Poets Respond to Madison

The artists’ evolving project on the city of Madison as well as the works on view in the exhibition at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) were sources of inspiration for the poems in this portfolio.

Poets Respond to Madison was organized by MMoCA’s education department in partnership with Gillian Nevers, MMoCA docent emeritus and Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (wfop.org) membership chair; Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman, Madison Poets Laureate; and Cowfeather Press.

Visit MMoCA to learn more about the ChanSchatz exhibition and project.

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Words for Madison | Timothy Yu

after Eric and Heather ChanSchatz

A specialized form of art in which the artists perform their work live to an audience
A plastic art
Deeply affected by social change
The volume and space of sharp structures
The ethnographic method
Experiencing longer lives
Brought back to the surface as waste water
Enjoy each other’s company
Majority rule

If we all worked toward a goal or idea, what would that be?

City opens playground for senior citizens
Change the working situation
Majority rule
Ignored or suppressed
The sacrifice of veterans
Expands the minds of children
Reshape into blogging and web feeds
Memories and perceptions are to be preserved

People have the inherent capacity to solve their own problems

Religion the land one worships on
Not returning to rural roots
Profiled as terrorists
Inaugurating the modern prison system
The state of homelessness
Facing humiliation in public places
Disaster relief
Block watches
Majority rule
Known to run in families
Starting out as a bad habit
Struggling to stay open

The aging population participates in order to feel better

Conscious changes
A luxury pursuit
Sunshine laws
No fees or paid tickets
Relief from urban intensity
6 million come by sea and 370 million by land
The slave next door
Risk and change
I choose
A strong value on discipline as a means to survive and thrive

Tensions rise and an act of violence is committed, followed by a period of reconciliation and calm

Slightly confident
We are adults
Green waste
Majority rule
Readiness gaps
Majority rule
Fragile fiscal health
Civil resistance
Burning desire for democracy and reform

Timothy Yu

Timothy Yu is the author of the poetry collection 100 Chinese Silences, forthcoming from Les Figues Press, and two chapbooks, 15 Chinese Silences(Tinfish Press) and Journey to the West(Barrow Street). He is also the author ofRace and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965(Stanford University Press). He is associate professor of English and Asian American Studies and director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Guide to the New | Miona Short

Come to the liberal city.
Lean on her tit and ask
What makes her so free?
Other people will give you
Answers. Wait for them
To apply to you.

Go home to Chicago,
Whose streets you can
Already understand.

Come back to the liberal city.
Walk her curly streets and
Remind her that you have
Questions. What makes her
So giving? Other people
Tell you. Something about
“Such a low murder rate”
Something about “no one
Will rob you in this city”

Go home to Chicago.

Come back to the liberal city.
Be the only black woman in a room.
Be the optical feast that no one
(Not even you) expected.
Diversity is in her tea-time lexicon.
People say “welcome” until you
Enter where your statistical
Contribution is … unneeded. Ask
The city why her tongue is so
Hungry but eyes too willing
To spit you out for sport.

Go home

Come back to the liberal city.
Read about the demographics of poverty
And incarceration in the place. Again
Ask what makes her so free when she
Is nothing but a wrought iron cage to
People that look like you. Wonder if
You’re being trapped. How would you
Know? Notice she never answers.
Only her entourage does. And all
Them are fake or oblivious. Swear
To yourself that you don’t hate her.
It’s that you haven’t found your
Footing. Convince yourself of this.
And count down the remaining years.

Miona Short

Miona Short is a sophomore Astrophysics/Spanish major at the UW-Madison. She is a Chicago native whose work primarily focuses on dissecting her experiences as a young woman and using those stories for the empowerment and healing of others.


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Naming the Local Gods | Rita Mae Reese

Turkeys of Atwood, you are what’s wrong with America,
or maybe just Wisconsin, or maybe Madison, or maybe just me.
At first, I named you Lorrine, Lynda, Max, and Lorrie
and gently lifted you to browse each Little Free Library,
fed you Gail Ambrosius chocolates
but my neighbor with the ancient dog and the MIA flag tells me
you have chased women home at night
with your beady Nixon eyes and McConnell wattles;
with your prehistoric feathered bulk
and faces only a founding father could love,
you have stood in the intersections
refusing to budge, making the grocer late for work
and all of our children late for school.
He has named you Koch, Walker, Ryan, and Koch.
Even from his front porch, we can see
the cars backed up for miles,
each one hitched to everything else in the universe.

