“19 poets in one room eat beans and rice. We talk about writing the whole summer: who has a new book out, how it has been received, and perhaps this is the way that poets in any country speak. We try to remember if they’ve reduced your sentence. What can 19 quiet people do from all the way out here?” – from “A Poem for Ashraf Fayadh” by Freesia McKee

Community members and local poets gathered in Juneau Park on August 9 with a shared goal in mind, to foster a park and a neighbourhood known not only for its crime, but also for its flourishing community. The Poetry in the Park event is part of a series started last year by Juneau Park Friends that will run through September and continue to unify people of the Juneau Park community.

The event attracted avid poetry fans and local poets, as well as community members looking for a place to relax and people on their way home from work who were drawn in by the inspiring words of the four poets who performed.

Sandy Duffy, vice-president of Juneau Park friends and founder of the event, said, “people have come who normally don’t attend a poetry readings and they have enjoyed it.” Duffy is not surprised by the influx of people new to poetry, because “the setting is lovely. This is a park that is great to relax in.”

Held in front of Solomon Juneau’s statue overlooking Lake Michigan, spectators continued to gather as the event went on. Many who attended brought their own lawn chairs or spread out blankets on the grass in order to listen with interest to the poets speak.

“It was wonderful to see a large, diverse crowd present for a public poetry reading.” said Dr. Timothy Yu, poet and professor of English and Asian Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the final reader of the evening. “There’s an erroneous belief that poetry is an elite practice remote from most people’s everyday lives, but the poets who read at the event showed that poetry can speak directly to our identities, our cities, and our environments.”

Yu recently released a poetry book called a 100 Chinese Silences, which responds to the many Chinese stereotypes contained in Western poetry. Yu believes that events like these can help shape the communities they serve, especially in terms of changing perceptions of its minority groups.

“A lot of the time, the mere fact of seeing and hearing the voice of a writer form a particular community can quite radically reshape people’s perceptions,” said Yu.

After the reading at Juneau Park, Yu said, “a young Asian American man came up to me and told me this was the first time he had ever heard an Asian American poet do a public reading. That mattered to him, and I think it matters to others too,”

Along with Yu, Milwaukee poets Chuck Stebelton, Carina Gia Farreo and Freesia McKee performed at the event, which is committed to promoting local poetry. Dr. Lindsay Daigle and Franklin Cline have been central to bringing such a diverse array of poets. Cline is also board member of Woodland Pattern Book Center, an arts organization dedicated to promoting local contemporary art and literature.

Poetry in the Park was introduced to Juneau Park last year and has since has brought in Milwaukee Poet Laureates, as well as countless other prominent Milwaukee poets.

The event will continue next month on September 13th at 7:00pm as a play reading by Renaissance Theatre Works, who will read the new play Before Evening Comes as part of their weeklong Midwestern play festival, Br!nk.

© Photo

Lee Matz