Portage Magazine: How long have you been writing? Do you write only poetry or other genres as well?
Barbara Germiat: I’ve been writing poetry, off and on, since about 1975. Now I concentrate on poetry, but I have done a lot of newspaper reporting, public information writing, and newsletters for organizations I’ve belonged to.
PM: What is your connection to the Upper Midwest?
BG: I was born and grew up on a dairy farm in Delavan, Wisconsin, not far from Waukesha and Carroll University. I’ve lived in Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois all my life. My great grandparents and grandparents emigrated to Wisconsin in the 1850s, and most of my family remain Wisconsinites.
PM: “The Auction” ends with the line “old things to new people.” Are there any ways in which your poems bring old things to new people?
BG: I hope so. Lately I’ve been writing poetry based on childhood memories of a small Wisconsin dairy farm, the kind of life that doesn’t really exist anymore. I’ve also written poetry about events that impacted my life (“April 5, 1968”). Insofar as readers, especially readers younger than I, learn things, or are exposed to new experiences, that brings new awarenesses, new ideas, to new people.
PM: Among other things, your poem “April 5, 1968” juxtaposes the tragic and the ordinary. How do these elements work together in your poem and in life in general?
BG: The poem speaks for itself. It offers selected details from a tragic day. Since tragedy strikes, unbidden, in the middle of ordinary life, a good poem reflects that mixture, I think. The ordinary details let the reader into the poet’s vision.
PM: What experiences, influences, and people have influenced you as a writer the most?
BG: As a senior in high school I was asked to write the weekly high school column for the local paper. As a young housewife doing writing for organizations I belonged to, I was asked to write a weekly column for another local newspaper. I was always writing something to promote some cause or other, to bring people together. When we moved to Appleton, WI, I took a class in news and information writing at UW Fox Valley, and got hired to fill a temporary vacancy in the public information office, which lasted for several years. Meanwhile, I took classes in contemporary poetry and in creative writing at that school. The poetry bug had bitten me.
Poets and writers from whom I’ve learned much include Bill Davis, Ellen Kort, Laurel Mills, Marshall Cook, Marilyn Taylor, Max Garland, Bruce Dethlefsen, Karla Huston, and the good friends in my poets’ groups. Jo March (Louisa May Alcott) of Little Women always fascinated me. I’m grateful to them all. My early experiences as a reporter infect my poetry with the urge to tell stories. People did not necessarily encourage my writing. They just kept asking me to write one thing or another. A slow learner, I didn’t catch on that I was a poet for a long time. But now I am one.
PM: What do you see as the future for literary art within the Upper Midwest?
BG: I am familiar with the writing scene in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and a bit in Illinois. Writers are scribbling everywhere, and producing good work that is getting published in small and larger magazines and journals, inscribed on buildings and posted in cabs and buses. The number of monthly or regular poetry reading events in East Central Wisconsin where I live has increased from one to many in the last two or three years. The annual Fox Cities Book Festival has grown and thrived up to this, the eighth year of its existence. Our many academic institutions offer resources to would-be writers. Two groups I belong to, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Wisconsin Writers Association, give their members both input and opportunities to publish.
The appetite for literary arts has taken root, and will grow in the Upper Midwest, I believe. We have enough prosperity and enough poverty, enough peace and conflict, to encourage writing. We have a challenging climate to spark our creative juices. The future will include artful words and pictures I am confident, published on paper or electronically.