The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus was treated to thoughts of love, loss and lipstick, during a poetry reading Wednesday by Wisconsin Poet Laureate and alumna Karla Huston ’94 and ’03 MA.
At the event hosted by UWO’s Department of English, Huston read 16 poems from three of her poetry collections, including her most recently published chapbook, The Theory of Lipstick:
Morgan Frost, a senior at UW Oshkosh, introduced Huston to the lecture hall of students and faculty. Frost first learned of Huston’s work in her Poetry I class and was struck by the honesty and sass with which she wrote. She described Huston’s voice in her poetry as “the cool aunt that you take road trips and jam to music with.”
As a poet herself, Frost was inspired by the topics Huston touches on in her poetry.
Huston tackles a range of subjects, often focusing on women’s issues as well as universal topics like love, death, and nature. Her writing is inspired by her own life as well as the writing of others.
Following the reading of her poems, Huston offered listeners insight into her writing process.
“My poems rarely come out fully formed,” Huston said. “They need agonizing edits and by the time they are ready to be published, I have 16-17 drafts of each poem.”
Huston’s most popular poem, The Theory of Lipstick was no different, subject to multiple years of edits. “Time is the best ally,” Huston said. “You have to walk away from your work sometimes because edits take a while to realize.”
The poem was reworked and refigured multiple times before being published in its final form:
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red …
Pot rouge, rouge pot, glosser, lip plumper, bee
stung devil’s candy and painted porcelain
Fire and Ice, a vermillion bullet,
dangerous beauty lipstick, carmine death rub, history
of henna. Fact: more men get lip cancer
because they don’t wear lipstick or butter,
jumble of a luminous palette with brush made
to outlast, last long, kiss off, you ruby busser,
your gilded rose bud bluster is weapon and wine.
QE’s blend: cochineal mixed with egg, gum Arabic
and fig milk–alizarin crimson and lead–poison
to men who kiss women wearing lipstick, once illegal
and loathsome – then cherry jellybean licked and smeared,
then balm gloss crayon, a cocktail of the mouth
happy hour lip-o-hito, lip-arita, with pout-fashioned chaser
made from fruit pigment and raspberry cream,
a lux of shimmer-shine, lipstick glimmer, duo
in satin-lined pouch, Clara Bow glow: city brilliant
and country chick — sparkling, sensual, silks
and sangria stains, those radiant tints and beeswax liberty—
oh, kiss me now, oh, double agents of beauty
slip me essential pencils in various shades
of nude and pearl and suede, oh, bombshell lipstick,
sinner and saint, venom and lotsa sugar, lip sweet,
pucker up gelato: every pink signal is a warning.
For aspiring writers, Huston advised that reading the work of others and writing often is the best way to improve.
“You need to write to please yourself first,” Huston said. “If you feel like you must write, then you should.”
As the Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Huston travels the state to spread her love of poetry and writing. She hosts readings at schools, libraries, coffee shops, and bookstores as well as participating in the Memory Cafe program that brings the arts to patients with memory loss.