Considering that she hasn't often been published, Fabu Carter-Brisco might seem an odd choice for Madison's Poet Laureate. But Fabu is much less concerned with prestige than with promoting poetry as a form of self-expression.
Fabu has published a chapbook of original poetry called In Our Own Tongues, and holds a master's in African languages and literature and African studies from the UW-Madison.
As Madison's third poet laureate since the title was established in 1977, Fabu plans to continue promoting poetry's virtues, as she's done since stepping onto the local literary scene more than a decade ago.
"Fabu was chosen for this honorary position in recognition of her years as a major figure in Madison's literary arts movement," said Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in announcing her selection. "She has inspired great interest in poetry, reading and writing in Madison -- especially among the women's community, school-aged children and communities of color."
She spoke to The Daily Page this week about the state of poetry and whether it's still relevant as an art form.
The Daily Page: It's been said that more people write poetry than read poetry. Is this your sense?
Fabu Carter-Brisco: (Laughs) Let's say this, everybody can write poetry. We all have the creative process inside of us and all you need is a paper and pen. So that's the good news. If I look at it from that perspective, everyone would write more poetry than, perhaps, read poetry.
When I was working at the Wisconsin Book Festival last year, there are lots of things that are unknown in terms of the American reading public. Most people don't know that the largest percentage of any group in the United States that reads are African Americans. So I come from a community where poetry is very viable and present in many aspects of life.
Where does poetry fit into popular culture?
If you take a basic definition of poetry -- that it's an artistic use of words -- then it fits in every facet of popular culture. Lots of people sing poetry; lots of people preach poetry; lots of people use poetry in their everyday life. If you think of poetry as captive on the page or as something that only certain people do in terms of a career, then you might think it has outlived its usefulness or you would think that poetry is not as meshed into popular culture as it once was.
So, it's still relevant as an art form?
It's extremely relevant as an art form and it keeps reinventing itself. For me, I am a poet. If I don't write poetry, or hear poetry or see poetry, or read poetry in a day, I don't feel quite right. I feel uneasy. It's so much a part of my life that I have to have some sort of experience with it everyday.
How does someone interested in reading poetry learn to read poetry in a way that's meaningful?
I would think that they'd start with poetry that was meaningful to them, in terms of a topic, an author or a particular perspective. That is how I would encourage people to start. If they feel anxious or have questions about how to read poetry ... and again, poetry is more dynamic than it once was. There's all kinds of performance poetry that engages people in the art form. I would suggest people read about what interests them.
Do you ever meet people who feel poetry is a bunch of pretentious nonsense?
Of course I do! And that comes from every age group. I once had a child write a poem about how much they hated poetry -- which, of course, fulfilled the exercise and intent by engaging them to write poetry. Of course, people would say it's a bunch of pretentious nonsense if that was their experience. What I really hope to do in the next few years of being Madison's poet laureate is just expose poetry in unique ways, in unique places.
The Madison Arts Commission is holding an inauguration celebration for Fabu as Madison's new poet laureate at the Madison Central Library from 1:30-3 p.m. on Sunday, January 20.