“I've been to places where there is a poet laureate for every zip code,” poet Billy Collins joked to the New York Times. “I think it's out of control.”
Wisconsin has a bounty of authors who wear the laurel wreath. There's Wisconsin Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga and Milwaukee Poet Laureate Dasha Kelly Hamilton. Other poets occupy posts in Madison, Door County, and here in Racine and Kenosha.
As a founding member of the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program, I'm pleased to announce our program has recently bestowed its honor upon Joseph Engel as Kenosha poet laureate and Debra Hall as Racine poet laureate. They will serve from 2020 through 2021.
These positions carry a commitment to inspire others to share their voice through poetry, particularly to our under-served populations. Since the Program was founded in 2011, our representatives have visited schools, libraries, bookstores, museums, senior living facilities, and prisons. They've engaged the incarcerated through a Lyrical Conversations Program at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility and the Prose and Cons Program at the Racine Correctional Institution.
In collaboration with the Kenosha Public Library, they have led the Poetry Pentathlon series. (A new series runs from January-May. Learn more at mykpl.info) They have shared their voices at Fusion, Kenosha Creative Space, Spectrum School of the Arts, the Burlington Public Library, Woodland Pattern, Bonk! performance series, and Linneman's River West Inn, Milwaukee's longest-running open mic for poets.
“Poetry puts us back in touch with our humanity,” poet Kyle Dargan told CNN. “It can help you see yourself in someone else's struggle.” Our new Racine Poet Laureate Debra Hall echoed his sentiment. “[Poetry] is more than a hobby. It is how I integrate the experience of being a human being.”
Hall works as a Spanish teacher at Horlick High School. “I work with students to reduce their affective filter of negative feelings that hinder and obstruct language learning,” she said.
She has worked with family members afflicted with brain cancer and Alzheimer's disease who progressively lost the ability to express themselves. She engaged them with prompts of images and songs, triggering their memories and imagination.
Our new Kenosha Poet Laureate Joseph Engel seeks to bring support to writers, poets, and artists who struggle with mental health issues by hosting writing workshops that will invoke the therapeutic nature of creative expression and aim to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
“Writing has been a constant for the majority of my life,” Engel said. “When it is going well, I am at my best.”
You're invited to meet our new poet laureate honorees on Friday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. at Spectrum School of the Arts, 2050 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine, and on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Burlington Public Library, 166 E. Jefferson St, Burlington.
To learn more, visit krpoets.com or the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate page on Facebook.
John Bloner, Jr. is co-founder and secretary of the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program