring enrichment to the state, the people of the state.”
From Native American ancestry, storytelling became an important part of Blaeser’s life from a young age. Even more so the art of oral storytelling.
“I grew up in the middle of nowhere,” Blaeser said. “I did grow up among storytellers… so we had oral play—we had stories, and songs.”
“Whatever we do, whatever kind of artistic thing, if we listen to music, it’s partly the reciprocity. The give-and-take with that work of art… That’s why it can heal, that’s why it can inspire,” Blaeser said. “I love that idea, of igniting a spark.”