Well this is exciting, to be the first poet laureate of my lovely Midwestern city, Sheboygan, WI. I may have been born in Chicago, grown up in the suburbs of Detroit, attended college in Poughkeepsie, NY, lived for fifteen years in Los Angeles as an adult, but Sheboygan is where I have settled. I am not sure if I will ever live any place else.
This city of 49,288 people grows on a person. It is something about the proximity to the lake, to farmland, to beautiful city parks and state parks, to great restaurants, to bike paths, to an amazing Arts Center, and to the ever-more diverse, creative, kind-hearted, wonderful people who live and work here. I moved here with my family in 2002 and so I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else in my life. Can I say I am a Sheboyganite yet? I think so. And now, I have been appointed as the bard for this fair city. What an honor! What a task! And what does a poet laureate do, anyway?According to Wikipedia, a poet laureate is a poet who is officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. I could do that. During her or his term, a poet laureate seeks to raise the national (or in my case, municipal) consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. That task is also right up my alley, in my wheelhouse, and a primary feature of my natural habitat.
I have long been a poet who organizes happenings and spaces in which people can find their own voice, or at least their own personal connection to poetry. Through events like Poetic Pairings: How Poetry Speaks, the world-wide movement known as 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and my 10-year dedication to Stoneboat Literary Journal, much has been accomplished. People have learned new things about themselves and others. I have learned new things about myself and others. And the best part about all this is that there is still more to learn!
I am only on day three of my new tenure, but I am chomping at the bit to start doing SOMETHING. I have a multitude of ideas, and all of them involve working with the community. But let me not forget that along with organizing, it is very important to keep writing. As my friend and mentor, poet Karl Elder of Lakeland University said to me, “I know I don’t need to urge you to keep writing, which is the most important thing a laureate ought to do.”
Agreed. But while I am writing poetry and sharing it, I want everyone to start thinking more like a poet. What does that mean? I think I will address that in my next blog post. So please come back. I will meet you here. There is so much to do in this world at this time. We must speak up in every way we can to end racism in America and also make sure we change the administration of our country. Oh, and protect the planet from global warming, ensure health care for all, make sure no one in America goes hungry…wow. The list of things that needs changing is long. I know it would be naive to say that poetry can do any of this alone, but I will continue to contend that poetry can help. Then, there is COVID-19. That needs a vaccine, not a poem. But, again, poetry can help us process all the anguish, grief, and uncertainty. Together, we’ll make a plan for how poetry can change the world, one poem at a time.
As the poet Jane Yolen wrote:
it’s not what we stand against,
but what we stand for
‘cause the arc of justice
doesn’t just bend itself, you know.