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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Songs of the Earth

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In spring 1988, Milwaukee’s observance of Earth Day was bolstered by the city’s first ever Earth Poets Celebration. A group of 10 ardent and inspired poets, handpicked by author and UW-Milwaukee instructor Jeff Poniewaz, assembled at The Coffee House on 19th Street to perform poetry that centered on environmental concerns. Twenty years later, they’re still going strong. Each annual event boasts a talented lineup of local poets that includes four of the original group members: Poniewaz, Harvey Taylor, Suzanne Rosenblatt and Louisa Loveridge-Gallas.


Over time the celebration has absorbed musical elements, initially through Taylor’s songs and fingerstyle guitar-play. This year’s musicians include flutist Holly Haebig, who’s also “a tremendous singer,” Poniewaz says, and percussionist Jahmes Tony Finlayson, both of who play for world-music group One Drum. They began as guests of the group one year, but gelled so well that they ended up becoming regulars.

“They’re kind of musicians who are magicians,” Poniewaz says. “Tony is not just a drummer; he has a variety of subtle percussion instruments that he uses to magical effect.” The Earth Poets will be joined this year by local author, activist and founder of the Milwaukee Renaissance Web site James Godsil. For him, the Earth Poets are more than a selfcontained group sharing a common muse. They have been a positive harbinger for a greener and more progressive city—a role for which he feels Milwaukee is now particularly ripe.

“Milwaukee is in transition from an industrial city to a city of culture in the broadest sense of the word, and the emerging green industries of Milwaukee will play a major role in the economic and social evolution of our society,” Godsil says.

“The Earth Poets have been singing the song of greening in our city for the past 20 years, and we’re finally hearing them.” Though the Coffee House is still their regular haunt, the Earth Poets also perform at the Urban Ecology Center. This year’s event kicks off at the Urban Ecology Center, 1500 E.

Park Place, on Friday, April 18. A family-oriented interactive poetry and music event begins at 7 p.m. and is followed by an 8 p.m. poetry and music performance. The celebration continues the next day, April 19, at 8 p.m. at The Coffee House, 631 N. 19th St. Tickets cost $5 per person and $10 per family on Friday night. A $5 donation is requested for the Saturday night performance. To read a full interview with Jeff Poniewaz, see “Off the Cuff” in this week’s issue or go to the Author’s Voices section at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

Also devoting itself wholeheartedly to all things green is Woodland Pattern, which hosts an Activist Talk on April 23 as part of its Seeing Green series. Featured guests include Chris Cornelius, assistant professor at UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, author Susan Simensky-Bietila and RiverPulse, an artistic and environmental education collaborative.

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