Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate speaks to Alumni Weekend audience

The importance in our lives of poetry and art was highlighted recently as part of Alumni Weekend activities. Poet Karla Huston of Appleton, Wisconsin, the 2017-18 Poet Laureate for the state of Wisconsin, says, “What it offers us is pleasure. The arts give people something to do and something beautiful to look at. We need to strike a balance between business, industry and the arts.”

She read several examples of her work and those of others. She opened with “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver, which she finds particularly inspiring.

“You do not have to be good. …
“Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”

Societal expectations of always having to be perfect are very hard on people, “particularly on our youth who are finding their way in the world,” she says.

Huston grew up in the La Crosse area, and her poems reflect memories of that time, current observations of her home in Appleton, and things she see when she is out and about, such as mallards in her neighborhood, her dog barking at every visitor who comes to the door, sand hill cranes appearing in the city, and a person in a gorilla suit who advertises a local business.

She also reflects on memories such as time when she was a child that she shop-lifted a lipstick.

An audience of young people she read that poem to were surprised she would share that, but while the incident did happen, not everything in the poem did. “Poets are known to be tremendous liars,” she says with a laugh. “Even a biography is not going to tell you everything. We choose what it is we want to keep in our memory, and it’s all filtered through our eyes. It’s revisionist.”

A project she is working on as Poet Laurate involves poetry and memory, and she works with elders who have mild to moderate memory loss. They recite poetry together and then write a poem together. “There is a generation of our elders who memorized poems while in school,” she says. “You’ll remember some of it. All those wonderful words became a part of you.

“Poetry has the ability to trigger reactions into rhythm and sound.”

Huston is the author of eight chapbooks of poetry as well as A Theory of Lipstick, which was awarded a Pushcart Prize. Her book A Theory of Lipstick earned an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association.

She serves on the board of The Mill: A Place for Writers, the Council for Wisconsin Writers and the Fox Cities Book Festival authors’ committee.


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