Milwaukee poet Sam Pekarske is on a mission to disabuse us of the notion that poetry is boring and exclusionary. Through a series appropriately designated “Poets Read Some Stuff Someplace in Milwaukee,” launching tonight, Pekarske hopes to reframe poetry as an accessible community activity, rather than the pretentious pastime of those with particular proclivities for pentameter (and apparently alliteration).
“Poetry isn’t all about prim and proper sonnets, and people are starting to see that,” Pekarske said.
In an effort to make written and spoken word more approachable in Milwaukee, Pekarske has partnered with others in the local writing community for an upcoming roster of writing events, kicking off tonight with the aforementioned “Poets Read Some Stuff Someplace in Milwaukee.” That “someplace,” refers to Var Gallery, the Walker’s Point artist hub founded by MIAD grad Josh Hintz, which functions as part gallery, part studio space.
Pekarske’s group held a soft kickoff event in December, featuring eminent Milwaukee poet Derrick Harriell, who has since assumed a teaching position within the MFA program at University of Mississippi (one of the top graduate programs in the country for creative writing). Pekarske recalls inviting Harriell to participate in the reading via an impulsive Facebook message, all along expecting the answer to be no.
“The word ‘no’ never came up. It was so surreal. Harriell is not only a former instructor from my college days, but he’s my favorite poet,” Pekarske said.
It is perhaps this chutzpah that Pekarske repurposes for the series’ ethos of approachability; that first reading with Harriell was a success, and it birthed the quarterly series beginning with tonight’s event.
“This is poetry that isn’t just for poets,” Pekarske said. “For years I have been writing and performing in a way that I think is accessible to an audience that isn’t grounded in academia so why would I bring together poets that don’t have similar appeal?”
Tonight’s event features spoken-word performances by Destinny Fletcher, Bryon Cherry and Franklin K.R. Cline, who will be joined by Chicago’s Maplewood Gardens performance art group. The featured performer is Brenda Cárdenas, a UWM professor whose work centers on the Chicano/a experience and was described by Pekarske as “both a battle cry and lullaby.”
Those who eschew poetry may be surprised by the passion with which Pekarske describes the work to be showcased in her “Poets Read Some Stuff…” series. (The Facebook event page promises to be “compelling as hell.”) But that’s kind of the point. Acknowledging our country’s recent political turmoil, Pekarske cites the art form’s history and utility as both “political weapon” and vessel for catharsis.
“While uncertainty washes over the country it is more important than ever that people get together to be together,” Pekarske said. “To grieve together. To celebrate together. To make some noise together.”
Following tonight’s kickoff reading at Var Gallery, Pekarske will facilitate other regular literary events around Milwaukee, including a quarterly poetry reading called Short Shots (“Think of it as a scheduled open mic,” she said), monthly ekphrastic workshops inspired by Var Gallery art, and the production of a new quarterly poetry magazine Ek-Spastic, slated for a mid-June debut.
Tonight’s reading costs $5 and features a cash bar. (Some stereotypes are true, Pekarske says – “Yes, poets like their liquor.”) The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at Var Gallery (643 N. 2nd St).
“This will be a thrilling reading,” Pekarske said. “This reading particularly features really, really immersive performers that command an audience better than the most gripping musicians or actors I’ve ever seen. It’ll be a party. It’ll be my kind of party, at least.”