          Rita Mae Reese

Rita Mae Reese is the author of The Alphabet Conspiracy and a recipient of numerous awards, including a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, a “Discovery”/The Nation award, and a Pamaunok Poetry Prize. Her most recent book, The Book of Hulga,won the Felix Pollak Prize and will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Visit her at ritamaereese.com.

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The ChanSchatz Exhibit | Oscar Mireles

The ChanSchatz exhibit
has unexpectedly
captured three
of my lifelong interests
into one exhibit:
artistic expression,
urban planning,
and community organizing

as a poet and writer
I have spent decades
trying to find my voice
learning not to be afraid to
release my inner thoughts
onto paper
or be willing to
share it with others
even if they were
not ready to receive it
in their hearts

In college,
my minor
was urban affairs and planning
and we had this radical professor
Dr. Jerome Saroff
who made us learn
how to work together as a team
as we tried to figure out
how to get our project done
before the end of the semester
which was converting
a retail street into a street mall
by eliminating on-street parking
which wasn’t a very good idea
since people in Wisconsin
don’t like to park
more then a couple of steps away
in the cold weather

my life works
has always been about community
what could I do?
to make this a better place
then when I found it
how do I get other people
to believe in a better future for themselves
and their children
building community
has always been the most effective
by reaching out
one person at a time
and focusing your energy
on getting them to the next step
in their lives

the Chanschatz exhibit
has given the Madison community
a chance to share their collective voices
to work with exceptional artists
to build community
to make a difference
for generations to come.

Oscar Mireles

Oscar Mireles is an educator, writer and school administrator from Racine, Wisconsin. He has been the Executive Director of Omega School for the past 20 years, where he has assisted over 2500 young adults with securing a GED/HSED credential. Mireles is a published poet and editor. His poetry has been published in over 100 publications, includingRevista Chicano Riquena (now Americas Review), Viatztlan, Colorlines, Nuestra Cosa, Milwaukee Journal and Catholic Herald. Mireles’s first chapbook, Second Generation, was published by Focus Communications in 1985. Mireles was publisher and editor of I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin: 20 Latino poets (Focus Communications 1989), and organized the second and third anthology of I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin with Focus Communications in 1999 and Cowfeather Press in 2014, where he served as editor and contributor.

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Moments Of Madness | Richard Merelman

Inspired by PTG.0272 Revolution (Egypt) / Students, artists and citizens in Cairo), 2012–2015 exhibited at MMoCA February 7­–May 17, 2015

Raw energy. Enough to turn the world around?
The paint slops over the frame, floods
the wall with colors, shapes, slashes that veer in every direction.
Perhaps, in defiance of gravity,
a felucca’s prow hints at a flight to the sky. But those rosettes?
Don’t they remind you of LSD trips? The tulip-like cluster
on the upper right evokes the flower children of Haight-Ashbury.
Golden circles on the left practically waft the scent
of Egyptian lemons. And the scarlet Rorschach blots
on steroids? Their home is the Berkeley Hills.
So it’s American graffiti meets the Arab Spring.
Ecstasy. Serious frolicking. Imagine belly dancing

without a body—cabdriver or nurse—
who maybe helped ChanSchatz make protest into art.
No pictures of snipers shooting from roofs
or women in burqas heaving bricks. If you’re like me,
you search for scenes that keep your mind in line.
Historical guidance? No Sadat addressing the Knesset;
no Nasser over Suez. Instead,
ChanSchatz deploy abstraction as a “catalyst…for democratic action.”
Adrenalin does rush, until the glands give out,
heart rates slow, and dark comes on. Revolution slumbers;
reaction awakens. Muslim Brothers rule, fall. The army
resumes control. El-Sisi will take it from here.

