MADISON—The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission has selected Dasha Kelly Hamilton of Milwaukee to serve as the Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2021–22. The Wisconsin Poet Laureate plays a crucial role in keeping the arts accessible and vital to all age groups, and acts as a statewide emissary for poetry and creativity.
“Dasha Kelly Hamilton’s infectious energy and demonstrated history of transforming lives through the written and spoken word make her the perfect ambassador for poetry in the state of Wisconsin,” says Nick Demske, Chair of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. “Her reputation precedes her, and we know that Wisconsin residents will benefit in many ways from this outstanding poet.”
Speaking about her selection as Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Kelly Hamilton says: “My practice as a writer and cultural organizer connects me to a spectrum of conversations and communities. For twenty years, I’ve invited folks to lean in to the experience of creating and sharing poems as entry points for reflection, for discovery, for celebrating truth. I’ve seen communities built and individuals fortified through poems and spoken word. I’m honored to continue building community across the state as Wisconsin Poet Laureate, and look forward to establishing a poetry exchange between traditional residents and writer residents in Wisconsin prisons.”
Each year as Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Kelly Hamilton will receive a $2,500 stipend and a week-long residency at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point, in addition to a commemorative broadside and other recognition opportunities. The stipend, as well as support with outreach and special projects, comes from the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, which is a special program of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters.
The Commission consists of poets and lovers of poetry from across the state, including member organization representatives from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Wisconsin Center for the Book, Wisconsin Humanities, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, Council for Wisconsin Writers, Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, Write On Door County, and the Wisconsin Academy.
The other finalists for the 2021–2022 Wisconsin Poet Laureate position were Nicholas Gulig (Ft. Atkinson) and C. Kubasta (Oshkosh). A professor at University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, Gulig is the author of Orient and North of Order. C. Kubasta is a poet, fiction writer, and educator. She has published several collections including Of Covenants and A Lovely Box.
“The entire Commission was pretty blown away at the caliber of applications we received this year,” Demske said.
Dasha Kelly Hamilton fills the position vacated by fellow Milwaukee resident Margaret “Peggy” Rozga, the eighth Wisconsin Poet Laureate. During the first year of her 2019–2020 term, Rozga extensively traveled the state providing in-person workshops and readings. When the pandemic set in, Rozga shifted her focus to digital, growing the Wisconsin Poet Laureate’s social media following, delivering 26 virtual presentations, and appearing on five radio and TV shows. She also published a poetry anthology, Through This Door: Wisconsin In Poems, along with co-editor Angela Trudell Vasquez.
A sample of her poetry:
Hope is a Bruise
Paintball pellets batter shoulders
and thighs at 190 miles per hour
I count the purplish bruises and
smile at the post vision of us toasting
laughing, being vibrantly alive
The woman who pierced my nose
Rushed outside afterwards for a cigarette
Whether my nostril or her nerves were to blame
We both survived an ordeal that day
I don’t think of the sweat on her lip
or the tears on my cheek when my jeweled
Black nose disrupts canonical spaces
Agony delineates child bearing from child rearing
Pain is the anticipated toll: the impossible stretch of skin and orifice,
wrenching of organs, the pinch and nip of nursing
I received no pamphlets about the pangs of panic and impotence
The deep marrow rupture when their ache explodes beyond your reach
A formation of police fired rubber bullets at my child
200 feet per second in defense of hatred and spiteful ignorance
She raged back in protest until her throat rasped, her heels
blistered and she shattered into sobs once safe in our home, in my arms
They gassed and maced my baby. She marched again the next day.
And the next and the next and the next and the next
Hope is a bruise, a nervous smoke and an unrelenting calvary