A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Mar 17, 2010
03:37 PM

Well Versed

Well Versed

For two Madisonians, January wasn’t simply the start of a new year. It also brought about the launch of the first issue of Verse Wisconsin, marking a year’s worth of hard work backed by a strong dedication to the art of poetry.

Verse Wisconsin, which is published both in print and online, is the new incarnation of Free Verse, a Wisconsin poetry magazine that was published from 1998 to 2009 by Linda Aschbrenner in Marshfield. In 2009, co-editors Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman took over the magazine, renaming it and moving it to Madison.

To celebrate the publication of their first issue, Busse and Vardaman are hosting two launch events this week: one on Friday in Milwaukee and another on Saturday in Madison. At 7 p.m. at Avol’s Bookstore, poetry lovers and contributors to the first issue will come together for poetry readings and other festivities.

Recently, Vardaman and Busse took some time out to talk about the launch of their magazine.

What was it like to put together the first issue of Verse Wisconsin?

SB: “Overwhelming” is a safe word. We’d been reading poems for about two months, and accepting poems, and then to be faced with how to fit it all together was somewhat boggling. Wendy can speak even more to that as she is in charge of layout and design.

WV: Yes, I concur with “overwhelming”—taking the material that is accepted over several months and crafting it into an issue is challenging. Plus we have really two issues—two very different venues—online and in print. So deciding what we would make of each of those, how to differentiate them, and figuring out how they would fit with each other, not to mention stand alone, was daunting, as well as challenging in a good way, as were the technological challenges. Besides the logistical aspects—what goes where, how to fit poems together, etc., I find that I really enjoy learning about what a lot of people are up to and contacting them about submitting work for VW. And it’s been great fun working on this with Sarah—I can’t imagine doing it alone, as Linda did for so many years.

What was going through your mind when you saw the first issue in print?

SB: The printer dropped the boxes on my doorstep and it was just tremendously exciting. We’d been dreaming and scheming about this for a year, and now finally here it was! I drove it over to Wendy’s right away and left it on her doorstep—and then we both spent the next couple of days checking email, Facebook and email again to see what reactions were around the state and further afield.

WV: I was very happy and excited, relieved that it looked good, and sad, too. My father died earlier this year, and I know he would have loved to have seen the first issue, which, as it happened, was published on his birthday.

What sort of feedback have you been getting?

WV: We’ve gotten many nice comments—from Linda Aschbrenner to Marilyn Taylor (Wisconsin’s poet laureate) to our mothers. There was a very nice review posted yesterday at poetrydispatch.wordpress.com. Some of the best stuff is what we happen on, through Twitter feeds and Google Alerts.

SB: So far, almost everything we’ve heard is good. People are first and foremost pleased that Linda Aschbrenner’s work and vision is being carried on and furthered. They can tell that we’re carrying on in a similar vein. We’ve also had a lot of people thank us for helping to get the word out about poetry in Wisconsin. There’s so much activity going on, so many really strong writers in the state.

What’s the best you’ve heard so far?

SB: Very hard to pick! But one of the earliest comments came in from a poet friend in huge, bright blue letters that simply said, “magnificent.” That was a good one.

What was the biggest challenge in putting the first issue out?

SB: Since Wendy’s the one who handles the design and layout, she may have a different answer for this! For me, mastering the timeline of an individual issue—when do we need to have content decided, when do we get the first proof done, second proof, printers … We’re in the middle of the second issue now, and I don’t feel I have a handle on it yet! Hopefully by issue three or four I’ll be more comfortable with the schedule, just knowing the rhythm and flow.

WV: For me, though the timeline is certainly challenging, it was definitely mastering the software and developing the necessary technological expertise, which is an ongoing process. I have been taking courses for the last year and even went to “web camp” last summer at DoIt (at UW–Madison). Although there are numerous other people involved in Verse Wisconsin—especially the writers—a volunteer operation like this one requires the people in charge to learn, do and juggle a lot of different things! We’ve been learning everything from database management (Sarah) to web design (me) to social networking, marketing and finances … we’re a little surprised about the percentage of our time that actually goes to doing what we know best—poetry.

Why did you decide to host launch parties?

SB: Two reasons: First, we want to celebrate! This is the beginning of something, but it’s also the (first) culmination of a year or more of planning behind the scenes. The second reason, and more important, is that the magazine really represents a community, not just the two of us. We’ve had advisors who have been really supportive and many people have given us their time, expertise and financial support. And then … there wouldn’t be a first issue at all if poets didn’t send us their work. I think we both feel thankful and honored that writers trust us, as unproven as we are! So we wanted to find a way to emphasize the community aspect. That’s really what we’re celebrating this weekend—the continuing community of Wisconsin poetry, how it’s thriving, growing and finding new audiences.

What can readers look forward to in future issues of the magazine?

SB: Hmmm, how much do we tip our hand? The spring issue is coming out in April and includes an interview with APT actor David Daniel about a poetry in the schools program APT runs, an interview with poet Matthea Harvey, and articles about how poets can use online social networking, and the state of Science Fiction poetry, and genre poetry in general, today. And of course lots of poems! We’re currently reading submissions for the summer issue’s online theme: work. And it’s safe to say we’re always discussing ideas and possibilities for the future, some of which include intersections between poetry and other art forms (music, drama, visual arts), service projects that poets are involved in and reaching out to communities in neighboring states. We’re always interested in visual poetry, animations and other ways that poetry is pushing into new forms and formats. We’re also actively contacting fellow publishers and editors in Wisconsin, hoping to brainstorm ways we might all support each other. Look at how long this answer is—you can tell we’ve got ideas!

WV: The summer issue also will feature an interview by Martín Espada—a phenomenal, world-class poet who happened to get his undergrad degree here at UW, an article from award-winning Madison poet Nick Lantz on his Twitter Poetry Project, and another from Laurel Bastian, also a UW MFA who teaches creative writing to prisoners. As Sarah indicates, we are looking to include excellent poetry in and out of Wisconsin, as well as experimental work, and also inform readers—poets and non-poets both—about what we’re all up to, which is quite an amazing amount, when you start trying to cover it all!

For more information on Verse Wisconsin, visit versewisconsin.org.

Photo courtesy of Verse Wisconsin.

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About This Blog

As managing editor at Madison Magazine, I'm also an unabashed arts enthusiast. Paintings, plays, music, movies—I'm intrigued by all forms of creative expression. I enjoy talking with artists and sharing their insights, challenges, inspirations and latest endeavors. Check in regularly for details on events, previews and reviews, artist interviews and more! 

– Katie Vaughn
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