If OnMilwaukee.com were to hire a resident poet to join the staff, Susan Firer would be at the top of the list of candidates for the job. Like OnMilwaukee.com, Firer (pronounced “Fear”) has a deep love for Brew City and an unquenchable desire to write about its bubbler-and-bratwurst peculiarities.
At the end of 2007, The Backwaters Press published Firer's latest book, “Milwaukee Does Strange Things To People.” The collection features new and selected poems from 1979-2007.
“Milwaukee has done strange things to me in two ways,” says Firer. “Having been born in St. Mary's Hospital over the lake, I was imprinted with lake light. It seems in any city I visit, I find myself walking east, expecting to find a large body of
fresh water. Also, Milwaukee has given me some strange and wonderful language, myths, imagery and rituals to work with.”
The life-long Milwaukeean chooses local images, people and places as the subjects for much of her work. “Estabrook Park, 1986” details Firer and her daughter watching deer in the park. The poem features the line, “Don't ever let anyone tell you/close doesn't count,” a prime example of Firer's soft yet confident maternal tone.
Firer mixes humor into her Milwaukee-themed poems, like “1956, The Year My Sister, Using Her Ill Health Once Again, Blackmailed My Parents Into An Accordion” that opens with the line “My mother even hated the name of the store where she had to pick it up: Lo Duca Bros.” And the poem simply titled “Milwaukee” closes with the witty-because-it's-true line, “Friday nights there's enough tartar sauce for everyone.”
Page after page, Milwaukee references roll out like barrels.
“Milwaukee Does Strange Things To People” -- the title poem -- tributes the late sun worshipper Dick Bacon, the gold dog statues at William Ho's, Jones Island, the Bodeans and the curious line -- which appears in another poem as well -- “In Milwaukee, as many people die of poems as drive-by shootings.”
“Small Milwaukee Museums” lists unofficial local landmarks, like “Paul Finger's Boat House” and “Mary Knoll's Beach Rd. blue-jewel-eyed-stone-fish water yard.”
“The Crinolin Shrine” describes the back room of thrift store Closet Classics, that -- at its old location -- featured dozens of petticoats hanging from the ceiling. “A whole ceiling! Of grasshopper frappe green, egg blue, crinoline halfslips. Do your Easter duty. Stand under them. Say your prayers.”
Firer -- inspired by Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman and Mary Oliver, among others -- often writes about nature, religion, family and death. She struggles as the sole surviving member of her childhood nuclear family, mourns her mother-in-law in the lush, lonely and lovely “Driving Home After the Funeral” and remembers an abruptly ended pregnancy in “Eating Pears” and “Untitled.”
In Firer's later work, which is included in "Milwaukee Does Strange Things" in the section entitled “Hydromancy,” she references her own aging and mortality, with lines like “I have grown old in this city, on this lake” and “I believe only the dead are experts in mortality.”
An assistant English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Firer authored three previous books: “The Underground Communion Rail,” “The Lives of Saints and Everything” and “The Laugh We Make When We Fall.”
Currently, she is working on a series of poems influenced by Joseph Cornell's work. Firer is married to writer Jim Hazard. The couple has two daughters and a son.
The best part about “Milwaukee Does Strange Things To People” is that, because it features almost three decades of work, it allows readers to witness Firer's metamorphosis from a young, intellectual spitfire to a wise and reverent woman who's still willing to dip a toe -- or three -- into the ever-changing lake.
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.