On the Front Lines, Behind the Lines: Writing Protest Poetry with Margaret Rozga

This event is part of national Poetry Coalition programming and is supported by the Academy of American Poets with funds from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This four-session course will meet Sundays in March (1, 8, 15 & 29)

Words carry power. Poetry that speaks to social justice issues can open doors to new thinking and deeper, more liberated responses to the political and societal problems that concern us. But how to write such poems? This four-session workshop led by longtime activist and Wisconsin Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga will consider a variety of approaches to developing poems that do the hard work of protest. Poems by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Layli Long Soldier, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Simon Ortiz will offer strategies to try in our own poems. Throughout the course, participants who wish to share their drafts with the group will have opportunities to do so, and Rozga will provide written comments on all workshop poems. This course is part of special programming on Poetry and Protest throughout the election year that seeks to shine a light on Wisconsin activism and organizing—both contemporary and historical—on national and global issues of social, racial, climate, and economic justice. 

Margaret Rozga was born and raised in Milwaukee’s South Side. She joined the Milwaukee NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council during the 1960s. During her time studying at Alverno College, she became involved in the emerging civil rights movement, and in the summer of 1965, she joined a group of Milwaukee volunteers to work on a SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) summer voter registration project in rural Alabama. Rozga participated in the protests against the Eagles Club in 1966 and also the open housing marches of 1967–68. In 1976, she married former Youth Council advisor, James Groppi, and they had three children. Rozga’s poems draw on her experiences and interests as an educator, avid reader and researcher, parent, and advocate for social and racial justice. Her first book, 200 Nights and One Day (Benu Press, 2009), was awarded a bronze medal in poetry in the 2009 Independent Publishers Book Awards and named an outstanding achievement in poetry for 2009 by the Wisconsin Library Association. Her other books include Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad (Benu Press, 2012); Justice Freedom Herbs (Word Tech Press, 2015); and Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems (Lit Fest Press, 2017). Rozga has also served as an editor for three poetry chapbook anthology projects, most recently Where I Want to Live: Poems for Fair and Affordable Housing (Little Bird Press, 2018), a project of the 50th anniversary commemoration of Milwaukee’s fair housing marches. An emeritus professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Waukesha, she is Wisconsin’s current Poet Laureate.