Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Muse: Wisconsin's New Poet Laureate

. . . [Poetry is] one of those things that's just too important
to be left to experts.
~ Max Garland

Max Garland has succeeded Bruce Dethlefsen as Wisconsin's 2013-2014 Poet Laureate. He was selected by the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, now overseen by the Wisconsin Academy of  Sciences, Arts & Letters. (See note below at Wisconsin Academy link.) As did Dethlefsen, Garland will serve a two-year term (January 1, 2013 - December 31, 2014). 

During his tenure, Garland, who has declared that he thinks poetry is fun, said his aim as Poet Laureate will be to "reach out to those who may feel alienated from the world of poetry (or art), and yet have deeply felt experiences to record and honor. . . ." Of particular interest, he said, is "promoting the connection between poetry and place, and urging young, as well as young-at-heart writers, to write of the places they know and explore their relationships with those places in poetry."* 

My post on Dethlefsen and my post on Marilyn L. Taylor, who preceded Dethlefsen in the job, include information about the unpaid position while it was a state position, as well as additional resources to complement those below. 

*  * * * *

. . . [P]oetry offers a place where we (young and old,
experienced or just beginning) can still draw upon the power
of honest and thoughtful words to more deeply express
who we are, who we might become and what connects us as human beings.**

Max Garland, who spent a decade as a mail carrier in western Kentucky and currently is an English professor at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has published two collections of poetry: The Postal Confessions (University of Massachusettts Press, 1994), awarded a Juniper Prize for Poetry and an Outstanding Achievement Award from Wisconsin Library Association, and Hunger Wide as Heaven*** (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2006), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Center Open Competition. Garland's chapbook Apparition (Parallel Press) was published in 1999. In addition to teaching and writing, Garland plays in the band Eggplant Heroes, based in Eau Claire.

Garland's poetry ranges over such subjects as religious faith (he cites the King James version of the Bible as an early and sustained literary influence), memory and redemption, time's passage, mortality and loss, childhood and family life, the world and Cold War politics, romantic love, loss of innocence, and connection to place (Garland grew up in Paducah, Kentucky). Work, too, figures among influences on his poems (see, for example, "Early Work" in Hunger Wide as Heaven or "The Postal Confessions" in The Postal Confessions); according to a biographical statement in an anthology of Kentucky poets (see link in Resources), Garland not only has been a mail carrier; he also has worked as a grocery store clerk, janitor, termite inspector, paper deliverer, and pizza cook, among other jobs.

. . . what appeals to me about poetry [is] that is allows for individual
 expression, and yet through imagery, metaphor, music and intuitive
 extension, it also allows us to connect to others, living and dead,
 and possibly  yet to be born.  And a good poem is never obsolete. 
Also, poetry, at its best, breeds empathy, 
and we need more of that.****

While one can describe Garland as plain-spoken — his poems are notable for their clarity, accessibility, and images of life as lived — a deep strain of lyricism also runs through his work, along with humor and an intuitive sense of rhythm. Here are a lines from several poems that give a sense of Garland's marvelous descriptive powers, assured tone, controlled cadence, and sure hand at selecting words for their music:

The days break their backs on the wide brown water.
You can see the warped spine of the river
between the girders of the Brookport Bridge.
Blue-gray stitch of a heron. Gull-flight below
and the scare of its shadow on the current. . . . 
~ from "Springfield" in Hunger Wide as Heaven: Poems

That's the moon come down to drink,
that apparition on the water. Or
it's the milk of human kindness 
slinking like an eel. . . . 
~ from "Apparition" in Apparition

They've just cleaned the Creation of Man,
God's beard newly whitened, blown
back in a turbulent cloud
as he reached for the left hand
of Adam, his first mistake,. . .

They're working backwards through time,
the way Michelangelo painted the world:
first the flood, then the fall, then Eve
lured from the dreaming Adam, . . . .
~ from "Revisiting the Sistine Chapel"

It was Sunday, 1957, and the parking lot
of the Episcopal Church
was the best time a tail-fin ever had. . . .
~ from "Requiem for a Boom Town"
in What Comes Down to Us (Anthology of Kentucky Poets)

Sometimes I wake up with my hillbilly voice.
I don't know why. Maybe a dream took me back.
The catalpas wilting in the heat.
The dust-devils walking the dry field.
Maybe the river was trying to shine
through the silt and accumulated years.
But when my head cleared and sleep ended,
there was only the twang of home left over,
like stubble in a milo field. . . .
~ from "An Oral History of  the English Language" in The Postal Confessions

Poems, as well as stories and essays, by Garland have been published in numerous literary periodicals, including Chicago Review, Crazy Horse, Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and ProseGeorgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, and have been featured at A Writer's Almanac (National Public Radio). His work has been anthologized in I Know Some Things (Faber and Faber), The Most Wonderful Books (Milkweed Editions),  Best American Short Stories 1995 (Houghton Mifflin Co.), and Billy Collins's anthology Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, among others.