Richard Merelman

Richard Merelman, a native of Washington, D. C., taught political science at the University of Wiscsonsin-Madison for over thirty years. His first volume of poetry—”The Imaginary Baritone” (Fireweed Press)—appeared in 2012. Recent poems have appeared inLoch Raven Review and Lake City Lights. Two poems are forthcoming in Blue Unicorn.

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Project Notes Or To Whom It May Concern | Rubén Medina

These walls cannot contain our lives,
From one surface to another
Lines keep pointing to unseen Bodies,
Everyday intimacy,
And thousands of other
Walls and surfaces.

A fragment of the world
Is now appearing in front of your very eyes
If you forget for a moment about art
You can find me below the canvas
A little dot
Between the reds and the blacks
Crawling out the wall.

I don’t know what to call myself.
I am one of those poor kids
From a small and isolated town
In Nebraska
Who joined the army
And soon began losing friends, lovers,
A big country, sleep,
Words, space for my legs.

I am a broken soul,
Citizen X,
I am a desperate body in search of another.
I am your deepest self
When you close your eyes,
A whistleblower,
I am a home invaded,
A twentieth first century hero,
As a poem referred to me
In an undocumented language
Where my name sounded
Exactly like Chelsea.

The boundary between the canvases
And the wall is artificial.
In the recurrent dream I wake up
With words clogged to my throat
It takes me a long
Time to know that I am still in the dream,
And in these walls.
There it is that helicopter
That with amazing skill identifies its target
And I know that target is a brown Van with a father
taking his kids to school;

I think of the 43 young students
disappeared in Ayotzinapa,
a purple dream.
I think of those little men
Between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean
Waving and smiling to the crowd
While their height
Keeps growing like an infection, a white dream.
I think of the unseen dark rooms
In Chicago and Jerusalem, a gray dream.

I am thinking and thinking
Of all of you
Within this canvas,
Of 6 by 8 feet
At Fort Leavenworth.

These walls and surfaces.


Rubén Medina

Rubén Medina is a poet, translator and scholar. Since 1991 he has been a Professor at the UW-Madison, where he specializes in Mexican and Chicano/a literature and culture, intellectual history, film studies, and Mexican migration to the United States. He has published various scholarly books, three books of poetry and a major translation of Beat poetry into Spanish. His poetry is regularly written in Spanish, English, Spanglish.


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Untitled | Matt Guenette

Oh kids I will love you forever
for making me what I never was
Oh kids I barely listen
through the traffic
I am half awake for whatever you want
I am drinking coffee
trying not to fight with you
over lost boots and not getting dressed
over not fighting over toys
I am working at not sleepwalking
through the language
through bright
I am walking around the world for you
Oh kids, I am walking through an Egyptian square
I am walking through management and almanac.
I have gotten tattooes for you.
You make me energy.
You make me want to cry just walking down the street
knowing I have insufficient funds,
knowing in the cold near where the protesters
either miss or waste the point.
Oh kids you make me furnace
make me revolution
make me dream uterine exclamation points
till I want to jump in the next car
and ride it through the slow dissolve,
through the nights we are never ready for,
nights like a cave in
nights that flower and unflower again
or all spill into one
if that can happen.
Can that happen?
There is a night, the last one your uncle spent
in Iraq,
the uncle you will never meet,
though somehow we are safe.
We must breathe it in,
the colors and textures of the moments we believe will live forever.
Oh kids, you are a city.
We are spent not nearly enough.
I was pretty sure, then I wasn’t, but I believe
a night rises in our thoughts.
You are off now laughing,
Oh kids, you are all I dream about
for days with your names on my tongue
like stories that story us.
There is a heart we climb from pinprickling
our skin.
There is so much to ask and needs that need asking.
The night swallows its shapes.
Something flashes in a window on the street.
It overlaps us.
I will take you home now
long before you know home has been here all along.

          Matthew Guenette

Matthew Guenette is the author of two full-length poetry collections: American Busboy (University of Akron Press, 2011) and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008). He lives, works, and loses sleep in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Passport to the 22nd Century | Araceli Esparza

Go ahead
Get Close—Come on now,
Even closer
Now Mind Race—search for a file and lock down a picture, idea, or thought
And look again.

