In the July 2012 issue of Verse Wisconsin, co-editors Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman stress the importance of community, and everything about the print and online issues of the journal point to the wisdom of their claim. Before moving to Madison, Wisconsin in 2009, Verse Wisconsin was published by Linda Aschbrenner for 11 years as Free Verse. Aschbrenner continues to serve on Verse Wisconsin’s advisory board, along with B. J. Best, Cathryn Cofell, Ron Czerwien, Tom Erickson, Fabu, David Graham, Angela Rydell, and Marilyn L. Taylor. In other words, Verse Wisconsin is a celebration of community and poetry.
Since taking over as co-editors, Busse and Vardaman have transformed the delivery and the content of the literary magazine from a print-only to a hybrid publication, in which the online issue compliments the print edition with some of its own content. However, their book publishing arm, Cowfeather, is ramping up for an increased publication schedule, and Busse and Vardaman have decided to scale the print version back from a tri-quarterly publication to just two editions each year beginning in 2013. Consequently, this one will be their last summer issue.
The editors’ note explains that poets depend on the members of multiple communities. Readers and editors, fellow writers and family members, friends and acquaintances, even the neighbor’s dog all provide something that poets need. With its collaborative effort with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as numerous click-throughs to the pages of Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate Bruce Dethlefsen and numerous other literary organizations and publishers, this issue of Wisconsin Verse is a tangible example of a poets’ community at work.
Near the final pages of the magazine, is an excerpt from an insightful interview with 2010-2012 Milwaukee Poet Laureate, Brenda Cárdenas, an outspoken creative writing instructor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In the interview, Cárdenas is forceful in her praise and defense for the study of Latina/o poetry: “If one is willing to look up ‘foreign’ words and literary, mythological, Biblical, and historical allusions when reading a poem by, say, T. S. Elliot or Ezra Pound, then she/he should be willing to do the same when reading the work of a Latina/o poet.”
Five poems by Cárdenas appear in the online edition. The only poem in the print edition, “Flexible Vitreous,” almost drips sweat into the center crease of the magazine. From its opening line, Cárdenas takes the reader on a writhing hallucinatory trip across what is either the floor of a jazz club or the sand around a campfire on a beach somewhere in America. Music turns to color, depending on the instrument (purple for the bass, orange for the saxophone), and bodies seem unable to avoid dancing:
Curls kink and spring
tendrils loose, sweep the floor,
spark the air. We lift
our faces, all bliss and flame,
in amethyst moans
glistening hot and wet.
Skim each other’s skin, barely
touch to twirl, clave keeps
our feet from landing.
In the second part of the poem, Cardenas ascends into Spanish and a magic realism as she describes the glass hearts of those in boats on a canal filled with Bird of Paradise and lilies, going in and out of the caves. Finally, she tells us, the magic of such things must be undone, that Medusa must be charmed back inside glass, if only that were possible.
In other places, the poetry can be almost dream-like, inspiring a sort of Zen-truth to the landscape of Wisconsin, one of that state’s best kept secrets. For instance, in “wild,” poet Robert Schuler of Menomonie paints a scene that is nothing less than serene and wild:
hanging from a cliff’s face
rising out of shale and sand
fans of ferns surrounding
bouquets of trillium
a wren spins in
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to that, especially after dancing all night with Brenda Cárdenas?
As much as the summer editions of Verse Wisconsin will be missed, Wisconsin poets, who are, after all, members of the global poetry community (aren’t we all?), will still have the online version of the magazine to return to over and over. Life is good.