University of Wisconsin Eau Claire English professor Max Garland is Wisconsin’s new poet laureate. Garland says this platform allows him to do what he does best — talking about the importance of art — and in particular, poetry — as a means of human expression.
“I’m all for the arts and I’m all for promoting poetry and I teach poetry. I’m a writer of poetry. I’ve taught in a lot of different venues, now I teach in college, but I’ve taught as an artist in the schools and adult groups, so I like talking about poetry; I like promoting it any chance I get.”
Garland will spend the next two years taking part in literary readings, talks, and workshops. “Sort of promoting and inviting more people in as readers, listeners, and writers of poetry.”
The unpaid position — other than small travel expenses — gives Garland an opportunity to meet people, talk about his passion, and learn more about the state. “I feel passionate about it. I feel that we live in times in which we have floods and floods of language coming at us — sound bites and bits — and yet thoughtful language, reflective language is not … we do not have a surplus of that. And poetry is one of those places where you can clear out the clutter and static of the world that’s coming at us … and think.”
Considering his passion for the arts, it seems as though he “eats, sleeps, and breathes” poetry. “Well, I wouldn’t say that … for instance, I shoveled the snow this morning, so that wasn’t exactly poetry.”
The widely-published, award-winning writer concedes, though, poetry has been a central part of his life.
Garland, who grew up in Kentucky and moved to Wisconsin 23 years ago, came from a background, he says, that was “decidedly unliterary,” without a great deal of knowledge about how to enter into that world. So, he can empathize and hopes to reach out to those who may feel alienated from the world of poetry.
“And I also would like to try to make poetry less daunting and more accessible to people who might have some reservations about feeling like they belong in a world of poetry or it has anything to offer them.”
Public funding for the arts is continually being cut. Garland says he accepted this position, in part, to make the case for the long-term value of the arts. The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters currently runs the poet laureate program.
Garland is the fourth person to hold this title; he replaces Bruce Dethlefsen of Westfield as the state’s poet laureate. Wisconsin’s first poet laureate was selected in 2000.
What does Garland recommend as a first read for those hoping to ease their way into poetry? “There are plenty of writers who are complex, intelligent, and interesting, but not particularly intimidating to people,” such as Mary Oliver, Philip Levine, Billy Collins, and Tracy K. Smith. He says William Stafford was a big influence for him.
The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters says on their website, “The Wisconsin Poet Laureate is more than just a symbolic appointment. The poet laureate plays a crucial role in keeping the arts accessible and vital—to all age groups—and acts as a statewide emissary for poetry and creativity.”
AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:34