Karla Huston, a UW Oshkosh alumna, helped kick off National Poetry Month on Wednesday night in Sage Hall.
Huston, the 2017-2018 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, has published eight chapbooks of poems, ranging in topics from ancient Greek gods to Hollywood movie stars.
Houston said she found out she was the poet laureate around Christmas time of 2016.
“The announcement came out in January,” Houston said. “I think I kind of knew around Christmas time, but I had to keep it a secret.”
Huston said part of being poet laureate is traveling to different universities, libraries and doing workshops with people who suffer from mild forms of dementia.
“I bring poems to memory cafe programs, a lot in the Fox Cities area,” Huston said. “They have a hard time with memory, so we recite poems together a line at a time which they can handle.”
Huston said she first began her poetry writing career after she had tried being a fiction writer.
“I was trying to masquerade myself as a fiction writer, but I found out I wasn’t very good at it,” Houston said.
Houston said an assignment for a class is what first ignited her passion for poetry writing.
“I was taking a class at UW-Fox Valley through the continuing education department,” Houston said. “The teacher sent us home with an assignment to write a short poem, and I spent two hours on it and from there I was hooked.”
Houston said her inspiration for her work comes from the work of other writers.
“You know, it’s jealousy of other people’s work,” Houston said. “I do write my own poetry, but I do get inspiration from others work. When I’m stuck and can’t write anything of my own, I’ll sit down with someone else’s book and it will tickle something in my brain.”
UWO English major Morgan Frost introduced Houston at the beginning of the event, giving credit for inspiring Frost in her own work.
“It helped a lot when I realized she was from here whereas a lot of other poets went to school somewhere more prestigious,” Frost said. “Seeing a woman from Wisconsin writing about stuff that is really relatable is really cool.”
Frost said she met with Houston who offered some poems to her to help celebrate National Poetry Month.
“I’m always reading since I’m an English major,” Frost said. “She gave me a lot of really awesome recommendations, which I’m going to be checking out.”
UWO nursing major Emily Fenske said she came to check out the event because of her interest in poetry.
“I got the email and saw the student announcements,” Fenske said. “I’ve always liked writing poetry and had no idea what a poet laureate was, so I came here to see what it was about.”
Fenske said she’s done some of her own poetry writing for different classes, but nothing too serious.
“I’ve done some stuff for class and assignments,” Fenske said. “I haven’t done anything serious, like publishing books or any of that though.”
Fenske said her favorite part about listening to Houston talk was how down-to-earth she was.
“She was very relatable, and I liked that it wasn’t the normal classical poetry where it’s crazy weird metaphors and all of that,” Fenske said.
Houston gave advice to students who are interested in writing their own poetry.
“Just do it,” Houston said. “If you’re a writer, poetry will give you a different way of looking at how you write.”
Houston told students poetry offers a more in-depth look at how words are chosen rather than other styles of writing.
“You pay more attention to words when you’re writing poetry,” Houston said. “You have to find the words that are the right words with the right sound that harmonize with the words around them.”
Houston said reading poetry can be a great way to take the time to slow down during the day.
“Reading poetry can also be wonderful,” Houston said. “It slows you down. You have to have a different kind of attention when you’re reading poems. It’s a slow kind of talk.”
Houston said it’s important to have poetry in our daily lives.
“We all need that slowing down sometimes,” Houston said. “So read poetry, write poetry, do whatever it is you want.”