Untitledtown’s Poet Laureate Event

By Sabrina Hemken

Poets LaureatesOne of the highlights of the UntitledTown Book and Author Festival was a Wisconsin Poet Laureate panel discussion at the Brown County Library Auditorium. On April 30th, this round table discussion featured current and former Poet Laureates Karla Huston, Bruce Dethlefsen, and two White Earth Anishinnaabe tribal members—Denise Sweet and Kimberly Blaeser. Together, the foursome sat down with Tori Grant-Wellhouse to discuss what it meant to be the state’s chief poet.

Sweet became Wisconsin’s 2nd Poet Laureate and the first Native American to hold the post in any state, in 2004 when Gov. James Doyle appointed her. Sweet is an emerita faculty member at UW-Green Bay, and her works of poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals—including print issues of Yukhika-latuhse.

Blaeser served as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-16. She is a professor at UW Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing and Native American literature. Blaeser is also the recipient of numerous awards, including from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas. She was instrumental in staging the 20th Anniversary Returning the Gift Festival of Native Writers and Storytellers in 2012, which was co-sponsored by the Oneida Nation Art’s Program.

The round table discussion began by asking panel members a series of different questions, giving each of them a chance to answer. Each Poet Laureate tried to highlight their own experiences, as well as emphasize the importance of art and poetry in general. Many also stressed the fact that as a poet, you must not be afraid to be your own promoter and advocate in getting your work out there.

When Blaeser was asked what the state of poetry was in the state of Wisconsin, she replied by stating that she believed the fact that being a poet who was grounded in a place added depth to their work that others did not necessarily have.

A member of the audience asked a question about whether the poets thought that their occupation put them more at risk for things like suicide, to which Sweet answered that poets should think about all aspects of life, not just the good things and those things should not be shied away from because they are difficult. That still does not mean that just because they can see these things that it is necessary for them to embody them.

Overall, it was interesting to hear about the individual experiences of the poets themselves. Although the format was a little abrupt and didn’t allow each of them enough time to expand upon their thoughts, I did thoroughly enjoy hearing their personal recollections of the things that they gained from their experience as a Poet Laureate. Moreover, this format showcased two talented Native poets who’ve succeeded at the highest level our state has to offer. That alone is praiseworthy.

Sabrina Hemken is a member of the Menominee tribe and is an artist, writer, and musician by fate. She is currently seeking her B.A. in Public Administration and her A.A. in Digital Media at College of Menominee Nation.