By Erin Painter October 15, 2020
A Poet Laureate is a poet who has been honored for their achievement by their country, state, or city. The tradition of appointing poets to this post began in ancient Greece, when these wordsmiths and other high achievers were crowned with laurel wreaths.
In 17th century England, Ben Jonson became the first modern-day Poet Laureate, but 50 years went by before the laureateship became recognized as an established royal office. (source: Brittanica.com)
The United States bestowed a similar title, consultant of poetry for the Library of Congress, in 1936, to Joseph Auslander. The title was changed in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Initially, the honored poet was responsible for developing the Library of Congress' collections. In more recent years, they became mostly involved in poetry readings, lectures, and other projects and activities. Joy Harjo is the current US Poet Laureate.
In the year 2000, by executive order, Governor Tommy Thompson created the position of Wisconsin Poet Laureate. Margaret Rozga of Milwaukee currently serves in this position.
Also in 2000, the Milwaukee Public Library launched the Milwaukee Poet Laureate project, which is funded by its Friends of the Library and administered by Woodland Pattern bookstore. Other Wisconsin cities and counties followed Milwaukee's lead over the next two decades, including Madison, Chippewa Falls, Door County, Sheboygan, and Kenosha/Racine.
The Kenosha and Racine Poets Laureate Program was launched in 2011, inspired by a Wisconsin Arts Board initiative entitled, Art Matters, which encouraged artists of these two southeastern Wisconsin cities to share knowledge and resources, encourage each others creative endeavors, and to frequent each other's activities and events. The Art Matters initiative also inspired the creation of the annual get bEHIND the aRTS studio tours.
The Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program is administered by a nine-member, volunteer Board of Directors. Its fiscal sponsor is Spectrum School of the Arts and Gallery in Racine, WI. Over the past ten years, the Program has appointed twelve poets to represent their respective communities and challenged them to develop and present creative projects. These projects have included engagements within high school and higher education classrooms, senior centers, prisons, performance spaces, galleries, and in a private park. 2016-17 Kenosha Poet Laureate Brent Mitchell put together a poetry walk, a temporary installation, featuring poems printed on signs and placed around the Hawthorn Hollow Nature Sanctuary.
This Program also partners with other organizations in southeastern Wisconsin to bring their respective missions to a wider audience. Kenosha Public Library has been a partner with the Program since its inception and regularly hosts poetry-related activities, as well as it appoints a member of its staff to serve on the Program's Board of Directors. In 2021, the Racine Concert Band will perform an original score, composed by UW-Parkside music professor James Crowley, which includes words by past and present Kenosha and Racine Poets Laureate.
For more information, contact the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program through this website or at its Facebook page.