By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published May 03, 2004 at 5:17 AM

{image1}Marilyn Taylor was recently named Milwaukee's third Poet Laureate. Although a widely published poet and UWM professor of poetry and poetics, Taylor is anything but pretentious. Instead, she is warm and encouraging; articulate and accessible.

Taylor is a "formalist" poet -- one who writes sonnets, villanelles and other poems with formal poetic traditions -- yet when she is writing, meters or syllables don't imprison her. Instead, she is free.

"Mystically enough, it's always the poem itself that guides me, and shows me exactly what to do," she says.

In this segment of Milwaukee Talks, OMC will expose cyber-Milwaukee to its first female Poet Laureate. When exactly were you named Poet Laureate of Milwaukee? How does one receive such an honor?

Marilyn Taylor: The title of Poet Laureate was started here in 2000 as the brainchild of the Milwaukee Public Library's board of directors. Every two years the library board appoints a committee of savvy people who know poetry well, to deliberate and decide who gets the honor. My own experience was this: I received a call in early January from Kate Huston, our Public Librarian, who told me to sit down, she had some news for me. When she told me I'd been appointed, I could not believe it -- I probably should have gone straight for the oxygen tank, or poured myself a stiff martini, at least. It came as a total surprise. Incidentally, I am the third Poet Laureate to be named; John Koethe had the honor in 2000-2001, and Antler in 2002 and 2003. Tough acts to follow.

OMC: What are your responsibilities as PL?

MT: In the abstract, my responsibilities are to raise the profile of poetry and to promote poetry-related events in the community. Specific plans are still on the drawing board, but we have some excellent ideas.

OMC: How long do you have this title?

MT: Two years, 2004-2005.

OMC: Do you aspire to become the PL of Wisconsin? The US?

MT: Actually I sit on the commission that will appoint the next Poet Laureate of Wisconsin. It will meet several times this summer in Madison, to choose the successor to Ellen Kort who has done a fantastic job for the last four years. Do I aspire to that job? No! One has to submit a rather complicated application, for one thing, and it requires a time commitment that my teaching at UWM totally precludes. Poet Laureate of the US? Molly, you have to be kidding.

OMC: Are you writing a poem right now? What is it about?

MT: Yes, I'm always writing a poem or two or three. One seems to be about the phenomenon of dreams; another is about the questionable ethics of duck calls -- don't laugh -- and a third reflects a profound conversation I'm having with my dog.

OMC: Other than writing poems, what does it mean to be a poet?

MT: It means you don't make any money! But it also means that you are privileged to experience a certain kind of creative joy in what you are doing -- the kind of thing that is perhaps experienced exclusively by writers and visual artists and composers and dancers. A kind of ecstasy, if I may use that rather inflated word.

OMC: What do you think of Milwaukee's poetry scene?

MT: Lively, fun, but perhaps not as cohesive as it could be. There are "factions" that could easily be working together, but who tend to avoid each other. Thank God for Woodland Pattern, which is doing a great deal to buck that trend. But to be perfectly honest, my most valuable poetry relationships are with poets who live outside of Milwaukee.

OMC: What bookstores have great poetry sections?

MT: Woodland Pattern is a Mecca, an amazing place that people simply don't believe until they see it for themselves. And Schwartz's on Downer is very good. I know there are some admirable ones on the West Side, too, but I am not familiar with them.

OMC: If you could meet any poet, living or dead, who would it be?

MT: John Donne.

OMC: Is poetry therapeutic for you?

MT: Therapeutic in that it keeps me from thinking of anything else, good or bad, while I'm writing it. But in terms of the subject matter I pursue, not really. Poetry as therapy has its value, but that's not what attracts me to it.

OMC: Do you ever feel guilty about writing about yourself and your own life?

MT: Not a bit. I am not a "confessional" poet, even though in a sense I am "in" all my poems, I suppose. But for me, guilt and poetry are not bedfellows.

OMC: Does your poetry fit into a specific category or "school?"

MT: I am often called a "formalist" because I love writing in forms -- I find it an exciting challenge, and I'm confident enough to say I do that sort of thing well. I write in free verse, too, of course -- just like normal people.

OMC: Where do your ideas for poems come from?

MT: Often from another poem I'm reading that I admire and that inspires me, or from something startling that someone might say. My ideas always seem to spring out of language itself, language used in a fresh or funny or particularly powerful way -- rather than from a visual image or an emotion.

OMC: Is academia inspiring for your work?

MT: Only in the sense that my students -- even the less experienced ones -- often serve as inspirations to me. Some of them are brilliant. But "inspirational" is not a word I would use to describe the mood these days in many English Departments, especially at large universities. There is a guarded competitiveness in the air in such places, a negativity that threatens to take over, like kudzu. On the other hand, there are islands here and there that do offer an atmosphere of great encouragement and supportiveness for poets and writers. UW-Madison is one of those, and I've made many friends there.

OMC: Are you doing anything special for National Poetry Month?

Not specifically, although I am visiting a couple of high schools, and teaching at UW-Outreach's Annual Spring Writers Festival.

OMC: Are you giving any readings in the near future?

MT: I will be presenting a weeklong workshop in Door County in October, under the auspices of Bjorklunden-Lawrence University's gorgeous seminar center in Baileys Harbor.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.