Poetry marathon keeps words flowing, doors open at Woodland Pattern
Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St., will hold its 18th annual poetry marathon on Saturday, Jan. 28. Dozens of poets and performers from all over each get a five-minute time slot to share their art and their love for Woodland Pattern, an independent bookshop, performance space and learning center in the Riverwest neighborhood.
The marathon, which is always on the last Saturday of January, is meant to kickstart a new year of programs – and fundraising.
"Our goal has been to raise $20,000 each year. We periodically adjust the goal based on the economy and our anticipated budget needs of the upcoming year," says Robert Baumann, Woodland Pattern's marketing director.
Woodland Pattern is a non-profit organization; the money it needs to sponsor its youth writing seminars, summer art camps and weekend readings by established writers from all over the world comes only from grants and through private donations at events like the marathon.
The event begins at 10 a.m. with poetry readings from those who participated in Woodland Pattern's youth programming last year and continues until 1 a.m. Sunday. The marathon is organized by hour, with 10 performance slots in each.
Readers sign up for the hour they'd like by filling out a form at Woodland Pattern or via its website. As of this writing, there were 11 slots left in the 15-hour marathon. Readers attempt to raise donations through their own networks.
"We rely on readers to gain pledges from people. Some single readers have raised upwards of $1,000 each year on their own," says Baumann.
People wishing to support Woodland Pattern through a donation but who don't know any of the readers personally can sponsor a random reader via PayPal on the book center's website.
Because of the time frame and Woodland Pattern's long history of supporting poetic voices in the region, the slots may seem naturally given to poetry readings. But Baumann says that as long as performers respect the five-minute-time-slot, they can perform however they see fit.
For the 2009 marathon, poet Jacqueline Lalley sent out a mass email asking for a word to go along with a donation. The poem she wrote by putting all the sent words together was what she read during her time slot at the marathon.
"She made it feel like the people she asked money from were involved in a fun way," says Baumann, who was also manager of Woodland Pattern from 2003 to 2007. Baumann will read during the 9-10 p.m. time slot at this year's marathon.
At the 2011 event, there were 143 performances and 500 people came to listen and offer their support to Woodland Pattern. Food and coffee are once again available at the marathon through event sponsors like Seven Sisters and Seven Suns Catering and Purple Door Ice Cream.
"It's a great community event where poets and lovers of the literary can show their support for an absolutely indispensable resource in Milwaukee," says Nikki Wallschlaeger, a local poet who has participated in the poetry marathon the last five years. She will perform from 10 to 11 p.m. this year.
The marathon is the brainchild of Woodland Pattern co-founder and executive director Anne Kingsbury, who over 18 years ago heard of a similar marathon by the Poetry Project in New York. That marathon is held annually on New Year's Day.
Writers workshops and some local businesses underwrite parts of the marathon, acknowledging the important role that Woodland Pattern has come to play in developing and maintaining a literary tradition unique to the Milwaukee-area.
"For me to read where so many have stood is exhilarating, not just the day of the marathon but since Woodland Pattern opened its doors. Poets are like fingerprints – no two are alike – and I've always felt nurtured knowing I was in a space dedicated to all these different voices flourishing and shaping themselves around me," says Wallschlaeger.
Not all performers have participated in the marathon before – nor published a lot of poetry.
"Although I've been involved in journalism and public relations all my life, I had never written poetry until last fall, when I was in a UW-Milwaukee poetry course taught by Susan Firer (who is also reading at the marathon this year)," says Barbara Tabak, who will read during the noon-1 p.m. hour.
"Friends and mentors gave me a thumbs-up and encouraged me to sign up for the marathon, so here I am. I haven't decided what I'll read, but whatever I choose, it will force me to deal with my nervousness over speaking in public – for five minutes at least."
Woodland Pattern co-founder Karl Gartung is also reading between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. All the readers are listed on Woodland Pattern's website, which is updated daily.
Cost is $8 for general admission, $7 for seniors and students and $6 for members of Woodland Pattern. Free admission is granted to anyone who sponsors a reader for $35 or more.
I will be there reading a few selections from "The Collected Works of Andrew "Dice" Clay".
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