Monsters Of Poetry Returns With A Deep Bench Of Wisconsin-Connected Writers – Tone Madison

The long-running free-to-read series has been a staple of the city’s ever-evolving literary scene for more than a decade.

Header Image: Clockwise from top left: Photos of Barrett Swanson, IS Jones, Jennifer Nelson and Kabel Mishka Ligot. IS Jones photo by Nicholas Nichols. Photo of Kabel Mishka Ligot by Danny Montemayor. Photo of Jennifer Nelson by Eileen Lagman. Photo by Barrett Swanson courtesy of the author.

Monsters Of Poetry, Madison’s short-lived poetry and literary arts reading series, is back in action after a COVID-19-related hiatus.

The reading series returns with a lineup of Wisconsin and Madison-adjacent writers — IS Jones, Kabel Mishka Ligot, Jennifer Nelson and Barrett Swanson — on Saturday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at the North Street Cabaret. The event requires proof of vaccination for entry.

Monsters Of Poetry does not have a permanent physical home. In years past, he’s filled venues ranging from the long-defunct Project Lodge at the Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art to the renovated downtown church known as Maiahaus Project Space at 402 East Mifflin Street. Founded in 2009 by Edgewood College professor and poet Adam Fell, the series has been a venue for showcasing regional talent, both from the revolving door of the Institute for Creative Writing at UW-Madison as well as off-campus literary centers such as Arts + Literature Lab (ALL).

Monsters Of Poetry alumni include Derrick Austin, Chloe Benjamin, Oliver Baez Bendorf, Meghan O’Gieblyn and many other writers who have passed through or emerged from Madison over the past decade.

For the uninitiated, Monsters Of Poetry also prides itself on creating a relaxed environment. Fell is known for raffling off signed books, scraps of high school yearbooks, Rorschach cards signed by poets, mixtapes created by organizers and other odds and ends. While specific prizes have yet to be announced, the raffle returns during the March 19 reading and donations go directly to readers on the night. Admission to all Monsters Of Poetry events is free.

IS Jones, a Nigerian American poet and former music journalist, will make his Monsters Of Poetry debut on the March 19 reading. Jones received his master’s degree in poetry as the inaugural 2019-2020 Kemper K. Knapp Fellow at UW-Madison and continued his studies in Madison as a Hoffman Hall Emerging Artist Fellow at UW. She currently directs ALL’s Watershed reading series.

The Jones 2021 Book of Chapters, spells my namewon Newfound’s Nonprofit Publisher Award Emerging poets Chapbook series. In the chapbook, Jones explores identity, sexuality, and memory in bloody, animalistic scenes. In the collection’s opening poem, “A Field, Any Field”, the speaker is laid bare and reflects on a deadly routine of getting lost:

So much of your private life has been devoted / to what war / you go out of yourself / to level another landscape / how many times did you have to prove / to yourself / that you were not prey / but what is unleashed in the night / & keeps the blood awake

Kabel Mishka Ligot is a current UW-Madison student pursuing a Masters in Library Science, who also received his MFA in Poetry in 2019 from UW. With works published in POETRY Magazine, Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Filipino Literature, The shallow ends, and more, Ligot writes about contemporary technologies, American culture, religion, and climate terror as a younger generation was gifted with a failing planet. Ligot’s poem “In the midst of Metro Manila’s water crisis, my mother posts a photo of my siblings in a swimming pool” is a piercing examination of memory, climate, history and from the story:

Perhaps in a translation of paradise we will have golden pools/pits of shellac and tourmaline that we will be forced to fill/bite by bite from a nearby stream before we are allowed/to swim in them. In this life, the desert is a mouth. You have to do/full it first with the right bodies.

UW-Madison art historian Jennifer Nelson also writes about catastrophe and systemic failure in her 2021 chapbook Hurt Eden, published by Ugly Duckling Press. Nelson focuses on the failures of Western civilization and his frame of reference goes back to Aristotle, Constantinople and the Tower of Babel. Nelson weaves together centuries of philosophical dilemmas with ease, situating his work more in Midwestern locations such as Wisconsin and Lake Superior.

The March 19 Monsters Of Poetry reading also features the work of Barret Swanson, a former fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and current professor at UW-Whitewater. Swanson, originally from Wisconsin, has published his first collection of essays Lost in Summerland in 2021. Lost in Summerland is rooted in familiar Wisconsin locations such as downtown Milwaukee, suburban Waukesha and a ramshackle east Madison bungalow. Swanson depicts these places as full of residual memories. From the site of his brother’s assault and subsequent comatose state to chasing shadows after a friend dies in an accident on the banks of the Mississippi, Swanson writes about what it’s like to live in a city, a state and a nation with a cracking disaster. through all surfaces.

In the “Flood Myths” essay, Swanson wanders around Noah’s Ark water park in the Wisconsin Dells, after essentially being forced to take time off from teaching due to stress and anxiety. But a calm escapes Swanson, and climate anxiety follows him through the chlorine-drenched landscape:

As a gigantic wave capsized the family next to me, I couldn’t help but wonder if going to a water park in 2019 required willful blindness, where all fun and thrill seeking depended on the blindness to dreadful changes in our climate. Because who can profit from Congo Bongo in light of the landslides in the Pacific Northwest? Who can profit from The Flying Gecko when you have species-wide devastation in the Amazon? The sheer madness of a water park in the age of the Anthropocene hits me hard when I finally persuaded a young member of staff to reveal that the park uses two million gallons of water a day, a cruel travesty of the decline of our country’s natural resources. It was in the context of this thought that the Big Kahuna Wave Pool began to strike me as a dress rehearsal for our coming catastrophe, a nightmarish slapstick of a live exercise.

Lost in Summerland blends journalistic endeavors in utopian societies adjacent to the cult of coastal Florida as well as personal essays on the relationship between manhood, football, and father figures. Following spirit-hunting travel diaries in quiet New England towns, it concludes with an understanding of what it means to survive disaster during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Swanson searches for meaning, clarity, and purpose in each essay, but finds the bones of sanity scrubbed clean by collapsing political discourse, threats to democracy, impending climate disasters, and a supposed new normal.

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