Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday Muse: New Wisconsin Poet Laureate

. . . to be selected, first of all, is just humbling and an honor.
But I'm very excited because I have ideas about what 
I'd like to do to celebrate the poets we have, 
and also engage the public more in poetry.
~ Kimberly Blaeser, Today At UWM

Kimberly Blaeser is Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-2016. Her appointment was announced January 7 by the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. Blaeser succeeds Max Garland (2013-2014) and Bruce Dethlefsen (2011-2012).

Information about the position is found in my Monday Muse profiles of Dethlefsen and Marilyn L. Taylor (2008-2010).

Blaeser has indicated that as the state's ambassador for poetry, she wants to meet more Wisconsin poets by inaugurating a monthly radio-show of interviews at which the poets also read their work.* In addition, she wants to produce an anthology presenting all of Wisconsin's poets (she thinks too few are known to the public) and show how fun poetry can be by introducing it in restaurants or other venues, such as sporting events, flower shows, wildlife refuges, an annual bird festival, museums, even taxi cabs (see the "Hybrid: Transported by Word and Image" project), and promoting it on social media.

In the commission's news release about her, Blaeser is quoted as saying that "[at] some point in the history of this country, poetry got a bad rap. Those who love poetry, but especially those who read or pen poetry in private, need permission and encouragement to be the shining poetry nerds they may long to be!"

* * * * *
What interests me is what I'm encountering.**

Kimberly M. Blaeser, Ph.D., a Native American (Anishinaabe/Chippewa) poet, critic, essayist, playwright, and fiction writer, has published to date three collections of poetry: Apprenticed to Justice (Salt Publishing, 2007), Absentee Indians and Other Poems (Michigan State University Press, 2002), and Trailing You (Greenfield Review Press, 1994). The latter received the Diane Decorah First Book Award (1993) from Native Writers' Circle of the Americas.

Blaeser also is the author of the critical study Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996). In addition, she wrote the introduction to Diane Glancy's War Cries (Holy Cow! Press, 1997) and edited Stories Migrating Home: A Collection of Anishinaabe Prose (Loonfeather Press, 1999) and Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry (Loonfeather Press, 2006). She has published essays in Here First: Autobiographic Essays by Native American Writers (Random House, 2000), Women of White Earth (University of Minnesota Press, 1999), and As We Are Now: Mixblood Essays on Race and Identity (University of California Press, 1998), among other publications.  She wrote the play The Museum at Red Earth, performed in 2007 at Menominee Casino Resort.

A "poet of witness", Blaeser writes about Native American themes, especially women, motherhood, and family, Native identity, history, and stories passed down orally, exile and loss, spiritual sustenance, nature and the natural world, and place. She also makes use in her poetry of her personal experiences, humor, and irony to relate what it means to be a Native American.

Following are several excerpts from Blaeser's lyrical and narrative poems (I've included one haiku); note the vivid images and depth of observation, the awareness with which she uncovers and so honestly portrays what it means to be Native American.

[. . .]
ground painted in frost
thirsty morning sun drinks white
leaves rust golds return
~ from "iv. Winter of "Haiku Journey" in Apprenticed to Justice

[. . .]
I've added
a child with chink eyes
to those
bruised souls
whose lives
I rewrite 
on my bluest days [. . . .]
~ from "Rewriting Your Life" in Trailing You

[. . .]
Look in the mirror and say "Damn Indian" until you get it right. Stop
only when you remember the voice of every law officer that ever
chanted those words. [. . .]
 ~ from "Twelve Steps to Ward Off Homesickness" in Absentee Indians and Other Poems

Poems by Blaeser have appeared in numerous literary periodicals, including Akwe:kon Journal, Canadian Literature QuarterlyThe Cimarron Review, The Cream City ReviewLuna: A New Journal of Poetry and Translation, Nebraska English Journal, Northeast Indian Journal, Sentence 7Steam Ticket: A Third Coast ReviewSouth Dakota ReviewValparaiso Poetry Review, and Yellow Medicine Review.

Blaeser's widely anthologized poetry and other work (see, for example, The Heath Anthology of American Literature, as well as Reckonings: Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women, Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers on Community, and A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children) have been translated into French, Spanish, Norwegian, Indonesian, and Anishinaabemowin, among other languages. (Blaser cites on her Website a wide variety of anthologies and other publications in which her poetry, fiction, and essays have been included. The Heath Anthology, in at least its seventh edition, is available through Amazon. Also see Resources below.)

According to biographies or other profiles, Blaeser has performed or given readings in at least a dozen countries at more than 200 venues.

