Verse Wisconsin: A place for poetry

2010-03-14T04:15:00Z Verse Wisconsin: A place for poetryJEANNE KOLKER | | 608-250-4153

Poetry surrounds us every day, though we may not recognize it as such. Song lyrics, ad slogans, even Tweets: All can take a poetic bent. For evidence we only have to turn to YouTube to find William Shatner on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" reading Sarah Palin's Tweets as dramatic ballads.

A visit to Verse Wisconsin's Web site at is yet another example, as the local poetry magazine that was Free Verse has expanded with a Web presence. The online component includes multimedia works, from audio clips of poets reading their works to postcards that pair poetry with art.

The magazine and Web site are the work of Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman, both Madison poets who call Verse Wisconsin a labor of love.

Free Verse was established in 1998 by Linda Aschbrenner and had built a loyal subscriber base. After more than 10 years at the helm, Aschbrenner began looking for interested poets to take the reins.

"When Linda (Aschbrenner) announced she was ending Free Verse, the poetry community was shocked," Vardaman said.

"Linda gave writers a space to build their own community, and that's why we wanted to continue the magazine," Busse said.

Aschbrenner had approached Busse and Vardaman separately and both were interested. They didn't know one another at the time, and yet they formed a partnership and decided to take a year "to get our feet under us," Busse said.

The first print issue of Verse Wisconsin, released this winter, features work from poets in the state or with connections to the state, as well as some prose pieces. The issue includes Vardaman's interview with Minnesota poet Todd Boss, part of the magazine's goal "to help build connections between Wisconsin's poets and those in the region," Vardaman said.

"We're also trying to organize regular gatherings of Wisconsin poetry publishers, in the hope that by working together and supporting each other, we can build a larger and more dynamic presence in Wisconsin and beyond," Vardaman said.

The online issues contain a themed section, whereas the print version is open to all themes. The first online theme is windows and doors, the second is alternate realities, and the summer issue, for which the editors are currently accepting submissions, will be about all aspects of work.

The Web presence, Vardaman said, gives poets a chance to explore multimedia by bringing sound, video and animation to their words.

"We'd like our online version to be seen as a venue for all different groups to come together. We're encouraging more experimental visual poetry," Vardaman said.

Not surprisingly, communication is key. "We're getting people to talk across divides, whether it be poets in academia, spoken word performers or artists in the community," Vardaman said.

Both writers stress the importance of all types of poetry. "People come to poetry in times of hardship and celebration. It's a part of almost every ritual. Some of us need it in our daily lives, whereas other people reach for it in times of grieving or celebration," Busse said.

"The dynamic part of the project," she added, "is we have the ability to bring people into a conversation about poetry."

If you go

What: A poetry reading to celebrate the launch of Verse Wisconsin featuring poet Todd Boss and Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Avol's Bookstore, 315 W. Gorham St.

More: Contributors to the first issue (print and online) are invited to attend and read their poetry.

Web sites:,

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