Garland's honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, a James Michener/Copernicus Society of America Fiction Fellowship, a Bush Artist Fellowship (the Artist Fellows program no longer exists; see Bush Foundation's Bush Fellowship Program), and two literary fellowships, one in poetry and one in fiction, from Wisconsin Arts Board. Other awards include a poetry fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, a poetry fellowship from Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, a Tara Award for Short Fiction, and a 2004 Arts and Letters Poetry Prize.


* Quoted from Wisconsin Academy Press Statement (Also see Loeffler article below.)

* * Quoted from UW-Eau Claire Press Release, January 3, 2013

* * * Also available at Amazon.

**** Quoted from Marie Loeffler interview; see link below.)

Max Garland Photo Credit: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters

All Poetry Excerpts © Max Garland

Tom Giffey, "Eau Clairian Named New Wisconsin Poet Laureate", Volume One, January 3, 2013

Jim Higgins, "Eau Claire's Max Garland Is State's New Poet Laureate", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, January 3, 2013

Marie Loeffler, "Max Garland Charts His Course as Wisconsin's New Poet Laureate", Interview, The Daily Page, January 3, 2013

Max Garland Profiles at University of Wisconsin

UW-Eau Claire Press Release on Garland's Appointment as Poet Laureate

UW-Eau Claire Press Release on Garland's Receipt of Bush Artist Fellowship in 1999

Interview with Max Garland at Absentia - Willaim Stobb (miPOradio Podcast)

Max Garland Poetry Online: "Upon Receiving a Letter About the Shrubbery" and "Mega-Foods", Both at Verse Wisconsin Online; "You Miss It" at Poetry Daily; "Because You Left Me a Handful of Daffodils" at The Writer's Almanac (Text and Video); "Apparition" at Parallel Press; "Revisiting the Sistine Chapel", "The Postal Confessions", "Fedoras", "County Night", "Cappuccino at the Marconi Hotel in Venice", and "Mirror", All at Poetry Magazine; "At the Opening of an Exhibition" at Bridge Poetry Series (Also see individual book titles below.)

Apparition in The Literature Collection (Digital UW Library)

Arts Wisconsin on FaceBook

Cleveland State University Poetry Center

Encore: More of Parallel Press Poets, Chapbook (Parallel Press, 2006  ) on GoogleBooks includes Garland's poem "Homer".

Hunger Wide as Heaven on GoogleBooks

Review of Hunger Wide as Heaven at Rambles, November 2006

Michener Center for Writers, University of Texas-Austin

The Postal Confessions at GoogleBooks

Parallel Press (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

University of Massachusetts Press

What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets (University Press of Kentucky, 2009) on GoogleBooks (This anthology, beginning at page 145, includes Garland's poems "Hold on Me", "Requiem for a Boom Town", and "For a Johnson County Snowfall", as well as a biographical summary.)

Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters (Note: The nonprofit Wisconsin Academy assumed responsibility for the laureate program in 2011 after the state, citing budgetary concerns, cut the program's tiny annual funding, which amounted to $2,000 for travel expenses. (See this post from Verse Wisconsin.) Garland will receive a $2,000 travel reimbursement allowance and be given an annual week-long residency at Shake Rag Alley, School of Arts and Crafts, Mineral Point.)

Wisconsin Arts Board Artist Fellowship Awards


Louise Gallagher said...

His poems are.... "images of life as lived."

Nice. Like that.

And I love that quote you begin with.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry if I missed it, but is there a way to see his poems in their entirety somewhere?

I don't live in Wisconsin but I like the excerpts.

On line? Available as e-books? On Amazon?

Maureen said...


If you look under Resources in my post, you will see Max Garland Poetry Online. I've linked to all the poems I could find online. You can also read some of the poems in the links on GoogleBooks (look for the titles I've mentioned at GoogleBooks).

Garland's collections available through Amazon or other booksellers or the publishers are linked in the initial paragraph.

~ Maureen

S. Etole said...

He definitely has an interesting way with words.