AWP 2015 Midwest Poetics Panel, with Brenda Cardenas, Margaret Rozga, Wendy Vardaman, Fabu, and Kimberly Blaeser (also pictured, Nick Demske)

Wisconsin Poetry Activists | Wendy Vardaman

Interviewed by Lisa Vihos via email, November 23, 2015

Anything that helps people slow down and be more watchful or brings people together in community to share their voices and stories has the power to create change. Poetry has the power to do both of those things. Change begins with paying attention, with discovering what we don’t know. How do we know what we don’t know? Conversation across difference, going to places we’ve never been nearby and far away, reading and sharing and listening…. poetry, spoken word, and the arts are all ways of knowing and have the potential to deepen our knowledge of ourselves, each other, and the communities we’re part of.

I am much more interested in the poetry, and the editing, “of witness,” that is, poetry and publication and curated events that reflect a diverse society and many sides to our different stories. I still love the craft of writing, but I feel like other questions are at least as important too, including: What is this poem about? and Do I have a story that needs to be told, and what is that story? Do I have a story to tell that others would benefit from hearing? How do I balance my time as a writer-artist in terms of creating my own work and being a producer of/audience for the work of others?

I also think it’s crucial to realize that there are many forms of arts activism. Writing (and providing space for) protest poetry is one. Going into schools is another, as is bringing awareness to political issues and issues of social justice through readings and publications and writing. Asking questions, bringing attention to language, encouraging others to do the same, and providing space to do that is another.

So many complex, interrelated issues deserve our thoughtful attention and efforts as informed citizens: racial justice, the right to vote, the right to organize, the right to make a living wage and to get a decent education, mass incarceration, healthcare, homelessness, a woman’s right to choose, depression and mental illness and despair, accessibility, gender equality and self-definition, water usage, global warming and environmental degradation. Where to even begin? I think that poetry, while it doesn’t solve these problems, is a way of knowing, a way of looking at the world, that attempts to make connections and to place our materiality, as physical and economic beings, in a wider spiritual context apart from the practice of any particular religion, or any religion at all. I believe that this awareness and openness to others and to language would serve us well as we try to connect with each other across differences to create a more just society.

Wendy Vardaman co-edited the anthologies Echolocations, Poets Map Madison and Local Ground(s)—Midwest Poetics, co- founded Cowfeather Projects and was Madison Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2015. Pictured above at their AWP 2015’s panel on Midwest Poetics: Brenda Cárdenas, Margaret Rozga, Wendy Vardaman, Fabu, Kimberly Blaeser; also pictured: Nick Demske.

“Wisconsin Poetry Activists” is a flash interview series by Lisa Vihos, which grew out of research that she conducted for an article in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Turning on the Lights, Spring 2016.

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art by Kristy Bowen

text | texture | textile | tech a book art & letterpress interview series | Kristy Bowen

a conversation with Wendy Vardaman 5/15/2016

This interview series talks to Wisconsin- and Midwest-based book and letterpress artists about their relation to the handmade, its appeal in our digitally centered culture, the significance in their print work of texture, textiles, and text, and their relation, positive or not, to tech.


Kristy Bowen

Kristy Bowen, artist/ printer/ poet, dancing girl press

I spoke to writer/artist Kristy Bowen, proprietor of dancing girl press & studio about her sources of inspiration and how she balances her pursuit of writing and visual art with publishing a prolific series of more than 300 chapbooks by women authors connected to the Midwest. I first met Bowen five or six years ago at a small press festival event – maybe in Milwaukee – she was sewing up books by hand, putting beautiful covers one at a time onto thin stacks of folded poems. She made an impression, as did the fact that she was creating the books, right there, at the festival.

The dancing girl website describes how she started:

The goal? To produce inexpensive, but still very stylish and beautiful, publications on a shoestring budget even if I had to assemble every single copy with my hands. To publish poets who were emerging in the morass of contemporary poetry, poets who fell through the cracks between the mainstream and avant-garde. Poets who wrote interesting and surprising work that varied from the mundane. Poets who employed hybridity and collage. Poets whose work was like nothing else.

I wanted to especially publish and promote the work of younger poets in my own generation. Also Chicago poets. Midwest poets. To publish projects that created their own worlds. Projects that were implicitly or explicitly feminist and women-centered. Projects that had an impact on readers both visceral and cerebral. To create lovely objects from paper, one of my biggest obsessions. To design interesting and gorgeous covers. To explore all the possibilities of what a “chapbook” can be.

Bowen answered questions about small press publishing, letterpress, and more in our conversation.

