Wisconsin

State Poet Laureate

In 2000, Wisconsin established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Dasha Kelly Hamilton, who was appointed to a two-year term in 2021. Hamilton is the author of two novels, three poetry collections, four spoken word albums, and one collection of personal vignettes. She is a national Rubinger Fellow and, concurrently, Poet Laureate for the City of Milwaukee (appointed in 2019) and the State of Wisconsin.



City and County Poets Laureate 

 

Milwaukee

In 2022, Mario Willis was named the poet laureate of Milwaukee. 
 



Madison

Angela Trudell Vasquez was named poet laureate of Madison, Wisconsin, in 2020. Vasquez will serve a two-year term.
 


Bayfield 

Lucy Tyrrell was appointed the poet laureate of Bayfield, Wisconsin, in 2020. Paap will serve a one-year term.
 


Wasau

In 2021, Dawn Anderson was appointed the inaugural poet laureate Wausau, Wisconsin. She will serve a two-year term. 

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Cadastre, Apostle Islands

 

I.

A soap-opera rising and sinking of bodies,

melt of glaciers, flamboyant sculpture of waves—

west wind at thirty knots

this serial archipelago the drama of centuries.

Forgotten Steamboat Island

swallowed like the sunken ships—

one episode of tide and time,

now another buried underwater treasure.

How to plat the ancient—27,232 submerged acres;

mark or name the temporary—newly formed seastacks,

shifting sand spits and tombolos?

 

Imagine the geared toy of evolution:

twenty-two islands swimming in 40 degrees, in aqua,

honeycombed with vaulted chambers, with caverns

whose deeply carved crevices house whisper

and splash, echo cormorant and eagle scree

(breeding habitat for 150 bird species)

harbor the keening of human loss—

distress signals at 2:05 a.m..

How to measure this littoral expanse—man miles or

decibels of the drum-like surf on mythic Devils isle?

 

Imagine henna wheat copper buff and umber arches—

this billion year old layered sandstone rises

red and cathedral gothic

at Swallow’s Point, Mawikwe Bay.

Yes, each epoch a burnished stratum, a wave of color.

We flat map with metes and bounds—Manitou Island,

Hermit, Ironwood—trace ownership in treaties and deeds,

but cannot account each mystic transformation:

the graceful circumference of wind twists in white pine,

or how the friction of time and waves shape song—

emitted frequency 450 Hertz.

My feet a plectrum on the quartz lyre of Stockton Island

this globular singing sand is nature’s genius,

the whistle, squeak, or eerie bark—ephemeral.

 

II.

Beyond flat fact Apostle Island histories overlap, stack

like horse skeletons at the bottom of each ravine:

the glimpse of steamer spines in clear water,

the sunken and mummified hemlock and birds-eye maple—

salvage logs now kilned and carved to fine-grained guitars.

The past is hollow bellies of Anishinaabeg canoes

is the echo of old names and weighted fill of rocks—

birch bark given to winter waters for preservation.

The piled stone, the stories—Midewiwin lodges,

Voyageurs and fisheries, lighthouses and loggers

trace another measure, paint the palimpsest of place.

 

Among abandoned brownstone quarries on Basswood Island

each cubed hollow the math of absence and distance—

of courthouse buildings rising square by brown square

in mainland cities like Bayfield and Milwaukee.

This beanstalk-tall barter is also loss:

of peerless brown furs

traded to drape bodies of moneyed matrons,

or 500 million board feet of disappearing timber each year.

When history is a bedlam of John Jacob Astor commodity

and weather a storied purple destiny of ships run aground,

who can name island gods or number sands on Raspberry,

Otter, Gull, and Oak?

How ruler each breathless angel edge

of ledge rock, record equation for velocity of change,

mirror the fetal scroll of fiddlehead ferns—

or praise with proper song each turtle-shaped survival? 

 

 

Star Quilt

These are notes to lightning in my bedroom.
A star forged from linen thread and patches.
Purple, yellow, red like diamond suckers, children

of the star gleam on sweaty nights. The quilt unfolds 
against sheets, moving, warm clouds of Chinook. 
It covers my cuts, my red birch clusters under pine.

Under it your mouth begins a legend, 
and wide as the plain, I hope Wisconsin marshes 
promise your caress. The candle locks

us in forest smells, your cheek tattered
by shadow. Sweetened by wings, my mothlike heart 
flies nightly among geraniums.

We know of land that looks lonely, 
but isn't, of beef with hides of velveteen, 
of sorrow, an eddy in blood.

Star quilt, sewn from dawn light by fingers 
of flint, take away those touches 
meant for noisier skins,

annoint us with grass and twilight air, 
so we may embrace, two bitter roots 
pushing back into the dust.

Poem for Wisconsin

In Milwaukee it is snowing

on the golden statue 

of the 1970s television star

whose television house

was in Milwaukee 

and also on the Comet Cafe

and on the white museum 

the famous Spanish architect 

built with a glass 

elevator through it

and a room with a button

that when you press it

makes two wings

on the sides of the building 

more quickly than you might 

imagine mechanically 

rise like a clumsy

thoughtful bird 

thinking now

I am at last ready 

over the lake

that has many moods

to fly but it will not

and people ask

who are we who see 

so much evil and try 

to stop it and fail 

and know we are no longer 

for no reason worrying 

the terrible governors 

are evil or maybe 

just mistaken and nothing 

can stop them not even 

the workers who keep 

working even when 

it snows on their heads

and on the bridge 

that keeps our cars 

above the water 

for an hour 

in northern California 

today it snowed 

and something

happened people 

turned their beautiful 

sparkling angry faces up