Matthew Reddin

Woodland Pattern builds momentum for Poetry Marathon

The 15-hour fundraiser and event lets participants read their personal works or personal favorites.

By - Jan 24th, 2013 12:37 am

Participants in Woodland Pattern’s Poetry Marathon read in hourlong blocks with a maximum of 10 readers. Photo credit Woodland Pattern.

Woodland Pattern’s always had a focus on reaching out to the Milwaukee community, and nothing drives that home more thoroughly than their annual Poetry Marathon, a 15-hour event that lets poets and writers of all stripes read their works or others’ and support the nonprofit bookstore.

Rob Baumann, marketing director at Woodland Pattern, said the Marathon was started 18 years ago after co-founder and executive director Anne Kingsbury was inspired by a similar fundraiser in New York, at The Poetry Project. That fundraiser tends to bring in more established or up-and-coming writers, though, while Woodland Pattern wanted to keep it more in tune with their community-based mission.

“We liked the model,” Baumann said, “but we wanted to put our own spin on it.”

Now in its 19th year, this year’s format is approximately the same as usual: individuals sign up in advance for five-minute segments of one of the 15 hour-long blocks spread throughout the day, and then collect pledges for the fundraiser. Then, from 10 a.m. January 26 to 1 a.m. the following morning, the Marathon takes off, readers, from Milwaukee or as far away as Door County or Chicago, rotating in and out.

Despite the name, the Poetry Marathon isn’t limited exclusively to poetry – although Baumann does admit the shift only began over the last five years or so. The readers are still about 80 percent poetry-based, he speculates, but several fiction writers and readers have joined the Marathon in recent years, and Baumann said some people have even brought guitars for their slot and sang instead.

The rationale, he says, is that there’s no benefit to excluding interested readers, and that poetry’s not as cut-and-dry as it might be casually thought. “The line of what is poetry and what isn’t important in this sense. It doesn’t make sense to make a distinction.”

Who you’ll see in a given hour is a toss-up. Baumann said most of the blocks are just random collections of people who picked that time, some of whom are Poetry Marathon vets and others who are entirely new to the event. Some people will read the works of others; some will read their own compositions, either in whole or in part. And while many will read serious or moving pieces, Baumann said the balance tends to fall on the side of funny or lively works – it’s easier to successfully create humor versus pathos in such a short time span.

A handful of the blocks in the marathon differ slightly in that they’re curated blocks, with a specific focus. Baumann said these are predominantly poetry collectives of some sort – for example, one hour features a group who identify as “Earth Poets,” another consists of seniors who have been meeting in a weekly writing group at Woodland Pattern for about two years.

Those group hours can result in a slightly more stable audience – “You do find people who hang around all day,” Baumann said, “but mostly people come for individual readers or blocks.” – but even a more transient crowd is enough for Woodland Pattern. What’s more important is bringing a community together to support itself – five minutes at a time.

Spots are still available for Woodland Pattern’s 19th annual Poetry Marathon. To reserve a timeslot, call (414) 263-5001 or stop in at the store, 720 E. Locust St.

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