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Woodland Pattern: A Humbling Experience

by Mary Vuk

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Working at Woodland Pattern has been a humbling experience for Robert J. Baumann, Bookstore Assistant. He doesn’t seem like someone who actually needs to be humbled, but 25-year-old Baumann, who loves his job at Woodland Pattern, simultaneously feels awed and intimidated by the poets and people who come his way. “I often feel inadequate because there are just so many amazing people that you get to meet,” Baumann said.

“You know, I’m writing a novel,” he said. “But I always feel funny about saying that, because who isn’t?”

Baumann, a lifelong Milwaukeean and a graduate of Dominican High School and Carroll College, has a casual air about him and freely discusses his doubts about himself. “When I came here I didn’t know about many poets,” he said. For example, prior to working at Woodland Pattern, he had never read Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, Louis Zukofsky, and Lorine Niedecker. “To not have any connection with Niedecker above all, and all those other people, those are all kinds of sins to walk into a place like [this] with.”

Baumann originally worked at Woodland Pattern as part of an internship he did while a student at Carroll. After his graduation in 2003, a full-time position opened up at Woodland Pattern and he took it. “They asked me if I wanted it. I said, ‘Hell, yes.’”

In 2004 he moved to Washington State, but returned in 2005.

“I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve been able to [work at Woodland Pattern] and meet all those people. I’ve made some friends, pretty good connections. Woodland Pattern is certainly a fantastic resource – I mean for anyone to walk in here who is really serious about poetry, Woodland Pattern will take them seriously.”

Reading is part of the job at Woodland Pattern and there are more than ample resources available at the bookstore. “If I spend an hour out of my work day reading poetry and things like that, I don’t feel guilty.”

As Bookstore Assistant, Baumann’s primary responsibilities include receiving new books and handling returns. Recently, he conducted an inventory of the 27,000 small press books on the shelves, which he believes was the most thorough inventory ever conducted. He hopes to increase sales of the small press books.

Baumann particularly admires Milwaukee poet Roberto Harrison, a frequent guest at Woodland Pattern. He loves listening to Harrison read his poetry and is mesmerized by the rhythm and power. “I’m put in a frame of mind hearing Roberto read,” he said. It’s a meditative state that takes Baumann deeper into life and experience and consciousness. “I understand what he’s trying to say without actually even registering any single words – just by the tone he gives it.” Baumann is grateful to Harrison, who has always taken an interest in Baumann’s work, encouraging him along the way.

“Poetry makes you think in a different way about yourself and your own existence, and I think that’s a good thing,” Baumann said.

Baumann also credits poetry with helping him not take himself too seriously. “Sometimes I think there’s an overarching thing – the fact that everything is going to expire. But I’m not a nihilist… if you can see your life in context, you’ll always be very rooted. To me, that’s important.”

Baumann quips that the best part of working at Woodland Pattern is the health insurance but also says that “it’s a bunch of people who come here and really believe in the place where they work. The best part of Woodland Pattern is the people. I love everybody who works here, and I love most of the people who walk through the doors. It’s a humbling experience being here. I guess I like things that help [me] remember that.”

Riverwest Currents online edition – September, 2006