Monday, September 21, 2009

Review, Wisconsin Poets Laureate by Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Sweet and Ellen Kort

Review, Wisconsin Poets Laureate by Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Sweet and Ellen Kort, Marsh River Editions, Marshfield, Wisconsin, 29 pages, $10, 2009

By Barbara Bialick

It’s not often that you see a chapbook collection by not one but three poets laureate, these all from Wisconsin, going back to the year 2000 and up to the present. All three of these women have strong, creative, voices.

The current laureate is Marilyn L. Taylor, a contributing editor of The Writer magazine.

She taught English at UW-Milwaukee for 15 years in the honors program. In a poem dedicated to her students, “Subject to Change”, she writes in a villanelle: “They are so beautiful, and so very young/they seem almost to glitter with perfection…they’re traveling headlong/in that familiar, vertical direction/that coarsens beautiful, blackmails young…”.

Like the others, she gives us a flavor of Wisconsin, as in “Summer Sapphics”: “a rubber inner tube still can send us/drifting down a sinuous, tree-draped river/like the Wisconsin—“ where she imagines “It’s as if we’ve started evolving backwards: mammal, reptile, polliwog, protozoon—/toward that dark primordial soup we seem so eager to get to…”.

Denise Sweet was Wisconsin poet laureate from 2004-2008. A grandmother and faculty member at UW-Green Bay, she won The North American Natives First Book Award for Poetry, along with other publications and 100 public readings in the US, Canada, Mexico and Guatemala.

In “Palominos Near Tuba City”, she writes “I chase poems down like/wild mares into fenced corrals/…In “Sky Opens”, she calls out to “our relatives without names…”. She moves from “the star quilt/I hide under most nights” to musing “whether the stars we see now have been there all along…just like this/waiting to skid across /the sky, waiting to fall/into the blue canopy we occupy/…So I must think of them/as though no one has ever seen this before…”

The third poet laureate is Ellen Kort, who served from 2000 to 2004. She contributed all new poems for this collection. She has worked with her poetry as an expressive and healing art for cancer, grief, domestic abuse survivors and women in prison. Her poetry has also been performed by the New York City Dance Theater, among others, and she has traveled as a speaker, poet and workshop facilitator in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

She advises in “When You Write”, to “Do it with your eyes closed with the tips of your/ fingers circling air from the knot in your chest/from juices nerves and hollow bones. Write/ in the deepest well in water that licks your hand craves your salt…”

The publisher has wrapped the soft cover book in a heavy, colorful book cover apparently to elevate it to the status of a larger book. A good notion, as the poets laureate of Wisconsin are all good writers worthy of a second look.

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