A devise to be used
A chatter welcome
Picked apart
Remember this is work
Who sees the grey?
Who sees the red?
Who sees this, will look up and wonder if it will fly and bleed, beyond today
Distant lands capture a smile and it feeds the world
smiles in the curves of this painting made child

Human Highway (Human Trafficking)
Encapsulated Vaseline smell
Built in her belly
Unbuilt in his head
Not for you
Not for sale

His and Her inside parts come together into a prism rainbow
Break the steel
And be again, but never forget the hands left behind.

Black and White #3 (Coal)
The symbols used are stories of how an emotion is defined
Break apart
Proletarian worker
Iron woman
Happy children faces
Her hands build flower blossoms.
Her work cannot be contained
A pregnant front
A working back


Hot, Hot, Hot to the bones
a small spy
Beneath the flex
Generating rock
Late notice           final notice
Spot me           jack me           spat me
I am energy
Zip Zap

Trees skirt and scratch the sky
Blue Bottle trees
I remember spring
And tracking foot prints in the snow to find inspiration and
A promise for a new millennium
Comes with problem solving energies and n sync beings.
Who sees the grey?
Who sees the red?

How old is my war child? (War)
Through the embryo
I see him with a MP-40 on one hand and a Stahlhelm on his head
Through his veins I smell him
Rotten egg
He is long, lengthy and
I look for his face
He opens his mouth and trashes his bother apart
I return with a clenched jaw
Back talking
Bleed through
To the next child, and to the next
Spreading his war
How can I abort him?
Peel him from our landscape?
How can the forests, sky, and oceans forget his blood?
Without a piercing, his is coated in silver
With M1-Grand on each side, and drones for friends
His tongue, blisters with lies and hate
For him to be engaged is to breathe, eradication, annulation, slaughter,
Lambs and Lions are left as dust as my war child
Rages on.


Total Mind Upload/Education
Skills cost money
And this class is divided.
So much they went north, east, west and south and built new places where invitations
Were needed
They left behind the
Painted scooped out minds,
Puppet like smiles,
Orchestrated happiness,
The get to the end of your day teachers and
Long white hallways, and
Compost disguised as food.

She tells me from the backseat
“One day I will be the leader and I will give everyone a chance and I will be fair.”

She Is No Child
Pure animal with Gazelle instincts
She will work hard for the humans.

Araceli Esparza

Araceli Esparza is from Madison, Wisconsin; her mother and grandmother were migrant farm workers from Guanajuato, Mexico. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree with a focus on children’s literature from Hamline University. Araceli is currently working on a picture book collection. Her photography has been on display at the Overture Center and her poetry has been published in many print and online journals including Verse Wisconsin,DePaul University, and the anthology I Didn’t Know There Were Any Latinos in Wisconsin.

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That Burn Stone | Ryan Browne

Up you bolt out of bed
and count to ten.
The dog’s tags chime.

Each squirrel picks a path
along the tips of oaks.
I rub sleep out of my eyes

like coffee grounds.
You usually skip six,
like Oliver Sacks misspelled

sulfur with a ph instead of f,
not because of ignorance
or even tradition, really,

but because, like you,
Sacks still hears our songs
sung in the know-how:

that the number to follow four
could as easily be nope:
that without a nose you could never smell a rose:

that burn stone is brimstone is sulphur is sulfur:
that, of course, a yellow element
burns bright blue, melts a deep red.

Your song
is without the odor of feather
or hair or skin burning.

The bear still lives in the concave.
The skunk den is far from water.
The mothership, the mushroom cap,

the starburst garden all hover above
mountain ranges on a child’s globe.
Downstairs you’ll loop through the kitchen,

the dining room, the kitchen.
I’ll chase you, then reverse and catch you
looking back from looking over your shoulder

and scare you,
and you always fall for it and fall,
and will fall, right through the angle of sunlight

on the floor, bent down the wall,
and I’ll ask you: Casper,
what color is this? This. This.

Ryan Browne

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