UUF’s Poetry Project

Poets celebrated the release of “Harvest” on April 8.
(Front row, left to right) Cynthia Johnson, Barbara Larsen, David Clowers. (Back row, left to right) Phil Hansotia, Sharon Auberle, Nancy Rafal, Henry Timm, Hanne Gault, Ed DiMaio, Estella Lauter, Jack Redell.

“Poetry is a metaphor for engaging with the world,” Chuck Lauter said. And though he doesn’t regard himself as a poet, he is fond of poetry and confides that on occasion he has written verse and shared it with others. One of his most significant contributions to the world of poetry, however, is founding the Dickinson Series.

Each year, the United Universalist Fellowship (UUF) of Door County sponsors the Dickinson Series of poetry readings and publishes a chapbook of selected poems from the events. Every reading at the Ephraim UUF hall presents a featured poet, offers an open mic, and draws an audience of as many as 60 people.

Lauter, a retired Lawrence University administrator, is a member of the UUF’s Education and Enrichment Committee chaired by Helene Di lulio. He directs the Dickinson Series, now beginning its fourth season, and on April 8, released Harvest, the third poetry chapbook published by the fellowship.

The poetry project supports the mission of the UUF, which includes recognizing the freedom of intellectual and spiritual inquiry; promoting the worth and dignity of all persons; seeking knowledge and wisdom and exploring the vast reaches of mind and spirit; and celebrating with a caring community those truths (ancient and modern) that give meaning and direction to life.

Di lulio envisions her committee providing a political forum for UUF members and the community “to plan and organize to fulfill the needs that are out there.”

Lauter saw a need for poets in the area who were looking for a venue in which to share their work, and believes that “poetry often speaks to the spirit more than prose.” The UUF in general are “tuned into poetry,” he said, noting that their hymnal has an appendix that includes the work of many well-known poets.

“I never had any idea [the poetry project] would take off like this!” he said. The first year an average of 20 to 25 people attended the readings, but now the number has doubled. And recruiting featured readers has been easy; not only has he filled the 2012-13 season, but he already has five readers committed for the 2013-14 series.

Readers range from those with some celebrity status, such as local author Norbert Blei and state poet laureates Bruce Dethlefsen, Marilyn Taylor, and Ellen Kort; to familiar and new local poets; to student readers for the February event.

“Poetry is emphasized” in the Northern Door UUF, retired Unitarian minister Cynthia Johnson said, “largely because of this area. Most congregations include programming in one of the arts, but we do music, [visual] art, poetry, and social justice.”

The UUF is technically a fellowship rather than a church, Johnson explained. Services are lay-led by members of the congregation.

“It is unusual,” she continued, “that a 100 member congregation has quality programing in all three arts.”

When someone presents an idea and offers leadership, she said, “we have an informal bureaucracy that says, if it sounds like a good idea, do it!”

A third to a quarter of the poets involved in the Dickinson Series are associated with the fellowship, she added. “We have a cultural openness to a variety of words and images for the meaning of life.

“One of our principles,” she explained, “is an acceptance of one another and an encouragement of spiritual growth.” People find meaning in a variety of words and images, “and we like to supply those abundantly and broadly.” Rather than limiting exposure to a narrow creedal, “we assemble in our individual search for meaning.”

The audiences at the readings include both people who know and appreciate poetry as literature, and those for whom writing poetry is a part of life. She is pleased with the nurturing progression that she has seen as a result of the program, readers who will say, “This is the first time I’ve read one of my poems,” and then a year or two later, offer to be a featured reader.

“Having high school students has become a fixture of the year,” she said, “an exciting commitment!”

The Dickinson Series is scheduled for 7 pm on the second Wednesday of each month. To learn more about the readings and other programs involving the arts and social justice at the UUF, visit

Harvest, this year’s poetry chapbook sells for $10 and is available at county poetry and UUFDC events, as well as a number of statewide poetry gatherings. Featured poets (including both students and adults) are Francha Barnard, Norbert Blei, Brandon Bogenschutz, Hope Bogenschutz, Katie Buske, David Clowers, Cathryn Cofell, Bruce Dethlefsen, Edward Dimaio, Anya Kopischke, Marybeth Mattson, Alicia Mickelson, June Nirschl, Judy Roy, Taylor Syers, Henry Timm, and Jasper Whalen.

2012-13 Dickinson Poetry Series Readers

May 9, Larry Eriksson; June 13, Nancy Rafal; July 11, Phil Hansotia; August 8, Rusty Mckenzie; September 12, Sharon Auberle and Ralph Murre; October 10, past Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor; November 14, Chuck Sully; December 12, Steven Link; January 9, Estella Lauter ; February 13, Youth Readers; March 13, Rolf Olson