Among Blaeser's honors are a Newberry Library Research Fellowship (1985), a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship in Poetry (2001), a Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year Award in Creative Prose (2002), and a Storyteller of the Year Award (1999) from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers. One of Blaeser's poems is installed as a sculptured doorway in Milwaukee's downtown Midwest Express Building, now known as Wisconsin Center.

A professor of English and creative writing at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Blaeser also teaches classes in Native American literature and American nature writing. She serves on a number of editorial boards overseeing publications or studies of Native literature.

Blaeser, who grew up on White Earth reservation, is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.


All Poetry Excerpts © Kimberly Blaeser

Photo Credit: Christian Kalinowski/Courtesy Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters

* For a more in-depth response to doing "the minimum official thing" versus realizing her vision for the position, see the excellent Express Milwaukee interview with Selena Milewski. Blaeser also talks about the role of place and its inspiration, her artistic philosophy, and her work with the Native American Literary Cooperative, which Blaeser founded. Her advice to aspiring poets is to read and pay attention, to "see things close up".

** Quoted from Kathy Quirk Interview (See source below.)

"Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission Names Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-2016", News Release, Council for Wisconsin Writers, January 7, 2015

Chris Malina, "Introducing the State's New Poet Laureate, and Saying Goodbye to Her Predecessor", Wisconsin Public Radio, January 12, 2015 (The host is Rob Ferrett.)

Jim Higgins, "UWM's Kimberly Blaeser Named the Next Wisconsin Poet Laureate", Journal Sentinel, January 7, 2015

Another narrative profile is in the 2005 edition of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature (see the profile on GoogleBooks).

Kimberly Blaeser Poems Online: "Refractions", "Watercraft", "This Song", "After Words", All at Wisconsin Poet Laureate; "Dreams of Water Bodies", "Refractions", and "Manooominike-Giizis", All at Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters; "Apprenticed to Justice" (Audio), "Refractions" (Audio), "Family Tree" (Audio) and "Fantasies of Women" (Audio), All at IIP Digital/U.S. Embassy ; "Goodbye to All That", "Haiku Journey", and "If I Laid Them End to End", All at The Poetry Foundation; "After Words", "On Climbing Petroglyphs", "Dreams of Water Bodies", "Copper crane bodies", and "Angles of Being", All at Verse Wisconsin Online; "Apprenticed to Justice" at Valparaiso Poetry Review; "Family Tree", "Haiku Seasons", "Recite the Names of All the Suicided Indians", and "Rewriting Your Life", All at Hanksville; "Where I Was That Day" on Tumblr; "Four in Bronze", "Summary Tabulations Descriptive of One Hundred and Fifty Chippewa Indian Families on the White Earth Reservation", "Vereran's Day", and "Naming the Light", All at Softblow; "Haiku Journey" at Poetry Once a Day Blog; "Winter Transfigurations (after painting 'Skating in Central Park' by Agnes Tait, 1934)" at Chazen Museum of Art's Post on 2013 Bridge Poetry Series; "Certificate of Live Birth" at Here and Now; "Surveyor, 1849" at Beyond the Water's Edge 

Podcast, "Kimberly Blaeser on Native People's Oral Traditions", November 22, 2010

Selena Milewski, "Nurturing Wisconsin Poetry: A Conversation with Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser", Off the Cuff, Express Milwaukee, January 8, 2015

Kathy Quirk, "UWM's Blaeser Named Wisconsin Poet Laureate", Today @ UWM, January 7, 2015 (Blaeser discusses her current work on "picto-poems" (art-inspired or ekphrastic poetry), which are based on Native American pictographs.)

Jim Stevens, "A Gathering of Words at the Gathering of the Waters" (Interview), Wisconsin Academy, 2012

Wendy Vardaman, "Interview with Kimberly Blaeser", Verse Wisconsin Online, 2011

Jessica Buettner, "Kimberly Blaeser Interview", IndianCountryTV on YouTube, 2011 (This interview also is available at Indian Country News online.)

Melissa Pond, "'Apprenticed to Justice'", Interview, KOJB Book Club (Audio) 

An excerpt of an interview, "Living History: A Conversation with Kimberly Blaeser", from Studies in American Indian Literatures, Summer 2007, is provided at Project MUSE. (Though only an excerpt, what is provided is especially interesting for its insights into Blaeser's ideas about creativity, play, form, voice, other writers'  influence on her, and the tension between the creative and the academic.)

Andy Reichert, "'Absentee Indians and Other Poems' by Kimberly Blaeser", Review at Voices from the Gap

Daina Savage, "Kimberly Blaeser, 'Trailing You'", Review at Rambles

Salt Publishing (United Kingdom)

Online Videos: Blaeser Reading "Refractions" on YouTube, Blaeser Reciting at House of Poetry in Bahrain on YouTube

Wisconsin Poet Laureate on FaceBook and Tumblr

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