“I have never felt that this is a feminist group,” said Sharon Auberle, one of the founders of Word Women, a Door County poetry-writing group. “We’re talking about words and feelings, but I don’t honestly feel we are that sort of group, carrying that banner in our writing. But then, I’m not a very committed feminist!”
Auberle, along with poets Nancy Rafal and Jude Genereaux, collectively formed Word Women in 2009. “I wanted inspiration and some interaction of like minded people,” she said. “I came here full time in 2008. I knew some poets and wanted to meet more.”
Rafal had wanted the group to be named “Word Bird,” Auberle recalled. “I can’t remember why we went with Word Women.”
The group meets once a month, members taking turns hosting the event in their homes as well as providing in advance a writing prompt. Poets bring pieces they are working on for help editing or simply for a response from the group.
When the workshop first formed Auberle served as a leader, sending out reminders of meeting dates and suggesting prompts, but now the group is collectively directed.
“We have twelve members,” Auberle said. “That’s too many, but they don’t all come at the same time.” Membership is “pretty much by invitation,” she added.
Although Word Women is not a feminist activist organization, perhaps because of gender unity “We feel it’s a safe place to read our work, regardless of how raw it might be,” Auberle said.
In addition to their monthly critique meetings, Word Women participates in writing events. One special project was an ekphrastic venture, poetry writing inspired by images. The work was exhibited at the Ellison Bay coffee shop Brew.
A couple years ago for the K. Allen Gallery, members were invited to write poems in response to a statue dealing with grief. A number of Word Women have also participated in the annual Meadows poetry exhibition and reading coordinated by the Wallace Writing Group.
Presently the writers are composing Tanka poetry, poems of five lines, each with counted syllables. The poetry will be engraved on CDs and displayed in public places.
“I like the idea of combining poetry with the arts,” Auberle said, “with other art forms – painting, dancing, sculpture.” She recalled a dramatization of past Door County Poet Laureate Barbara Larsen’s Pine Ridge, 1937, and of a Lawrence University performance piece based on her own poem “Invisible” from her chapbook Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball.
She and some of the other writers in Word Women also belong to Blue Ponies, an “art play group” that follows the process of Word Women, only exploring visual arts.
After spending 18 years in Flagstaff, Arizona, Auberle moved to Door County, a good place to write. Poetry had always been her career, she feels, although she raised children and took administrative jobs in the business world.
Auberle has won awards in both Hal Grutzmacher and Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets contests. Her work has been published in several journals and anthologies; she will appear in Goose River Anthology this fall and remembers proudly sharing a page with Mother Theresa in WomenPrayers published by Harper Collins. She is author of three other chapbooks, Crow Ink, EVErywoman, and (with Ralph Murre) Wind Where Music Was.
By profession a librarian in Sheboygan Public Schools, another Word Women member Francha Bernard has “always had a foot in Door County” first at her grandfather’s home, next to a “hippy farm,” then a cabin on Glidden Drive, and finally a cottage on her own property, later replaced with a new home when she retired in 2005.
Her poetry has appeared in the Pulse, Verse Wisconsin, WFOP Museletter and calendars, and in shows throughout the county. She has won awards in the Hal Grutzmacher contest.
“Word Women is premised on trust,” she said. “To feel safe bringing all kinds of subjects, sometimes painful, to the group for critiquing is so valuable.”
“Word Women is a very talented and supportive group,” said Julie Sara. “As one of its newest members I am still in awe of them and all of their accomplishments.”
Sara and her husband moved to Door County from Island Lake, Illinois, after their retirement ten years ago. She has written poetry “sporadically” since high school, and while she hasn’t yet published, she finds it “a form of personal therapy.”
After taking a class with Auberle at The Clearing, her instructor invited her to join Word Women, “which terrified me,” she said, “but also has proved to be a wonderful challenging experience.” Her goal for the summer was to read one of her poems at the Door County Unitarian Fellowship’s Dickinson Series open mic.
A retired elementary librarian with Lombard (Illinois) Public School, for the last 20 years Rafal has made her home near Cana Island. She has been recognized for her supporting role of poetry in Door County, helping to initiate a local poet laureate program and to create venues for poets. She serves as a clearinghouse for contest and conference information and offers rides in her Red Poetry Van.
Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals as well as in the chapbook Slightly Off Q (with June Nirschl and Judy Roy). She has won awards in the Hal Grutzmacher writing competition.
“It’s fun to be with such a high energy group of women,” she said of the workshop. “We feel free to give the kind of constructive critiques writers need.”
“Moving to Door County in 1977 was like coming home,” Karen Wilson said. “Once again I can fall asleep with the sound of the waves as I did growing up near the lake shore of Sheboygan.”
Her poetry reflects her life as a stay-at-home mom and homemaker, an environmental activist, and a business owner, and has appeared in the WFOP calendar.
“Joining Word Women gave me an enormous boost from what had been a very solitary practice,” Wilson said. “The feedback from intelligent and sensitive fellow poets is invaluable, both for the craft itself and for the rich rewards of friendship.”
After serving as a social worker for Waukesha County Family Services, Meg Vermillion moved to Door County in 2000.
“I am one of the newer and more novice writers in Word Women,” she said, noting that she had joined because she intended to write her memoir, and found that she could integrate poetry into her book. Her verse has appeared in the Pulse and the Door County Democrats newsletter.
“I genuinely appreciate Word Women for their willingness to mentor and encourage this newbie,” she said. “They listen to, critique, and give me feedback with the same respect and regard as those who are published.”
“In 2001-02 while working at The Clearing I fell in love with Door County,” Cynthia Oliver said. She has had a variety of careers, most recently as a massage therapist in a Chicago suburb.
In 1999 she retired and traveled throughout the United States, camping or working for room, board, and a stipend; since 2005 she has lived in Sister Bay.
She has published the chapbook A Life on Lakeview (with Marie Skrobot)and this past summer was a featured reader for the Dickinson Poetry series.
Now retired Unitarian Universalist minister, Cynthia Johnson has led many lives, including those of a teacher and writer.
“Word Women is a valued part of my life in Door County,” she said. “With that group of women, I can have access to my own muse in a group that critiques wisely and gently. As individuals, at times we are fun-loving, funny, clever, driven, ambitious, and inspirational. We know quite a bit about each other’s lives because of the poetry we write.”
In addition to her other publications, Johnson’s poetry has appeared in a number of journals, anthologies and other venues. She has to date issued two chapbooks, A Theophany, Please and The Way Crows Really Fly.
“In my poetry and in my ministry I try to speak the truth in love. My poetry comes out of the same source as my art, photography, newspaper columns, and sermons.”
Estella Lauter, Door County’s present poet laureate, belongs to both the Wallace Group and Word Women. A professor emeritus of the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, she is a frequently published poet and author of three chapbooks: The Essential Rudder: North Channel Poems; Pressing a Life Together by Hand; and Transfiguration: Re-imagining Remedios Varo.
“Word Women was founded to encourage writers who were just getting into poetry as an art,” Lauter said. “The boundaries of this group are more permeable, more open to whatever creative opportunities the moment brings than those of other workshops I have participated over the years, and I find that exciting.”