Wahmanholm publishes Wilder, collection of futuristic poems


Fair use image: Milkweed Editions

Claire Wahmanholm signed copies of Wilder at her book launch on Dec. 4.

After winning the 2018 Lindquist & Vennuum Prize for Poetry, Upper School English teacher Claire Wahmanholm recently published Wilder, her debut full-length collection of poems.

“I would describe [Wilder] as post-apocalyptic in some senses–there’s a sequence of prose poems at the end that are definitely about an imagined future, but then a lot of poems are written about the present moment as well. I wrote the majority of the poems in Wilder between 2015 and 2017, which seemed like an especially rough set of years at the time, although in retrospect, they’re no different than any other year in this country. But it’s pretty dark overall. Some reviewers have also called it ’hopeful,’ which I find really interesting,” Wahmanhom said.

Hosted by Milkweed Editions, her book launch took place on Dec. 4 at the Bell Museum, in the planetarium.

“I did a 20-minute talk where I discussed some of the book’s themes and read a chunk of poems, and then Rick Barot (the judge of this year’s Lindquist & Vennum Prize) and I had a short conversation about the book. He asked me about how my poems relate to late capitalism, about how autobiographical, or not, the poems are, about my poetic influences and about how my second collection will differ from Wilder. During the reading portion, they projected the Orion Nebula onto the dome and all the lights were off, which was pretty cool,” Wahmanholm said.
The collection itself, as described above, touches on many of the world’s current issues, ranging from gun violence to police brutality to ecological catastrophe.

“I focused on the issues that, to me, are the most urgent. But of course, those issues are intertwined with countless others. It’s like a tapestry–you can’t just pull on one thread without the entire thing falling apart,” Wahmanholm said.

With her poems touching many complex and heavy topics, Wahmanholm ultimately hopes that her book provokes a sense of urgency and responsibility in her readers.

Being a responsible citizen means engaging with ugliness rather than looking away from it.

— Claire Wahmanholm

“I hope [this book] bums people out, honestly, or puts them in a little bit of a panic. Being a responsible citizen means engaging with ugliness rather than looking away from it. I don’t think that poetry/art should make people feel ‘good’ or comfortable any or all the time. Ideally, the poems in Wilder get under people’s skin. What people do with that feeling is up to them,” Wahmanholm said.

Wahmanholm also believes that the power of poetry, and art generally, is that it can bring out emotions in people that can motivate them to take action.

“I’m sure someone who writes fiction will have a very different take on this, but for me, because poetry isn’t explicitly narrative in the way fiction is, there’s a lot more room for the emotion to take center stage and be the focus of the work. I also sometimes feel that, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, we’re saturated with horrifying stories to the point that we become emotionally numb to them, even if they’re pretty horrifying. So I’m most interested in centering emotion whenever I can,” Wahmanholm said.

Her favorite poems from the collection are “State of Emergency” and “The Last Animals.” Wahmanholm is currently working on her third collection right now. For students, faculty and community members that are interested in reading Wilder, there is a copy of the book in the SPA library. It can also be bought directly from Milkweed Editions, Common Good Books, Magers & Quinn or borrowed from the Hennepin Country Library system.

Read an extended Q&A with Wahmanholm about her writing process.