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Alumnus named Wisconsin Poet Laureate

Reading, regarding and remembering — these are the three Rs that University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumnus Bruce Dethlefsen uses for inspiration to write poetry.

“I study other works of poetry, I watch people and I think about my strong memories. You never know when inspiration will strike you,” said Dethlefsen, who graduated from UWO in 1992 with a master’s degree in educational leadership.

As a tribute to his published works, literary nominations and honors, and his dedication to poetry, Dethlefsen was named Wisconsin Poet Laureate by Gov. Jim Doyle. His two-year term begins Jan. 1, 2011.

“Bruce Dethlefsen is a dedicated and talented poet,”  Doyle said. “He has exceptional credentials and a devotion to poetry and representing our great state. I am confident he will be an outstanding poet laureate.”

Dethlefsen is the author of two poetry chapbooks, “A Decent Reed” and “Something Near the Dance Floor,” which won a Posner Honorable Mention award. His latest book of poems, “Breather,” won a 2010 Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement in Poetry award. His work has been published in literary journals and magazines, and he’s had two poems nominated for a Pushcart Award.

To apply for the position, Dethlefsen submitted his curriculum vitae, pieces of original work and an explanation of what he planned to do if he were chosen as the poet laureate.

Fulfilling an honored responsibility

The role of the poet laureate, which was created under former Gov. Tommy Thompson, is “to promote the influence of poetry and to serve as a herald for Wisconsin’s poets and their work; to enrich the lives of Wisconsin’s citizens by sharing and encouraging the gift of poetry.”

Dethlefsen’s major responsibility as the new poet laureate is to develop a large-scale project that contributes to the growth of Wisconsin poetry.

“My main project will be to establish self-sustaining poetry readings at local libraries. I will travel around Wisconsin to work with librarians and  establish open-mike poetry reading events,” he said.

Dethlefsen hopes that by listening to poetry people will be encouraged to share their own poems. He will appoint volunteers to continue to coordinate the readings. He ran a similar program in his former position as a library director in Westfield. He said the monthly meeting brought in readers from all over Wisconsin.

“It gave poets a venue to share their work and be recognized. It’s free, and it’s good. People are going to like it,” he said.

Promoting poetry as an art form

Dethlefsen also is responsible for planning at least four statewide literary events each year and perform in at least four government, state and civil events as requested by the Governor’s office, school systems and literary organizations.

“I hope people in Wisconsin become more aware that poetry is important in their lives,” Dethlefsen said. “The arts are essential to us being human and communicating with each other.”

Dethlefsen started writing poetry when he was 7-years-old, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he truly embraced his abilities as an artist.

When he was younger, he struggled with outside pressures and his identity as an artist.

“I grew up in Kansas City, and my dad wanted me to go out and play baseball. That just wasn’t me,” Dethlefsen said. “I found a volume of Chinese poetry in our attic when I was young. The poet’s name was Li Po, and he was a drunk poet who wrote poems to the moon.”

Dethlefsen said that he identified with the way Po described the world. “I realized that I saw things differently than many other people, and that was OK.”

Serving as a role model

Prior to his appointment, Dethlefsen had already worked hard to support poetry in Wisconsin. For six years, he served as secretary for the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, which is an organization of people who are interested in or write poetry.

“I am grateful for the encouragement and support of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets,” he said.

Now, Dethlefsen will expand and continue his work to promote poetry. He said his main goal as Wisconsin Poet Laureate is to serve as a role model for students.

“I wish that when I was in high school, a man or someone who was a poet or an artist would have stood in front of me and told me that it was OK to be an artist. It could have added 10 years to my art,” he said. “When I’m in front of a group of middle school students, I always ask, ‘Who in this room is an artist?’ Slowly a few hands will go up. Then, I say, ‘Be an artist. I give you permission.’”

Dethlefsen hopes that the fact that he’s a male poet who fosters local poetry will send a good message to youth in Wisconsin.

“We can’t realize a goal sometimes unless we see the possibility. If I can help that along, that will be great,” he said.

For more information about Dethlefsen and his poems, check out his Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets page.

By Jennifer Monroe

Published on UW Oshkosh Today

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