WFOP Fall Conference After-Action Report


Last Friday found me driving three hours to Stevens Point for the opening of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP) fall conference. The weather was great—more like a sunny October than mid-November—and the traffic on the Janesville-to-Madison stretch was less insanely dangerous than usual, so I arrived at my destination just after 5 p.m., in time to check in, set up Popcorn Press‘s table in the book room, and prep for the 6 p.m. board meeting. We managed to deal with everything in about 75 minutes, then I headed out for a burger before stopping by the open-mike room. Attendance there looked to be about 60 people, intent on listening despite the table of hot hors d’oeuvres and open bar at the back.

I ended the evening with a couple of vodka martinis (Grey Goose and olives; I don’t really care what vermouth, as long as its dry), an Acid Blondie cigar and an Acid C Note, and multiple shot glasses of blackberry vodka made by Mike Kriesel (who was doing the pouring), in the company of Charles Nevsimal, B. J. Best, two young poets B. J. brought from Carroll College, Cathryn Cofell, and Charles Ries. Learned that B. J. is a nefarious master at “Human Chess.”

Also learned that Charles had just published Anthills V, and that my “Sparrow” is included. The first of many bits of happy personal news over the weekend.

Denise DuhamelSaturday opened early with a short reading by nationally known poet Denise Duhamel, primarily funny bits about sex, in keeping with the conference’s theme of “Humor in Poetry.”

Next came the general business meeting, which culminated in a vote for WFOP officers to serve the next three years. I’m happy to have been re-inducted as president. B. J. Best will be our new V.P.; Richard Swanson is taking over as our new secretary; and Nancy Rafal has agreed to serve one more term as treasurer.

That business was followed by the first session of “Roll Call” poems from the roughly 100 members in attendance—some extraordinarily good poetry! Jeannie Bergmann‘s poem, “A House with No Windows,” had been written for Vampyr Verse, and I appreciated that collection getting a bit of attention. Then Denise returned for a session about collaborative poetry (my first introduction to the “Exquisite Corpse” exercise, among other things).

We broke for burgers and brats. One of my favorite parts of a conference is the happy chatter that occurs among poets standing in line for food. It’s like a church potluck! (See yesterday’s post here.)

Then back for Triad contest awards, in which I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the Honorable Mentions was for Ed Werstein‘s “Nosferatu’s Garden,” another poem I had accepted for Vampyr Verse! The author read it, as well, when the second session of “Roll Call” poems came.

Marilyn TaylorThe afternoon was filled with three sessions, first “Why bother to rhyme?” by Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor—a great analysis of how and when rhyme works, and why formalist poetry may just be worth the work (a subject near to my own heart). Marilyn then read a selection of her own poetry, and Denise concluded with “Punch Lines and Line Breaks: Humor in Contemporary American Poetry,” in which she revealed having studied with an undiscovered young Dennis Leary, who didn’t really teach, per se, but instead required his students to attend and critique his stand-up routines.

I rounded out the day with dinner in the company of Verse Wisconsin‘s Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Busse, along with Jeannie Bergmann. Conversation there ran late enough I failed in my plan to visit a liquor store for a bottle of Don Julio tequila to share with Charles, B. J., and Michael, so I had to settle for shots of Herradura from the bar.

Happily, Saturday ended with an email message containing a contract from Big Pulp Magazine, for a poem I sent them several weeks ago. Publication is always happy news; getting paid for poetry is doubly happy news!

A good 50 people were still in attendance on Sunday, enough to feel like a full room, yet somehow more intimate than Saturday’s crowd. Sarah and Wendy had the first session, with a convincingly Sunday-go-to-meeting presentation about the future of Verse Wisconsin. Having heard them speak, I’m definitely a convert!

I followed with a presentation and workshop about “Morph Rhyme” (keep your eyes peeled here for more in the near future) and was thoroughly pleased at the attendee poems that resulted. Lots of fun.

Next, Michael Kriesel presented his “Threesome” form, which is gaining a lot of traction in Wisconsin. It has been featured in Free Verse magazine, for instance, and among others, B. J. Best has written some excellent examples.

B. J. and Charles (Nevsimal) concluded with a discussion of what it takes to launch a small-press publishing company, drawing on their own experiences with Desperado Press and Centennial Press, respectively. I know for a fact that some people stuck around till Sunday specifically to hear these two young men speak.

After that, it was time to pack up, pay the hotel, grab a last lunch with some of these folks, and hit the road for home. I returned exhausted but ebullient, glad these conferences come but twice a year, but impatient for the next one!

(My congratulations and thanks to Cathryn Cofell and Karla Huston for a marvelously well-executed conference! And big thanks for the mood pencil and the nose-shaped pencil sharpener.)

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