Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Muse: Wisconsin's Poet Laureate

The Poet Laureate of Wisconsin is Marilyn L. Taylor. Appointed in November 2008, Taylor will end her two-year term this December. A successor's term will begin in January 2011.

According to guidelines of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, the purpose of the position, which was established by executive order (No. 404) in July 2000, is to "promote the influence of poetry" and "serve as a herald" for the state's poets. The incumbent is expected to plan and attend at least four statewide literary events, attend government and civic events at the governor's request, visit at least once during the term of office as many regions of the state as possible, and perform certain specified administrative duties. He or she also is required to select and lead a commission-approved project to "contribute to the growth of poetry" in Wisconsin.

An appointee, the guidelines indicate, must demonstrate "admirable and proven" skill in writing poetry, have an "admirable and proven" publishing history, and show "excellence in promoting awareness or enjoyment of poetry" throughout the state. The governor makes the selection from the commission's list of finalists. 

The state reimburses the state poet for travel and operating expenses and permits other funding, such as honoria or grants from sponsoring organizations. A Poet Laureate Fund to which the public may donate has been created to support the Poet Laureate's and commission's activities.

The first poet to hold the position, which until 2008 was for four years, was Ellen Kort (2000-2004); she was succeeded by Denise Sweet (2004-2008).

* * * * *
. . . If [people] think that every poem I write
in the first person is about me personally, then I am 
clearly an adulterous alcoholic agnostic who is aging rapidly,
while simultaneously lusting after younger men. Sounds like fun!
~ Marilyn L. Taylor in Interview with Wendy Vardaman

Marilyn L. Taylor, Ph.D., is the author of more than a half-dozen collections of poetry, including Going Wrong (Parallel Press, 2009), The Seven Very Liberal Arts (Aralia Press, 2006), Subject to Change (David Robert Books, 2004), nominated for a Poets Prize in 2005; Exit Only: 21 Poems (Anamnesis Press, 2001), which won the Anamnesis Press Chapbook Competition in 2000; and Marilyn L. Taylor: Greatest Hits, 1986-2000 (Pudding House Publications, 2001).

Taylor's poetry has been published in such literary journals and anthologies as Poetry, Able Muse, Smartish Place, VerseDaily, and The Atlanta Review.

Described as a highly skilled "formalist" who favors the sonnet and other traditional forms, Taylor also is known for her use of rhyme and meter. In addition, she is noted for her wit and sometimes tongue-in-cheek approach to writing about human nature generally and "heavy" subjects such as mortality and death. She's not afraid to assume a persona for a poem (see quote above) but has stated that very little of her poetry is autobiographical and she does not regard herself as "confessional".*

Taylor's poetry reflects exquisite craft, a sure voice, and a beautiful handling of imagery, as these few lines show:

On both sides of the screaming highway, the world
is made of emerald silk—sumptuous bolts of it,
stitched by threads of water into cushions
that shimmer and float on the Mekong's munificent glut....
~ From "The Blue Water Buffalo"

Maybe things are better than we imagine
if a rubber inner-tube still can send us
drifting down a sinuous, tree-draped river....
~ From "Summer Sapphics"

Straight-spined girl—yes, you of the glinting earrings,
amber skin and sinuous hair: what happened?
you've no business lunching with sticky children
here at McDonald's....
~ From "Reverie, with Fries"

Taylor served two years (2004-2006) as Poet Laureate of the City of Milwaukee.

Formerly an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Taylor conducts poetry workshops throughout Wisconsin and has been a visiting poet at many educational venues throughout the United States. She is a contributing editor for The Writer. Her awards include a 2003 Dogwood Prize, a Wisconsin Arts Board fellowship, an Academy of American Poets prize, and three Pushcart nominations.

