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.
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
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.