Poetry News

A poet's take on Wisconsin, as Wisconsin governor takes out poets

By Harriet Staff

Bloomberg reports that Wisconsin's Poet Laureate post, created by order of then-Governor Tommy Thompson in 2001, will be one of the casualties of embattled Governor Scott Walker's budget bill. The post comes with a stipend that covers up to $2,000 in gas money a year to make up for the poet's travels across the state to lecture and read. The current Poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen, says that he'll continue on with his duties, gas money or not, but the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission has already received a letter from the state that it will not renew the order to even create the position, let alone fund it. On the continuing protests in the capitol, Dethlefsen wrote:

“Fifty-thousand strong
we stand up and scream to save
sitting down to talk.”

On Montevidayo, former Wisconsin resident and Milwaukee poet Brenda Cardenas checks in from the protests, calling to mind the presence of other poets and activists whose historic efforts keep her and the other protesters going.

Carlos [Cortez] was there and is here. My grandpa was there and is here. Cesar Chavez, Joe Hill, and Mother Jones have been marching in Madison for weeks, sleeping on the marble floors of the Capitol and outside on its concrete steps when they were cast out… and they are here. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Ronnie Gilbert, Leadbelly and Victor Jara, the Coal Miner’s Daughters have been harmonizing with our chants all over Wisconsin, and they are here. Sonia Sanchez, Thomas McGrath, and Federico Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda and Anna Akhmatova have been whispering in our ears, and they are here. MLK, Fanny Lou Hammer, Anna Mae Pictou Acquash, and Corky Gonzalez have passed through Teamsters, custodians and sewer workers; labor leaders, teachers and firemen; nurses, policemen and anarchists; veterans, students, and EMT’s; business owners, lawyers, and sanitation workers; bus and taxi drivers; clerks, artists and actors; singing grannies and babies dressed in diapers that read, “I poop on your bill!”; Lesbians for Labor and ministers; United Farm Workers and snowplow drivers; rainbow coalitions and farmers. They are taxpayers, they are citizens of the world, they are the bread of the earth, and they are here. The 14 Senators who fled so that the truth would be exposed are currently harbored in Carlos’ and my second home… and they are here—shape-shifters shaking the earth beneath Walker’s feet. In his dreams, he is falling like a cracked wall, its chinks chiseled open by the workers who have learned over many years of labor how to wield their tools.