FELLOWSHIP: Past, Present & Future
We’re excited to share some archival materials from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets’ beginning as an organization. Something about this new endeavor (maybe all new endeavors) leads me to look toward the past. So, as poems filtered their way in, and we began considering how to set up our online poetry portal, it seemed only right to focus on the tangible, the sepia-tinted, the soft-focus of memory. With help from our archivist, Lewis Bosworth, and many members who answered and forwarded emails, but especially Sandra Lindow, who shared materials she collected over the past few years, we choose a few photographs to accompany Bramble’s official beginning.
The first picture could be any gathering of poets, at a conference, a reading, or something more informal. There are side conversations, and someone has told a joke, and someone is ribbing someone else. Someone has just asked about a line or image; someone is listening intently, finding her way into the conversation. And someone has brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate. When I came to one of my first conferences a few years ago, and was awkwardly hovering (not knowing anyone, not knowing who to talk to), a member I’d met twice came up to me and said hello. She sensed my discomfort, my difficult time approaching groups of strangers, of participating in group writing exercises with too many unknowns. She emphasized the idea of fellowship; that’s what WFOP was really about.
And here’s where it all began. The first meeting of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets was held on November 12, 1949 at the Madison YWCA. Because poetry itself, the kind of poetry we hope to write and read is eternal, not given to showing its age or the passing of years, we may need to look closely at the cars, or the fashions, or the style of street signs. In those details, we can see the longevity and health of WFOP: one of the oldest continuously running state poetry organizations in the country.
This photograph is a little more formal, as we have those too – our serious moments of outreach. Through our conferences – like our upcoming Spring Conference with Mark Doty – we interact with poets who stretch our skills and bring their important work to several audiences at once. Through our statewide contests and publications, we provide platforms for new, emerging and established poets to bring their work to a wider audience. And through programming aimed at members and beyond, WFOP is able to serve our fellowship while widening our reach, continually, filling up those theatre chairs seen beyond our charter members in this posed and formal picture.
We also wanted to introduce a few early members of WFOP, some perhaps less well known than Wisconsin’s more celebrated poets – the Niedeckers and Muendts. In them, we also see ourselves: the eager and serious student, the poet who juggles family and work and writing, the self-deprecating and demure poet, who sometimes even eschews the moniker. Through materials shared by the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison come pictures and clippings: the early members of WFOP describe themselves, share mentions of poems published, a book or review, a mini-autobiography.
Lois Eleanor Voswinkel’s materials are formal and polished; the document is titled “Professional Data Concerning L. Eleanor Voswinkel.” Listed is her place of birth (Chicago), nationalities (English, French, and Dutch), her education, contributions to multiple publications, and affiliations. Ms. Voswinkel was an active writer and contributor – not just with WFOP, but also the Minnesota League of Poets, the Midwest Poetry Association and the Tomah Shakespeare Club. She sent her work to newspapers, anthologies and contests. Prominently featured is her book, Silver Flutes. An accompanying clipping includes the blurb by Lucia Trent that notes, “We are glad to see her writing of China and England, not skirting the vast issues that face humanity.”
Marian Paust’s mini-autobiography couldn’t be more of a contrast with Ms. Voswinkel’s – even as her photo seems a contrast: soft-focused, head canted just so. Ms. Paust writes, “I always enjoyed my English classes and wrote poetry at school. I papered one corner of the wall of my room with it.” Somehow I imagine this perfectly – clipping poems and layering them over the walls, creating designs of one’s choosing. She continues, “the muse slumbered . . .” as she describes marrying, having four daughters, and being “occupied with family life and routine.” She became a charter member of WFOP, finding time to write when her youngest was in school, being inspired by the landscape around her home in Richland Center, the fairy tales she read to her daughters, and “bits of philosophy.”
And then there is Arthur Fischer, who perhaps like many men of his time, tells his story, his “Highlights of My Life” through the litany of work, of positions held and employment titles, of company names. From grocery stores to candy kitchens, from the Paine Lumber Co. in Oshkosh, to Metropolitan Life Insurance, it is the interruptions to this narrative that stand out. As with poetry, the breaks in pattern claim their own emphasis, calling to be acknowledged. After winning an “outstanding industrial worker” award, he and his wife spent a week in Chicago, and that description goes on for many lines, nearly equal with the time allotted for the first half of his life.
Of his own writing, Arthur demurs, “In my opinion, I am not a poet but merely a versifyer [sic]. I do not know what readers of my verse consider me.” (In an included poem, he writes: “I waste my time in writing lines / That no one reads, by all the signs. // And that were better spent, by far, / In simonizing my old car”) I can hear him, standing there, in his overcoat and hat. Perhaps he lived near me here in Oshkosh, and was blushing even there in that picture. Someone, maybe his wife Emma, told him she needed the picture to send to the poetry group, and he begrudging stood there, posing, his front foot out a little jauntily, as she teased him, just a little. He finishes his brief narrative, the one that was collected and housed with the other archived materials, with the other poets, by apologizing again: “I’ve probably mentioned more than was necessary.”
For me, perhaps for you, for likely countless others, WFOP has provided a place to share poetry, poetry-talk, to listen, to share resources, to sit in a room with others who have similar strange-seeming interests. For those of us who will never be poet laureates, or acclaimed prize winners, who will only claim a few hours here and there away from the demands of work or family, WFOP provides the fellowship necessary to know – either in person or via these virtual connections – that we are not soldiering alone in our endeavors. We can simonize the car later, after we finish this stanza.
C Kubasta is the author the chapbooks, A Lovely Box and &s, and a full-length collection, All Beautiful & Useless (BlazeVOX, 2015). Her next book, Of Covenants, is forthcoming from Whitepoint Press in 2017. She is active with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and serves as Assistant Poetry editor with Brain Mill Press. She thinks poetry, like humor, porn, & horror, should be a body genre. Find her at www.ckubasta.com