by Mary K. Vuk

Marie Larson, director of marketing at Woodland Pattern, will leave Milwaukee in August to pursue graduate studies in poetry at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

Larson said that working at Woodland Pattern has been “a priceless education.”

“It was an opportunity for me to immerse myself and learn about what’s going on currently in poetics as well as a crash course on the past few decades. There’s this gigantic, diverse poetry collection at the tips of my fingers. I look at it as my pre-masters degree. I never would have been prepared to go into a graduate program if I hadn’t gotten involved here,” she said.

She said that Karl Gartung, a co-founder of Woodland Pattern, had from the beginning wanted Woodland Pattern to be just that sort of place and that Gartung desired to create a place “where you could get an amazing education, if you wanted to put the effort in.”

Born and raised in the Twin Cities, Larson moved to Milwaukee in 1996 to attend MIAD. After graduating from MIAD in 2000 with a major in drawing, Larson worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce before beginning at Woodland Pattern in December 2003.

Surrounded by 27,000 volumes of small press publications, knowledgeable coworkers and a constant flow of guest poets, Larson thrived at Woodland Pattern.

She particularly remembers a visit from poet Renee Gladman when Larson first began working at the book center.

“I’m a big fan of her work. She read alongside poet Jen Hofer. Afterwards, we had a party. That night was the moment where I really understood the importance of being at Woodland Pattern and in the poetry community here. I realized how expansive of an opportunity I had, how many people I could meet and how many great poets come through here,” Larson said.

She views Naropa as an extension of the world she has come to know and love at Woodland Pattern.

Looking at Larson’s warm blue eyes or listening to her quiet and calm speaking voice, it would be hard to guess that her interest is in writing poetry that she describes as “very dark.” She writes about “the abject,” a concept developed by French theoretician Julia Kristeva.

Kristeva posits that abjection is something that we must experience in our psychosexual development before we can mature and associates the abject with the maternal since it is in relation to the mother that the child first establishes the boundary between self and other. The abject is also concerned with the human reaction, (which may take the form of disgust or horror) to a threatened breakdown of the self induced by the loss of distinction between self and other or subject and object. Blood, open wounds, the corpse, excrement, sewage or even a heinous crime such as genocide can cause this human response.

“My writing is dark and gritty but in it I also look to recover the strength of life in the abject,” she said. “It’s about seeing the vitality in the abject and understanding the importance of our union with it. It’s full of blood but not in a psycho-killer kind of way, unless you’re looking at all of nature as a psycho-killer.”

She said that her poetry is about what are we missing in the sterile world that we are surrounded by.

“It’s all still there. All of the vitality of life that encompasses death and destruction, eating and consumption, also birth and strange creatures that live at the bottom of the sea. I’m attracted to that which we’ve decided doesn’t belong in civilized life and that we try to ignore, until we’re forced to deal with it. It’s like a car wreck in a sense. It’s the instinct of the abject that makes us gawk, peeking out from behind our fingers. What we struggle to divide ourselves from is very compelling,” Larson said.

The abject is “a fear of your own mortality. It’s a fear of your own identity dissolving,” Larson said. Confronting the abject makes us realize that “we’re not civilized. Not at the bottom.”

Larson is looking forward to her studies at Naropa.

“It’s like taking a two-year poetry vacation, where I get to spend all my time writing and really concentrate on that. I’m also looking forward to expanding my poetic community, and developing relationships that will carry forward, through conversations and possibly collaborations,” Larson said.

She is also looking forward to learning more about letterpress printing in the Naropa printshops.

Larson said she will miss her job and her co-workers at Woodland Pattern.

“If I was going to say something to someone who was new to Milwaukee and interested in getting involved in the writing community, I would tell them to utilize what the staff here has to offer. They are a great resource. If you name off one author of poetry, they can point you in the direction of five more,” Larson said.

““One of the great things about Woodland Pattern is that everyone who works here loves literature and loves poetry, so we like talking about it. We all love to help readers find writers they’ll connect with,” she said.

“Woodland Pattern is a currently seeking to fill Marie’s position. Interested applicants should send their resumes to Chuck Stebelton.

Riverwest Currents online edition – July, 2007