Written words: Westfield resident Shari Wagner nominated as Indiana State Poet Laureate for 2016-17


By Anna Skinner

Shari Wagner is no novice when it comes to receiving recognition for her poetry.

Yet January rings in not only a new year, but also Wagner’s term as Indiana State Poet Laureate, a two-year tenure where the Westfield resident will serve the state as an ambassador of poetry.

During her time as laureate, Wagner will make various presentations at schools and libraries to promote poetry across Indiana. Since the role allows for the laureate to determine certain areas of emphasis, Wagner said she will focus on history and nature.

“In celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial and the Centennial of its State Parks, I plan to emphasize poetry’s connection to history and nature. I’d like to do this in a variety of settings: parks, historic sites, schools, libraries and senior centers,” Wagner said.

Much of Wagner’s inspiration comes from nature and local parks such as Cool Creek Park. Wagner said history inspires her also.

To become the Indiana State Poet Laureate, those familiar with Wagner’s work nominated her through the Indiana Arts Commission. Out of the three finalists chosen, Wagner provided written responses to a variety of questions and was also interviewed by the committee.

“I’m looking forward to traveling throughout the state as an ambassador for what I love so much,” she said. “I want to help people who think they don’t like poetry discover that they do. In fact, I want them to discover that they even enjoy writing it.”

In addition to being recognized as the Indiana State Laureate, Wagner has written two poetry books “The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana” in 2013 and “Evening Chore” in 2005. She is currently working on a third in the voice of a Mennonite farm wife near Shipshewana, Ind.

Wagner has been awarded 10 grants from Indiana Arts Commission and three fellowships from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. She’s also placed first in multiple poetry contests and received three Pushcart Prize nominations among various other recognitions and awards.

Yet she enjoys teaching her craft, too, and teaches poetry and memoir writing classes at the Indiana Writers Center.

Barb Shoup, director of the IWC, said she was thrilled when Wagner was nominated as the next Indiana Poet Laureate.

“I’m a longtime admirer of her work, always amazed by how she creates beauty and mystery from what we think of as the most ordinary things,” Shoup said. “She’s such a gifted teacher, too, insightful and generous, with a knack for conveying her expertise in poetry in a way that both challenges and nurtures aspiring poets of all ages … I love imagining the effect Shari will have over the next two years, traveling throughout Indiana, sharing her poetry and warmth of spirit everywhere she goes.”

Wagner encourages aspiring writers to read skilled writers from the past and present.

“I also can’t stress enough how important it is to write every day and, if possible, at the same time and place. If you start doing that, then you will make writing a habit,” she said. “Even if you can only write for an hour a day, you will be amazed by how much you eventually accomplish. Finally, I strongly encourage writers to see writing as exploration.”

Alongside her poetry, Wagner has written two memoirs with her father and various essays.

To learn more or to request Wagner to present at a program, visit www.shariwagnerpoet.com.

Meet Shari Wagner

Favorite poem you have written: “My favorite poem is usually the last one that I have written. So right now my favorite is, ‘The farm wife explains why she doesn’t mow her ditch.’”

Favorite poem by another writer: “Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller.

Education: Undergraduate at Goshen College, M.F.A at Indiana University Bloomington.

Works: Teaches poetry and memoir writing at Indiana Writers Center. To attend her classes, visit shariwagnerpoet.com/classes.html.

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