Wisconsin protest poetry civilizes the debate

By Harriet Staff

The Fon Du Lac Reporter talks to Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman, co-editors of the journal Verse Wisconsin about their recent call for poetry tackling the political battles in the state. They have received 150-200 submissions in genres that range far outside of poetry, including "songs, music videos, art and essays," a sign that public debate is still very much ongoing, even as most of the rest of the country has lost interest now that crowds aren't packing the capitol. While framed as "protest poetry," the material Busse and Vardaman are receiving doesn't necessarily present the unified front of those who occupied the capitol — and that's just fine with them. Imagine, nuance in political debate. According to Busse:

"Cable news would like to frame this as a football game — us versus them — (but) I don't think what's going on can be boiled down simply to unions versus Walker. I don't think it should be seen as such a simple issue."

Some poems favor protesters and tell their stories of standing fatigued, cold and hoarse on the State Capitol steps, Vardaman said. One poet supports Walker by describing personal experiences. Others question the motivation behind Walker and unions. Some never take a side; they focus on human behavior.

Busse and Vardaman themselves are excellent examples of citizens putting aside their own horses in the race to listen to others. Walker hasn't exactly been kind to the creative folk of Wisconsin, or the people who teach them.

"You can imagine that many poets and artists are not terribly sympathetic to his ideas. Still, we encourage voices from all sides. We want to provide another public space where people can listen to each other, can each speak their piece and be heard."