Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday Muse: Wisconsin's Poet Laureate

If a novel is winter and a short story is a blizzard,
then a poem is a snowball, a single shot, squeezed.
~ Bruce Dethlefsen* 

Bruce Dethlefsen's appointment as Poet Laureate of Wisconsin was announced by Governor Jim Doyle on November 10, 2010. Dethlefsen succeeds Marilyn Taylor, about whom I wrote here, and began his two-year term on January 1.

As noted in the post about Taylor, the Poet Laureate, in addition to planning and attending at least four statewide literary events annually, is required to select and lead a large-scale project to promote Wisconsin poetry. Dethlefsen, who has considerable experience with workshops, judging poetry contests, and hosting readings, plans to use his position, which is unpaid, to introduce poetry to new audiences via readings at libraries throughout the state. (He is a retired director of Montello Public Library.) As he said to an interviewer here, " Every little town has poets hiding in the bushes who are just waiting to be asked to share their work."

. . . [T]he most important thing for poets [is] to pay attention.
Listen, watch, regard. Artists must pay close attention.**

Dethlefsen has published two chapbooks, A Decent Reed (Tamafyhr Mountain Press, 1998) and Something Near the Dance Floor (Marsh River Editions, 2003), and a book-length collection Breather (Fireweed Press, 2009). He also has recorded a CD***, Lip, and will represent the state in An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate of America (Ice Cube Books), to be published this coming March. 

In poems sometimes no more than a half-dozen lines long, his style spare and stripped of ornamentation, in plain diction marked by an absence of punctuation and capitalization, Dethlefsen writes of history, boyhood memories, marriage and family, immigration, war and political protest, love, illness, and death. The simplicity (and subtlety) can be disarming, as in his six-line "Read Aloud":

as the child reaches
underneath the book
to help the father prop it up
their hands touch
underneath the book
and the story resumes

Asked to comment on his "accessibility", which is more than evident in any selection from his work (I've listed below a number of poems online), Dethlefsen said, "Readers aren't stupid. All the reader needs is a little place to stand and something interesting to look at and they'll fill in the rest. For  the poet, it's sort of a catch and release process. Poets take the world so personally and then return it universally."*

Dethlefsen, who serves as secretary of The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize in poetry; received Honorable Mention, Posner Book Length Award (for Something Near the Dance Floor) from the Council for Wisconsin Writers; and was awarded a 2010 Outstanding Achievement in Poetry award (for Breather) from the Wisconsin Library Association.

Dethlefsen is a contributor to a number of anthologies, including  Empty Shoes: Poems on the Hungry and the Homeless, selected and edited by Patrick T. Randolph (CreateSpace, 2009), The Poetry of Cold: A Collection of Writings About Winter, Wolves & Love (Home Brew Press); and Hope Whispers: An Anthology of Inspirational Poems & Short Stories (Whispering Angel Books).


All Poetry Excerpts © Bruce Dethlefsen

Note: Although Dethlefsen's work may be available through re-sellers (it is no longer available via Amazon), it may also be purchased directly from the poet or through his publishers, depending on availability. 

* Quoted in "Sharon Auberle Interviews Bruce Dethlefsen" at Quill & Parchment (Archives), March 2010 [This is a quick read that gives insights into Dethlefsen's regard for poetry and his approach to poetry writing. The post includes an address for ordering Breather.]

** Quoted in "Westfield's Bruce Dethlefsen Named Wisconsin Poet Laureate" in Marquette County Tribune [Note: This article is in error in reporting that the term begins in 2012.] 

*** The CD was recorded with Wisconsin poet Cathryn Cofell and musician Bill Orth. The duo calls itself "Obvious Dog". Dethlefsen is a bass player and singer. A video of a performance may be seen here.

Bruce Dethlefsen Profile at Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission

Bruce Dethlefsen's Poetry Online: "Rag and Bone" at Verse Wisconsin Online, Issue 104, 2010; "A Vacant Lot in Guatemala" from Something Near the Dance Floor; "White Stallions" at Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective (this poem also is found here); "When Somebody Calls After Ten P.M." and "Suicide Aside" at The Writer's Almanac, March 30, 2009; "Shiny Things" in Marquette County Tribune; "When Somebody Calls After Ten P.M.", "Read Aloud", and "Mineral Expectations" at Your Daily Poem; "Read Aloud", "When Somebody Calls After Ten P.M.", "The Way of the Poet Warrior", and "November Lake", all at Poetry Dispatch & Other Notes from the Underground, #303, December 13, 2009; "Read Aloud" and "Poniente" at Verse Wisconsin Online"Cry Me", "For the Time Being", "Playing the Field", and "When Somebody Calls After Ten P.M." , all at Quill & Parchment, June 2009; "White Stallions" and "Suicide Aside" at Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets; "The Oven Clock Says 4:44" in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Winter 2010; "Artists" in Recovering the Self at GoogleBooks; "The Hot Dog Man" (May 2009), "November Lake" (November 2009),  and "The Way of the Poet Warrior" (March 2010) at Quill & Parchment

Review of Bruce Dethlefsen's Something Near the Dance Floor at Word Riot, 2009

Review of Bruce Dethlefsen's Breather at Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene, February 19, 2009; at Verse Wisconsin Online, Issue 102; and at Poets West

Review of Bruce Dethlefsen's A Decent Reed at Cambridge Book Review, Spring/Summer 1999

Review-Essay, Sarah Busse, "Midwestern Weather: A Look at the Poetry of Bruce Dethlefsen and Ralph Murre" at Verse Wisconsin Online, Issue 103, 2010

Video Interview with Bruce Dethlefson at WisconsinEye, December 10, 2010

Bruce Dethlefsen on FaceBook

Arts Wisconsin

Empty Shoes Anthology Website

Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective

Press Release on Dethlefsen's Appointment, Office of the Governor

United Poets Laureate

Wisconsin Arts Board

Wisconsin Arts Day, March 2-3, 2011

Wisconsin Book Festival

Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets

Wisconsin Library Association (Blog)


Joyce Wycoff said...

What an interesting series this is ... you must be the living saint of the states' laureates introducing them to lots of us who would never know about them.

It would be interesting to hear your opinions and insights as you complete this exercise.

S. Etole said...

I enjoyed this from the opening quote on ....

Louise Gallagher said...

Every so often you write of a poet and I think -- I'd like to meet her or him -- some don't resonate like others for whatever reason.

He resonates.


Love his style and his words and his philosophy.

thanks so much for sharing him!

Marilyn L. Taylor said...

As Bruce Dethlefsen's humble predecessor, I'd like to add just two things: first, that it fills me with enormous joy to know that the office of Poet Laureate of Wisconsin will be in such extraordinarily good hands for the next two years (I am an ardent, long-time fan of Bruce's)-- and also to thank everyone responsible for "Writing Without Paper". You do the office of Wisconsin Poet Laureate a tremendous service with this great blog.

Maureen said...


Thank you for your generous words. "Everyone" at WWP is "I", and it is my great pleasure to put together these Monday Muse laureate posts. I have a few more to write before I can say I've gotten to everyone in all the states that have PLs, after which I'll start watching as positions become vacant and are refilled. As some commenters have noted, the series has introduced poets of whom many of us (yes, I include myself) might have remained ignorant. My one wish is that all the PL positions were paid and that all of our schools made it a point to expose students to the wealth of talent in their own states.

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

admirable job,
you have spent so much time discovering other talents, well done.

Anonymous said...

i would like to look into this post.
thanks, maureen.
i will comb through it.