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Dennis Hinrichsen Q & A

Dennis Hinrichsen, the Virginia Butts Sturm Writer-in-Residence, will give a reading on Monday, February 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Milano Reading Room, WVU Downtown Library. Prior to his visit, Dennis was nice enough to answer a few questions about being the Poet Laureate of Lansing, Michigan and running the Sturm workshop. 

Q: You're the Poet Laureate of Lansing, Michigan. How did that happen? What is it like being the Poet Laureate of a place?

A: The Poet Laureate position for Lansing came out of a failed attempt by two groups in the area—the Lansing Poetry Club and the Center for Poetry at Michigan State University—to establish a state Poet Laureate. Arguments were made, a sponsor was found, a bill was written, and then immediately shuttled to the committee where bills go to die.

So these two groups, undeterred, looked to find a partner in Lansing to fund the position. And they did. They found a willing partner in LEAP, the Lansing Area Economic Partnership, a consortium of over 80 local businesses and organizations. They agreed to fund the position, so folks applied, were interviewed, with my appointment ultimately coming out of that process in April of 2017.

So the good news is that they made it happen. The better news is that the support for poetry is coming from not only the local arts community, but the business community as well. They, the members of the business community, have a very clear vision for the role of art—all kinds—in animating place. So the support I have is broad. That connection and the people behind it have made it so much easier for me to get things moving.

I’m actually the Poet Laureate for three counties in addition to being the first so it’s been an interesting and energizing challenge. There are so many different ideas about poetry out there depending on the community, it’s been fun to adjust on the fly as I travel outside Lansing. But there is support everywhere—I have met so many people interested in making their community better and livable, a place of culture. So I am nine months into my two-year appointment and have done, in retrospect, a ton of things. I’ve done two poems on commission, I’ve done some poetry-in-the-schools, I’ve offered community workshops, I am currently hosting an open mic in a small town south of here, and I also have a couple of community-write projects launching in the next few months. So it’s been fun. I’ve met so many new and engaging people and look forward to the next year making poetry happen in the Lansing area.

Q: Do you have any ideas or a preview that you’d like to share about how you plan to run the Sturm Workshop?

A: I’ve been reading the workshop manuscripts and have a number of things to offer about shaping content that come from a number of disparate sources, some academic and some not. I had the good fortune of teaching a lyric writing class many years ago, which was really a class in formal poetry, but the text was written by a non-academic, so the ideas about shaping language for rhetorical power were pretty Amish and practical in spirit and made a ton of sense when applied to my own work. They also connected with a number of ideas I’d been reading in the academic world. The upshot is that it unleashed for me a new way of thinking about how I am never not a formalist even though I do not work in traditional forms. This was eye-opening for me and energizing and I hope to share those ideas. I think they apply and will give the students some strategies to play around with to help sharpen their work. I also hope to be taught back by the students because I’m curious about some of the choices being made and the rationales for them. So I’m excited about having a terrific conversation with everyone about something we all love. 

We thank Dennis for his time and answers to these questions. Please join us for the reading. There will be a reception and book signing to follow.