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page by Ann Engelman

text | texture | textile | tech a book art & letterpress interview series | Ann Engelman

a conversation with Wendy Vardaman 2/27/16

 

This interview series talks to Wisconsin and Midwest-based book and letterpress artists about their relation to the handmade, its appeal in our digitally centered culture, the significance in their print work of texture, textiles, and text, and their relation, positive or not, to tech.


Ann_Engelman

Ann Engelman – Photo by Carolyn Liedtke

I spoke to Ann Engelman from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, about her interest in and knowledge of regional book arts communities. Engelman has also been active in the Friends of Lorine Niedecker Society and founded Fort Atkinson’s Lorine Niedecker Poetry Festival. She is the force behind the arresting poetry wall in Fort Atkinson, an impressive example of placemaking through word design. Fort Atkinson is a poetry destination because of Niedecker, and the poetry wall makes for one more reason to stop and to enjoy this small town.

Engelman says, “I have always, always loved books. My parents tell me my first words were, ‘Read da book.’ There is a quote from Eudora Welty that sums me up: ‘I can’t remember a time when I was not in love with them; with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with the smell and the weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.’”

She generously answered my questions about Southern Wisconsin’s communities of book artists and her own interest in artist books.

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After Words by Kimberly Blaeser

“After Words” by Kimberly M. Blaeser, Wisconsin Poet Laureate, 2015 – 2016, is a limited edition broadside designed and printed by Wendy Vardaman at the Center for Printing Arts at Madison College.

The broadside was printed using three polymer plates, designed and made by Vardaman at the CPA, onto 100 lb. Chipboard Kraft, Kraft-Tone paper from French Paper Co., a sixth-generation, family-owned business in Niles, Michigan.

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text | texture | textile | tech by wendy vardaman

My interest in graphic design comes from a deep desire to make poetry & words more expressive, accessible & comprehensible to non-poets. As a poet, I have returned & recommitted to the written word through design again and again–from illustrations of nursery rhymes and children’s poetry, to poems projected on screens in the classic 1980’s PBS series Voices and Visions, an early example of the video poem, to poetry in subway stations and buses, to projections of poems on walls and screens, to animated poetry and high tech 3-D visualizations like wordCake, to the floating letters of 20th c. Constructivists, to the use of text–word, number, notation, music, code–as texture in collage, and of course, the world of visual poetry, in which word and image come together with drama and purpose.

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Cowfeather Quote Posters

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Local Ground(s)—Midwest Poetics: Selected Prose Verse Wisconsin 2009–2014

softcover, 428 pages
non-fiction/poetry criticism
Cover Art: C. Mehrl Bennett
ISBN 978-0-9846568-6-8
LCCN 2014952090

localgroundsFor six years, Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Busse co-edited the hybrid poetry magazine Verse Wisconsin working on laptops out of local coffee shops and libraries. Over 13 print and 15 online issues, they published the work and words of writers from around the corner and around the globe. Including poetry, essays, book reviews, interviews, verse drama, spoken word, visual poetry, and other poetic forms in print, image, audio, and video, they sought to build the audience for poetry and the community of poets, while working to define and re-define what community might mean.

Over the years, the mission of Verse Wisconsin underwent significant shifts, as editorial emphasis moved from a simple publication model toward creating conversations, activisms, and transformational circles, seeking to invite diverse voices into these conversations, to define and to redefine what a poetics of the Midwest might be, and to point the way towards what such a Midwest poetics might become. This volume represents another iteration of an ongoing conversation, as the voices of Verse Wisconsin’s editors weave in and out with those of other poets, once again reframing the questions by selecting work from over the years and placing pieces in new context.

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Echolocations, Poets Map Madison

echolocationsedited by Sarah Sadie Busse, Wendy Vardaman & Shoshauna Shy

ISBN 978-0-9846568-4-4, softcover, poetry
November 2013
also available as a Kindle book
Group Discussions: Download pdf of questions and promts

Proceeds benefit the Madison Poet Laureate Fund. Read more about the Madison Poet Laureate programa volunteer position overseen by the Madison Arts Commission.

Here’s a literary block party filled with both echoes and locations, as more than 100 poets share poems that refer to specific Madison places. Long-time residents live next door to writers who passed through for only a while. Local streets intersect with myth, history, personal narrative and ecology. More than geography, more than chronology, what emerges is something akin to the shifting psyche of a city. Poem by poem, a new map evolves, folds back upon its own stories, and rewrites itself over and over through its sounds and its silences, taking into account a variety of perspectives, a multitude of voices. In the end these poets ask us, How many Madisons are there?

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