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Eau Clairian named new Wisconsin poet laureate

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by Tom Giffey

Soon-to-be Wisconsin Poet Laureate Max Garland, shown here a-strumming.
Soon-to-be Wisconsin Poet Laureate Max Garland, shown here a-strumming.

It is poetic justice that someone named Max Garland would win a top prize in his field; it’s even more poetic when that field is poetry. Garland, an Eau Claire resident and UW-Eau Claire English professor, was just honored as Wisconsin’s new poet laureate. (Get it? If you wear a garland, you’re a laureate – though I don’t think this particular prize comes with a wreath of laurel.)

Garland may be the only published poet to pen a verse titled “Mega-Foods” and undoubtedly is the only member of the UW-Eau Claire English faculty who spent a decade as a rural mail carrier in his native Kentucky before following the poetic muse into academia. He will serve a two-year term as poet laureate, which basically means he’ll be a official ambassador promoting the ars poetica across Wisconsin.

According to a press release, Garland says he hopes to “reach out to those who may feel alienated from the world of poetry (or art), and yet have deeply felt experiences to record and honor. ... [P]oetry is still a means of expression open to everyone. It’s one of those things that’s just too important to be left to experts.”

More specifically, Garland is “interested in promoting the connection between poetry and place, and urging young, as well as young-at-heart writers, to write of the places they know and explore their relationships with those places in poetry.”

He will be will be the fifth Wisconsin poet laureate since the program started in 2000. If Garland imitates his immediate predecessor, poet Bruce Dethlefsen of Westfield, this won’t be an idle honor: Dethlefsen made more than 140 poetry-related appearances during his term.

Garland, who has been teaching at UW-Eau Claire since 1996, is the author of two award-winning poetry collections, The Postal Confessions and Hunger Wide As Heaven, as well as a chapbook of poems, Apparitions, and his work – including poems, essays and short stories – has been featured in numerous publications. In addition, he’s a member of the Eau Claire-based band Eggplant Heroes, which plays literary-inspired folk and Americana.

Garland was picked as poet laureate by the 10-member Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, which is overseen by the nonprofit, Madison-based Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. The post of poet laureate and the commission were originally supported by the state of Wisconsin, but in 2011 Gov. Scott Walker eliminated funding, saving the state a whopping $2,000 annually in mileage reimbursement for the poet laureate.

For more on Garland, his poetry, and the big award, check out the next edition of Volume One, which will strike you like the even syllables in a line of iambic pentameter on January 17. Until then, check out Max Garland’s bio, read some of his poetry – here and here and here (warning: cheeky political satire) – or learn more about the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission.

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