Okay, so along with all his other dangerous schemes, namely his plan to put an end to collective bargaining for union workers in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, our so-called Governor, has cut all funding to the appointment of the State Poet Laureate. This was a small pot of money (a whooping $2000 a year) earmarked in the state budget to support the travel expenses of the Poet Laureate, whose job it is to promote poetry throughout the entire state for a period of two years. Our first three Poet Laureates in Wisconsin were: Ellen Kort, Denise Sweet, and Marilyn Taylor. In November 2010, Marilyn Taylor’s tenure came to an end and Bruce Dethlefsen was named to the post by Governor Doyle. Although Scott Walker has jettisoned the Poet Laureate from the state budget, the actual poet is not going to go away!
Bruce Dethlefsen will continue on as planned for the next two years. What is going to need to change is the “home base” of the Poet Laureate Commission. This is the body that made its recommendations to the Governor’s office for final selection. From an excellent letter posted on the Verse Wisconsin Facebook page, poet Cathryn Cofell informs us:
“The existing commission structure includes representatives from 5 key arts organizations: the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP), the Council for WI Writers (CWW), the WI Regional Writers Association (WRWA), the WI Arts Board (WAB) and the WI Humanities Council (WHC). It also includes 2 citizen reps who help round out any gaps in membership from these organizations (ie; a region, an ethnicity, a gender, a style of writing, etc.).
“As a member of the advisory committee who worked with former Governor Thompson to research and validate the positive (and economic) benefits of having a state Poet Laureate, and as founding chair of the WI Poet Laureate Commission, I have my own personal biases about Governor Walker's abrupt decision. I have shared my opinions with him and my local representatives. I strongly encourage you to do the same.
“In the long run I see this as a positive because there were a LOT of strings in being attached to the Governor's office. And while I'm VERY disappointed in the loss of funding, the $2000 barely put a dent in the travel expenses of our former Poet Laureates for the hundreds of excursions they made throughout the state, often at the expectation of no fee.
"There is also an endowment fund established at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, but this fund was intended to supplement the $2000, not replace it. However, it may be the vehicle to which you'll want to direct future donations to the cause...once we sort out a charitable home base.
“Until then, let's give the existing commission time to work their magic. If you want to know more about the commission, follow this link to their website at http://wipoetlaureate.wi.gov/ (at least while it's still up!).”
I have quoted heavily and thoroughly from Cathryn’s letter of clarification on this matter because she is right at the heart of the situation and understands better than anyone what is going on here.
For myself, I find Walker’s cut maddening but not surprising. We all know that the arts are viewed by most people in power as totally expendable. The great thing about artists is that we are infinitely creative. I am confident that we will find another way to continue the position and we will continue to have a State Poet Laureate. There is no doubt in my poet's mind.