Below is a video of Marilyn L. Taylor reading her poem "Mixed Signals" (the poem's text is provided here):


Poetry Excerpts © Marilyn L. Taylor

Marilyn L. Taylor's Poems Online: "The Lovers at Eighty" and "The Geniuses Among Us" at VerseDaily; Poems; "At the Cocktail Party" at Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry; "Crickets: a Late Chorale" at Umbrella Journal; "Subject to Change" and "Summer Sapphics" at PoemTree; "Aunt Eudora's Harlequin Romance" at Umbrella Journal; "Pyrotechnics at Amherst" at Verse Wisconsin Online; "Reading the Obituaries" at (on the same page are"The Blue Water Buffalo" and Lovers at Eighty") ; "The Blue Water Buffalo" at Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective; "Reading the Obituaries" at Black Cat Poems; "Glass Under Glass" at Verse Wisconsin Online; "To the Mother of a Dead Marine" at Wheelhouse; "Again", "For Lucy, Who Came First", "At the End" at Famous Poets and Poems

Video, "Wisconsin in Words: Marilyn L. Taylor" at Wisconsin Eye (Scroll down to Entry for August 28, 2009)

Marilyn L. Taylor on FaceBook

Marilyn L. Taylor on LinkedIn

Barbara Crooker Review of Going Wrong at Verse Wisconsin

Barbara Crooker Review of Subject to Change at Valparaiso Poetry Review

Diane Lockward Review of Subject to Change at Smartish Pace: A Poetry Review

Geeta Sharma Jensen Article for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sara Prince Interview for Milwaukee Public Radio (Scroll to "Poets Reading Poetry".)

*Wendy Vardaman Interview

Council for Wisconsin Writers

Milwaukee Poet Laureate

Parallel Press (for Going Wrong)

Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets

Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission

Wisconsin Regional Writers Association


Cassandra Frear said...

Love the playful elements of surprise in her poems. It's that recognition of connections, that turn of humor which marks great writing. Carl Sandburg was a master of it, and she reminds me of him.

Madame Rubies said...

Oh this is great. I am so snatching that top quote for my facebook status. Credited, of course.

L.L. Barkat said...

That opening quote about the First Person stuff cracked me up. :)

I like the idea of promoting the influence of poetry. Though each poem really needs to earn the right to do that on its own.

Susan Rich said...

Your post led me to check out how many states currently have Poet Laureates, but it's hard to tell. The Library of Congress has a list, but it lists Washington State as having a laureate and we no longer do. Budget issues killed the program after just one PL.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I can so relate! Most people 'see' me as a free-spirited, fun-loving woman who must have experienced a mis-spent youth -- lol -- I leave them to their imaginings -- it does sound like fun!

Maureen said...

It is hard to tell, Susan. I started these profiles some months ago and find my research time has increased to ensure the position is still filled, etc. The LOC list is a starting point but I haven't relied on it at all, as it is not updated as often as it needs to be. Some lists I've come across simply repeat what's on the LOC site.

Some states have opened up the positions to nonpoets and changed the positions' title. Some have cut back severely state funding, paying only a poet's travel expenses; others (the majority) offer no funding at all.

I have about a dozen states left for the Monday Muse column. How many will turn out to still have a Poet Laureate I don't know yet.

S. Etole said...

yes, that quote is an attention grabber ... enjoyed her various poems

Marilyn Taylor said...

Hello, everyone-- Marilyn Taylor here, and I thank you all so much for your good words about what has suddenly appeared here-- to my amazement and delight-- on WRITING WITHOUT PAPER. Heartfelt additional thanks to you, Maureen, for all you've done to make it happen.

Regarding the State Poets Laureate, we are about forty in number; some states are in between appointments; others are mulling the concept over; still others appear to be totally uninterested. (And I have to quickly add that the LOC Poets Laureate website is seriously out of date, even though I think they’re trying to keep up with all the turnover.)

Some of us PLs, however, have recently joined forces. A State Poets Laureate gathering will, in fact, be taking place in Lawrence, KS next March. Also in the works is an anthology titled "An Endless Skyway", due out in early 2011, which will feature 31 Poets Laureate, each of whom have contributed about a half dozen poems to the collection. I've read 'em all, and they are amazing. Write me for more info at!

Meanwhile, I'm totally thrilled about seeing myself on this site, Maureen. Thanks again!