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Meet Kimberly Blaeser, Wisconsin’s new poet laureate

Chuck Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio

Wisconsin's next poet laureate hopes to hear more poems in public places, saying that poetry “has a spiritual role to play” in our lives.

Kimberly Blaeser lives in Burlington and is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She's also a member of the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, which is where she grew up.

Blaeser said her Native American background has influenced her writing.

“I felt like in some ways I was compelled to write about family stories, community stories, to kind of challenge some of the representations of native people, some of the historical accounts,” said Blaeser. “And so there was in that was a certain element of resistance writing and maybe also something that had to do with my own personal survival and finding balance in the world.”

One of Blaeser's poems about her native culture, “Family Tree,” centers on her father, mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Blaeser also writes about centuries-old Native traditions, like harvesting wild rice.

Now that Blaeser's been chosen as Wisconsin's next poet laureate, she hopes to make poems memorable for more people. The position doesn't pay much, but it allows her to travel the state for two years as a poetry ambassador. She said poetry has work to do.

“Audre Lorde said, ‘Poetry is not a luxury.’ And I think poetry's important in helping us balance ourself in the world. It has a spiritual role to play. It can serve us in many ways,” said Blaeser.

Blaeser said poetry seems to have a bad reputation with many people, and that some are afraid of it. In addition to supporting poetry slams and the Poetry Out Loud program in schools, Blaeser would like to bring poetry to more public places.

“In fact, one of my little plots is to use it for kind of a 'recitation challenge,'” said Blaeser. “I'm thinking probably April, Poetry Month … to try to get people to recite poetry by heart. Sort of like the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge,’” said Blaeser

Blaeser also hopes to do monthly radio interviews with Wisconsin poets and edit an updated Wisconsin poets anthology.

More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or online at www.wpr.org. Listen to two of Blaeser’s poems, ‘Manoominike – Giizis” and “Family Tree” on the website. 

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