A Lesson from The Sheets

How camaraderie breeds creative success

It’s a surprisingly sunny winter day, and the Write On, Door County writing center is buzzing with activity. Members of a poets’ group known as The Sheets are trying to connect another member virtually while setting up a snack spread for guests. They move together with the practiced ease of people who have known each other for a long time – and they have.

The original members of The Sheets started to get to know each other during the late 1990s at various writing and poetry workshops, most of them led by the late Ellen Kort, Wisconsin’s first poet laureate. The group planned a creative weekend together at a Hampton Inn – and thus briefly considered calling the group The Hampsters – but it was the Between the Pages cafe next door to Conkey’s Bookstore in Appleton where they made their home.

The original – and current – members of The Sheets are Annette Langlois “Sheet Happens” Grunseth, Cathryn “Big Sheet” Cofell, Peter “Short Sheet” Sherrill, Bruce “Giva Sheet” Dethlefsen and Karla “Dip Sheet” Huston. Carrie “Baking Sheet” Sherrill was officially inducted into the group during the program at Write On.

The purpose of the group was simple: To offer and accept one another’s criticisms in order to grow as writers.

“A good critique is both benevolent and ruthless,” Peter Sherrill said.

When they started to meet, everyone in the group had published work or experienced some kind of creative success. But working with a group, Sherrill and Dethlefsen agreed, brought out the best in all of them. Regular meetings pushed them to produce work and meet deadlines. They also worked through a book on craft together and eventually published their first collection of poetry, Between the Sheets, which is a series of more suggestive poems.

From left) Bruce Dethlefsen, Annette Langlois Grunseth, Peter Sherrill and Carrie Sherrill were presenters at the event. Karla Huston (shown on the screen) joined virtually from California. Photo courtesy of Annette Langlois Grunseth.

The critique group turned into a friend group and became more than just an avenue for exploring writing.

“Poetry is a one-person sport,” Dethlefsen said, “so to actually join a team, it makes you feel like you belong – that you aren’t alone.”

Connections to the Hal Prize and 8142 Review 

Several of the members of The Sheets have connections to the Hal Prize, the creative-writing and photography contest run by the Peninsula Pulse. Dethlefsen, who was Wisconsin’s 2011-12 poet laureate, served as the poetry judge for a number of contests. Peter Sherrill and Annette Langlois Grunseth have been submitting since the early years, earning both wins and honorable mentions. In 2022, Grunseth was the first-place poetry winner, and Sherrill, along with his wife, Carrie, served as screening judges – a new role for them.

Drawn to Door County’s creative community, Dethlefsen, Grunseth and Sherrill all felt that submitting to contests such as the Hal Prize was part of the art.

“When you start out, you look out for places to publish and do things locally,” Dethlefsen said.

Although the creative freedom of the group brought them together, they do recognize the importance of putting their work out there. It not only bolsters credentials, but it can also act as a guidepost for writing journeys.

Looking back on their own journeys, some members of The Sheets had advice for their younger selves. Dethlefsen said to read more; Grunseth, to read modern poetry; and Carrie Sherrill, to believe in yourself. Her husband, Peter, followed up with, “Unlearn the belief that you can’t do it.”

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