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Milwaukee Poet Laureate

The Milwaukee Poet Laureate project was initiated in February 2000, is sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Library and supported by the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library. The project is funded by a contribution from the Harry F. and Mary Franke Idea Fund.

The project committee selects a local poet to serve as Milwaukee Poet Laureate for a two-year term. The poet laureate makes several guest appearances during the term, promoting poetry throughout the community. 

Poet Laureate Announcement

2013-2014 Poets Laureate: James Chapson and Jeff Poniewaz 

Jim Chapson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1944, and educated at San Francisco State University. He has lived in Milwaukee since 1976, and teaches creative writing at UWM. His most recent books are Daphnis & Ratboy, Scholia, and Plotinus Blushed (Arlen House, 2013). He has poems in the recent anthology Jack London is Dead: Contemporary Euro-American Poetry of Hawai'i (Tinfish Press, 2013).

He has neither a dog nor a cat; neither tropical fish nor parakeets. He has never held an elective office, and for as far back as he can remember he has not been living in Paris. Read some of his poetry. 

Recent Events

March 17, 7:30 p.m.
Reading at "Poet's Monday" 
Linneman's - 1001 E. Locust St. 

April 1, 7 p.m.
Reading at Cafe Hollander on Downer
Part of the Eat Local: Read Local poetry reading.

April 10, 6 p.m.
Haggerty Museum, Marquette Univ.
with Wendy Vardaman (Madison Poet Laureate) and Tyler Farrell. 

April 12, 7 p.m.
Reading at Woodland Pattern
with Lew Ellingham, a significant figure in the "San Francisco Renaissance," and author (with Kevin Killian) of "Poet Be Like God"--a biography of Jack Spicer

April 13, 1:00 p.m.
Reading / book launch (Plotinus Blushed) American Conference for Irish Studies Chicago Marriott Downtown

April 16, 12:30 p.m.
Library Grind Coffeehouse at UWM,
Golda Meier Library
Part of the Student/Faculty poetry reading series. 

June 21, 7:00 p.m.
Reading / book launch (Plotinus Blushed) Woodland Pattern Bookstore Milwaukee

July TBA
Reading / book launch (Plotinus Blushed) Dublin Writers' Centre ?
Dublin, Ireland


Jeff Poniewaz got his B.A. and M.A. in English from UW-Milwaukee, where between 1989 and 2009 he taught "Literature of Ecological Vision," a course he devised to fill a gap in the Literature curriculum. His eco-activism spans from local urban greenspace struggles to the global rainforest catastrophe. 

His poems have appeared in Earth First!, Greenpeace Chronicles, Los Angeles Times, Blake Times, Exquisite Corpse, Viet Nam Generation, New York Quarterly, The Sun and numerous other periodicals. His collection of eco-poems spanning 1975-82, Dolphin Leaping in the Milky Way (Inland Ocean Books, 1986), was praised by Allen Ginsberg for its "impassioned prescient ecological Whitmanesque/Thoreauvian verve and wit." He won a 1987 "Discovery Award" from PEN, the international writers organization. A volume of his Selected Poems will be published in fall 2013. 

Jeff’s poems have appeared in many anthologies, including Earth Prayers (1991), Prayers at 3 A.M. (1995) and Prayers for a Thousand Years—Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium (1999), all three published by HarperSanFrancisco, also Brewing: 20 Milwaukee Poets (1972) and Gathering Place of the Waters: 30 Milwaukee Poets (1983). Lawrence Ferlinghetti called Jeff’s epic “September 11, 2001” the “best poem I’ve seen on 9/11.” Abridged versions of it were published in two major 9/11 anthologies and in Van Gogh’s Ear out of Paris, France. His chapbooks include Whales Hover(ed) (2007) and Polish for Because—Meditations of a Former St. Josaphat Altar Boy (2008). 

In addition to the Eco Lit course he began teaching in 1989, in 1999 he began teaching a course on Whitman and subsequent poets inspired by Whitman. He has taught "Poetry of Wilderness" at Esalen Institute and has taught and performed poetry at the Kerouac Poetics School in Colorado, Antioch College in Ohio and The Clearing in Door County. He taught Intro to Creative Writing at UWM in the early 1970s and did Poets-in-the-School residencies at high schools and junior highs across Wisconsin during the’70s and ‘80s. 

Jeff founded the Earth Poets & Musicians group that has given annual Earth Day performances since 1988. He is fond of the fact that Poetry Month and Earth Day month coincide. He was given an Earth Guardian Award at Milwaukee's Earth Day 2000. 

In March 1997 the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performed the special "Song of the Rainforest" concert he brainstormed, consisting of great but neglected rainforest-inspired music, to draw attention to the global rainforest crisis. He’s been credited with originating the idea of a Milwaukee River Nature Park, now officially designated as the Milwaukee River Greenway.

His last name is pronounced POE-nYEAH-vAHsh and is Polish for "because."
Read some of his poetry

Recent Events

April 20 & 26, 2013
Jeff read with the Earth Poets group he founded in 1988 in their annual pair of Earth Day Month performances. 

May 5, 2013
Inaugural Poet Laureate reading with Jim Chapson in the Loos Room at Central Library on May 5, 2013.

July 11, 2013
Read together with Antler, Andy Clausen and Pamela Twining at Riverwest Public House on July 11, 2013. 

March 22, 2014
Jeff organized and read Rabindranath Tagore poems with Antler, followed by Bengali singers, musicians and a dancer performing Tagore songs in Bengali, followed by a documentary film on the life of Tagore, as a special Tagore Celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Tagore getting the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first non-European to be so honored.  The event was a tremendous success and due to the large turnout had to be moved at the last minute from the 150-capacity Loos Room to the 700-capacity Centennial Hall. 

April 25 & 26, 2014
Read with the Earth Poets group he founded in 1988 in their annual pair of Earth Day Month performances.

May 10, 2014
Read with Grand Rapids, Mich. Poet Laureate David Cope as part of Woodland Pattern’s Milwaukee Poet Laureate series.