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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

2013-2015 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. 

The late Jeff Poniewaz received 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 spanned 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.

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 taught 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."

Jeff Poniewaz passed away on December 13, 2014.

Read some of his poetry