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A conversation with Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser

2015-2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser is a Professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing and Native American Literatures. She is the author of three collections of poetry:  Apprenticed to Justice, Absentee Indians and Other Poems, and Trailing You. Blaeser is Anishinaabe, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and grew up on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. She is the editor of Stories Migrating Home: A Collection of Anishinaabe Prose and Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry. She is currently at work on a collection of “Picto-Poems,” which combines her photographs and poetry.

MTT: How did you initially become interested in poetry?

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The Sound of Music: A local woman's lifelong love of classical Indian music

It started with a little girl in southern India, riding in a car with her father and listening to classical music on cassette.

“I would go on long car rides with my parents,” says Vanitha Suresh, who has her own children today and lives 8,000 miles away in Middleton, Wisconsin. “I remember singing along with the great masters on tape.”

Suresh’s father died when she was only nine years old, but during their too-short time together, he left what she describes as an “indelible” impact on her life.

“My father worked a lot, and he traveled for work, but whenever he was with us he was completely with us,” she says tenderly as she drizzles honey from a plastic bear into a cup of spicy Chai tea in her kitchen.

The music – primarily classical Indian music, as well as some classical Western – started in those early days with family, and she has never stopped learning about it, loving its beauty and its vastness, as well as teaching it.

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Thriving Women in the Middleton Fire Department

Deneen Carmichael is a mother of two and a small business owner. Jennifer Johnson is an international non-profit attorney. But those are just their day jobs, like Clark Kent’s gig at the Daily Planet.

These local women are also part of a profession where courage and integrity are their most valuable assets. They can wake up in the middle of the night to answer their pagers and potentially save lives. They wear heavy, hot and uncomfortable clothing for work. They lug cumbersome equipment up tall ladders and pry open car doors following accidents.

They hold the hands of people in need and comfort them in hard times.

Carmichael and Johnson are volunteer firefighters with the Middleton Fire Department.

Johnson has been living in Middleton for about two years. She bought a house and opened her own non-profit consulting company called NCG. She is also an international non-profit attorney and she loves what she does.

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A Home Away From Home for Transplant Patients

It is almost time for lunch, so the kitchen at Restoring Hope Transplant House it is getting loud. Snacks are already set out on the kitchen counter. Coffee is brewing, as is conversation.

“Some people thinks this is a sad place because there is a lot of stress,” explains Cindy Herbst,  the transplant home’s executive director. “But this is a wonderful place. It really reminds you of the good in people.”

At the corner of Terrace Avenue and Parameter Street stands an old Victorian house that many transplants families and patients have called home.

Many people walk by, because the library, a bus stop and downtown Middleton are just a stone’s throw away. The Restoring Hope Transplant House was born in 2006 when executive director Cindy Herbst’s family went through a transplant process firsthand.

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Sikhism Thrives in the City of Middleton

Every Sunday morning, a stream of local Sikhs flows into the gurudwara on Century Avenue.

Out of the damp spring air they enter a tall, spacious building filled with the warm aromas of sweet and savory foods and spiced tea. The melodic songs that are a central part of their worship greet their ears. Their eyes are met by generations of people - some who came to Wisconsin from India, some who were born here - who all sit on the floor, regardless of economic or social rank, as equals, to worship a universal and unifying God.

It is a crossroads of poetry, culture and faith.

Upstairs, Paramjit Singh, the temple’s priest, sits on an altar behind the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The hymns and poems within it, which are meant to be sung - by themselves or accompanied by the rhythmic thumping of drums and the bellowing of a harmonium – fill an upstairs sanctuary decorated by a dazzling array of colors.

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Oh, the Horror!

A blood-caked shoe sits in a pool of viscous crimson, resting at the foot of an old metal locker. Several undead men in baseball uniforms mill about, waiting for their scenes. A few conspicuously alive people gather around a clipboard, reviewing their plans for the night of filming as darkness falls upon the Bowling Green athletic fields in the City of Middleton.

Filming on “Field of Screams,” a giddily campy horror short film, was well underway, and it transformed a local athletic complex into the stuff of midnight movie madness.  The premise is simple: “A woman tries to sell the baseball field she inherited from her parents at a young age, but the team isn’t ready to let it, or her, go…”

 “The idea came from the location,” explains director Natalie Pohorski. “While I grew up in Middleton, I had never been to Bowling Green fields so when I showed up to a friend’s softball game last fall, I couldn’t believe this amazing filming location was right in my backyard.”

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Speaking Out: Local woman fights to give women a greater voice in the Catholic Church

“If you are going to talk about motherhood, marriage, family and all they mean in various contexts, the best way might not be a room full of men,” says Rhonda Miska, a Middleton native, author, theologian and translator.

That sentiment is at the heart of  “Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table,” a new book published by Paulist Press and launched earlier this month at the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome.

The book is the product of the Catholic Women Speak Network, an online forum for theological dialogue and collaboration, administered by the Digby Stuart Research Center for Religion, Society, and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton in London.  

“We are made up of 1,000 Catholic women from around the world,” explains Miska.

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Fire Leaves Residents With Nowhere To Go

Karina De Lira awoke with a cough and smelled  smoke.  In the pre-dawn gloom, she saw her young daughter standing in the doorway of their second floor apartment on Allen Boulevard.

“She was scared,” said De Lira, using her sister-in-law, Evelyn Cerez, as an interpreter.  

“There were people screaming and yelling for help,” she added.

De Lira, who had arrived home from work shortly after 1 a.m. and gone to sleep, grabbed her three children and headed for the door.

“When [I] opened the door, the smoke came, the fire came right at [me],” she recalled.

They slammed the door and headed to the balcony. Faced with a crushing decision, De Lira picked up one of her sons and readied to drop him from the second-story to the relative safety of the ground below. It was, she thought, the only way to escape.

De Lira said her son, in the fog of sleep, begged her not to.

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Coming to America

A Ukrainian family is forging a new life in America’s heartland, working the land together and embracing a vibrant, organic farming philosophy.

Roksolana Viter enjoyed life in her native Ukraine. Living in Kyiv, the fifth largest city in Europe, she worked as an architect, creating modern designs and assuming that was what she would do for the rest of her life.

Then, in 2014 Russia made several incursions into Ukrainian territory, breaking the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and throwing the region into a state of unrest, political turmoil and in some places, violence.

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A Radio Station Where 'Girls' Rule

Female artists are just better than males ones. That’s the way Tom Forrester feels, and that’s the principle on which his independent radio station was founded nearly a decade ago.

“I’ve always appreciated the girl artists,” he says, sitting in the headquarters of Girls Rock Radio, which also happens to be a downstairs room in his Middleton home. “They sound a lot better than their boy counterparts.”

For a small Internet station – in this case one that specializes in the women of rock, pop and alternative music - to stay on the air for nine years is no small feat, especially in what Forrester calls “the harsh, here-today, gone-tomorrow climate facing Internet radio stations today.”

But while it hasn’t always been easy, Forrester says he’s glad he opted out of his former profession and decided to pursue his dream.


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