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‘A Poetry for the People:’ WASAL to host “Poetry in the Natural World” with U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón 

Ada Limón  (Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters)

On Thursday, May 23, the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters (WASAL) will host “Poetry in the Natural World” at The Overture Center for the Arts, featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. Limón will be in conversation with former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Dr. Kimberly Blaeser.

“Poetry in the Natural World” is the final event in WASAL’s “Bloom: A Season of Poetry,” a spring series that has featured poetry readings, slams, and food events across Wisconsin, connecting community members with the power of verse as it relates to climate change and the environment more broadly.

The event is named after a new poetry collection, “You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World” edited and introduced by Limón, featuring writers of color grappling with and marveling about their relationship to nature of all kinds. Copies of the book will be on sale, and Blaeser and Limón’s conversation will be followed by an author signing.

Through this innovative poetry series, WASAL has been able to form partnerships with organizations across Wisconsin, including those in Ashland, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Viroqua, and Wausau.

“For people who may have certain ideas about other parts of the state, this really gives them a chance to hear about people with different perspectives,” WASAL’s Executive Director Erica Monroe-Kane said.

This goal of bridging people across differences is at the heart of WASAL’s’s work. Fostering opportunities for cross-discipline conversation and collaboration in the sciences and the arts for over 150 years, WASAL passionately embodies the Wisconsin Idea, or “the belief that connection to knowledge, information, and one another can improve life in the state,” Monroe-Kane explained.

Wisconsin Poet Laureate Dr. Kimberly Blaeser

“We see that there’s so much common ground and opportunity for collaboration and understanding,” she continued. 

In planning the final and biggest event of this series, Monroe-Kane emphasized how perfectly Limon’s work aligns with WASAL’s broader ethos. For her, Limon’s poem “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa,” which is engraved on the side of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, is a perfect illustration of how she uses her poetry to explore the mysteries of the universe.

“That poem in particular […] is just a really elegant and beautiful way to wrap your arms around astronomy, physics, and some of those big scientific disciplines, and connect to the individual as well as connecting individuals,” she said.

Blaeser, whose work centers Indigeneity and native peoples’ relationship with the natural world, couldn’t be more thrilled about the opportunity to be in conversation with Limón. “Her poetry does that important crossing of disciplines that’s not stuck in some ivory tower idea of poetry, but it’s a poetry for the people,” she said.

Having grown up in an Anishinaabe oral tradition as a member of the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Blaeser sees poetry as an “act of attention [that] can become an agent of change.” 

Of her own poetry practice, Blaeser said, “My mission in the world has [been] trying to raise awareness of justice issues, as well as environmental issues. I think that seeing differently is the very first step toward acting differently.”

Over the course of her career, Blaeser has strived to foster creative community for Indigenous artists, most recently with the founding of In-Na-Po (Indigenous Nations Poets), which holds mentorship retreats for emerging Indigenous writers looking to deepen their relationship to the written word.

In a way, she sees Limon’s work as doing something similar: “She has these real moments of revelation that anybody could connect with,” Blaeser observed. “Anybody can love poetry, we can all connect [with it]. It touches all of our lives.”

WASAL is proud to be hosting a poet of Limón’s caliber, whose work really gets at the heart of the organization’s mission. 

“When you think about her collection, it is really giving a platform for people and rectifying missed opportunities for us to hear about and hear from people of perspectives that haven’t been given opportunities like so many of the white majority population has been given,” Monroe-Kane said. 

Beyond any singular topic, Blaeser is most eager for others to experience Limón’s quiet, accessible prowess. “There’s an opening for anyone to experience the experience that she’s writing to, about, and with,” she said. “So I think that letting people just be in the spell of her performance is what I’m really most excited about.” 

For those unable to attend “Poetry and the Natural World” in person, there will be multiple watch parties across the state, along with an online streaming version. Click here to learn more.