Connie Wanek, an acclaimed poet who currently resides in northern Minnesota, will be visiting Gustavus Adolphus next week on Wednesday, Oct. 20. Wanek has received numerous awards and honors for her poetry, including being named a Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. While on campus, Wanek will be visiting a couple classes and giving a reading Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m. in the Lind Interpretive Center.
Born in Wisconsin, Wanek attended a one-room schoolhouse near Green Bay. At the age of 12, she moved with her family to New Mexico, where she completed her high school and college education. In 1990, Wanek moved to Duluth, Minn., with her husband and two children. There she engaged in many different pursuits, including restoring old homes. All the while, she was writing poetry.
Wanek recently moved from Duluth to a more rural part of Minnesota. In this rural setting, Wanek has discovered a new source of inspiration for her poetry. “I have a new writing atmosphere now and a lot of new subjects … country life,” Wanek said. “It’s different from living in Duluth, but I think its good to be a little uncomfortable. When you make yourself a little uncomfortable you often learn a lot.”
Wanek emphasizes her playful relationship with poetry and the English language. “Things will just strike me,” she said. “It’s an idea of how I can play with a phrase or playing with a particular idea. I think my poems are more playful than anything else. It’s more like a little game than it is pouring my heart out on the page.”
Her willingness to play with words has won Wanek a place in the poetry world. She has published three books, Bonfire, Hartley Field and most recently in January, On Speaking Terms. All three books were received favorably, especially On Speaking Terms, in which a reviewer compared her to Thomas Hardy, a poet who is considered to be one of the great poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “I think the reviewer felt some of that dark tension in my poems. It surprised me [because] I think they’re full of jokes. I just think they’re more playful than that.”
Wanek doesn’t place poetry upon a literary pedestal; rather, she speaks of poetry as a friend that a reader can hang out with occasionally. “Some people gravitate toward fiction … but I’m not afraid of poems; if I don’t like them, I just skip them. Life is too short to read poems that you don’t like,” Wanek said. “I think in my new book, On Speaking Terms, my favorite poem might be the one called ‘Pumpkin,’” she said. “It might also be the shortest one [in the entire book]. Don’t try people’s patience with poetry.”
Even though she considers her poetry to be playful, Wanek made it clear that she appreciates all kinds of poetry, both the melancholy and the light-hearted. “I love the world, and sometimes it hurts me, but I love it. I want that to come out too,” she said. “People turn to poetry in hard times, and people go to these passages which are really dense with feeling and emotion … and some of them are less emotional, some of them are more [emotional].”
Wanek explains her writing style with, as always, a sense of humor. “People write from the heart and the head, and this changes between people. Some are more heart, some are less heart and some switch between the two, which is what I think I do,” Wanek said. “Want an analogy? Down the road of writing, I weave back and forth like a drunk.”
She looks forward to being on campus, and because she has been a guest here before, Wanek is familiar with the campus and its students. “I love Gustavus; I love the students at Gustavus … I’ve never been on a campus where it seems the students are more alive and more interested in the world and more cheerful and forward-thinking,” Wanek said. “I think it’s a wonderful place, and I’m honored to come.”
Erect, the green tent is a gable,
the attic of the earth.
We enter on hands and knees,
by means of a long zipper
Inside we’re still outside,
to a leaning pine or a bear
rummaging through the pantry.
The walls are green drapes;
they’re a green balloon
we filled by sighing.
It’s home, though, a studio apartment
you invited me to
where the only place to sit
is the bed.
– Connie Wanek