Poet laureate helping Hoosier writers find their voice

Whatever form it ultimately takes, a poem will reflect memories, insights and experiences. Indiana’s poet laureate seems to be on a mission to encourage everyone to find those meaningful words.

wagner“I knew we had many, many wonderful Indiana poets. As I’ve gone around promoting reading and writing of poetry, though, it’s probably triple the number I believed it was,” says Shari Wagner, an Elkhart County native who is serving a two-year stint as a Hoosier literary ambassador. “Everyone can explore their personal experiences. But until you start writing, it’s almost, ‘I didn’t know I knew that until I wrote that!’”

Among her dozen or so public appearances this month, Wagner will visit Elkhart Public Library’s downtown location for two events Tuesday, April 25.

She’ll be helping writers explore a childhood memory or place during a 5:30 p.m. workshop. Seating is limited, and reservations can be made here.

That evening at 7, she’ll be joined by local poets Jake Webster, Andrew Kreider, Dorothy Jean Carter, John Homan and Alyse Chinnock for a reading in the newly remodeled library atrium.

Both events are free.

“I teach poetry as memoir a lot as a way for people to see their experiences again, and perhaps see them differently as the years go by,” says Wagner. “… I find it meaningful to give a prompt and allow people to move freely, to paint a picture with their words and explore. In writing about a (specific) topic, people can bring themselves to it.”

Wagner still has strong ties to the area. Recently, she has been putting the finishing touches on a manuscript about Mennonite farm life. And her work, “The Lerner Theatre, 1953,” was featured in an anthology published by the Indiana Writers Center to celebrate last year’s state bicentennial.

“The Lerner piece is my mother’s memory – a wonderful family story I didn’t know about until I started working on it,” Wagner says. “I spent quite a bit of time researching it, too – talking with Phil Miller, whose father owned the building, and visiting with ushers who shared many of those same memories at kids from that time period.”

With April designated National Poetry Month, she has been a particularly busy. Wagner is selecting a poem a day for Indiana Humanities, and she also maintains her own site, publishing reader submissions based on writing prompts she’s picked.

The Indiana poet laureate title fits well, as Wagner says she draws incredible inspiration from the state’s natural beauty and history.

“Poetry is about sharing,” she says, “It’s how we can connect people, places and memories we’ve had.”

(This article was published originally in The Hart, a publication of the Goshen News)

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