Peninsula Poetry: Karen Wilson

Compiled by the Door County Poets Collective

Karen Wilson is a lifelong Wisconsinite who grew up in Sheboygan and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. She’s lived in Door County for 43 years, witnessing many changes – but nothing could be like the change since 1881, when her great-grandparents were original settlers here, building a two-room log cabin in which their eight children were born. 

Reading and writing have always been major focuses for Wilson. In 2003, she began to write poems seriously, engaging with the lively poets’ community in the county and submitting poems for publication here and there. She’s an original member of the Door County Poets Collective.

Classical music has also been part of Wilson’s life since childhood and, with her late husband, John, she played chamber music with other amateurs. The Wilsons were active in Door County environmental protection, including the Door County Environmental Council and Door County Land Trust.

What’s your writing routine?

I accomplish most when I sit down to write in the morning, before the needs of the day become too pressing!

What do most poorly written poems have in common? What do most well-written poems have in common?

Poems that speak to me are those that strike an emotional chord, or very elegantly frame the subject with precise words – not one too many!

Is it important to understand the meaning of the poem or for the reader to be able to “solve” it?

I feel that accessibility is important for a poem, though it can strike its mark with a degree of mystery.

What book are you reading right now?

I just finished Maggie O’Farrell’s excellent Hamnet, a fictionalized account of Shakespeare’s son, who died as a child.

Who Knows

who knows 
if this is the last winter 
I’ll walk these paths
crunch through fresh snow 
pondering the new look
of leafless trees
gloved hands seeking pockets
collar snugged against the chill  
watching the dog sniff and cavort
knowing you’re there 
back at the house 

who knows if this winter 
old as memory but new again
is the last we will be together 
here or anywhere

who knows why the ordinary 
becomes so precious 
when we glimpse its disappearance 

so that a glance at your face 
simple household chores 
the details of our daily lives 
I now know to be priceless


There’s a grave in the cemetery at Jacksonport 
headstone no longer legible but I traced it years ago 
Anna Herbst       now so long dead 
brought from the old country by her granddaughter
who earlier settled here with her husband

where they cleared the old-growth forest
to create a farm and raise a family
whose descendants now dot Door County
and the world

including me, once a far-flung twig 
from that early tree, now comfortably settled 
back among my roots

I cannot imagine the daily life of my young ancestor 
who came from an old civilization to a raw new place
worked alongside her husband to tame the wild land
finding it necessary to tie her little children 
to the porch rail for fear they would wander 
into the forest and be utterly lost

Maybe it was homesickness for her family 
and for relief from a hard life
that later when they began to prosper
she brought her parents from Germany
to live near her   and also her grandma 
Anna Herbst

All buried here, as I will be


There’s an over-abundance of acorns this year,
squirrels aren’t even bothering with my bird feeder 
and woodpeckers are sated with the larvae infecting 
thousands of ash trees 
now standing around looking naked,
their bark peeled away by the hungry mob.
I have an over-abundance myself
because I have money for groceries, 
a freezer to store food, and plenty of fuel for cooking.
Well-fed and warm inside my insulated walls 
and under a sturdy roof
I regard the news of the world,
consider the hardships of poverty and war,
shudder to think of the families everywhere 
who are hungry and unsafe
and I am grateful for my plenitude –
though not at all deceived:
it’s pure good luck

Peninsula Poetry is a monthly column curated by the Door County Poets Collective, a 12-member working group that was formed to publish Soundings: Door County in Poetry (Caravaggio Press, 2015) and continues to meet.