Words to live by

Recent graduate named poet laureate of Honors College

December 16, 2016

Connor Dahlin, the poet laureate for UW-Stout’s Honors College and a May 2016 graduate, speaks during his poetry recital in November.

Words matter to Connor Dahlin. It’s not just the messages they convey, but how they sound, what they look like on a page, the feelings and thoughts they evoke.

He has learned, as well, that words are strong. He’s seen them bridge half a continent.

Since graduating in May from University of Wisconsin-Stout, words have taken him to the state of Washington to work in a literacy program while still holding him close to his alma mater.

Earlier this year, Dahlin was named the first poet laureate of the Honors College at UW-Stout. For his honors academic contract and eventual capstone project, he wrote and published a book of poetry, and in November he held a reading and discussion of his work in Menomonie to inspire other members of the Honors College.

The poet laureate designation was more than he could have imagined. “Being recognized for my work came as a shock because poets most often expect to be largely independent, unrecognized and unappreciated,” Dahlin said.

Connor DahlinDahlin has inspired other Honors College students with his work, Director Chris Ferguson said, and may be called upon again during the 2016-17 academic year to mentor students and contribute to the college’s annual magazine.

“He was the inspiration for the very existence of the new (poet laureate) title,” Ferguson said. “I was impressed not only by the creativity of his work as he experimented with different forms, but with his perseverance in perfecting it and generating a book.”

“His commitment to the process and to approaching it in a rigorous way made him seem like an ideal role model for future students and an ambassador for poetry and creative writing in the Honors College,” Ferguson said.

The poems in Dahlin’s book, “Un/Certainly/Form/Less,” experiment with form, an aspect of poetry he studied with the help of UW-Stout student research grants. The book is available online on Amazon.

The poems “speak on knowledge, matters of the heart” and are “tales of forgotten wisdoms,” Dahlin said.

Dahlin became serious about writing poetry when he studied abroad for a year in Athens, Greece. “I really didn't imagine something coming from it. It became serious when former Honors College director Lopa Basu realized I wrote poetry and pushed me to create a written work,” Dahlin said.

“While at UW-Stout, I fell in love, I experienced deep discomforts and saw great beauties. My experience living in Menomonie inspired much of the work readers can see in my book,” he said.

Dahlin, a native of Decatur, Ill., who grew up in Andover, Minn., graduated in professional communication and emerging media, with a concentration in digital humanities and a minor in philosophy. On campus, he was a student senator, English tutor and chief copy editor for the Stoutonia student newspaper, among other activities.

In Wenatchee, Wash., he is a program developer for an adult basic literacy program. His students can speak and understand English but can’t read or write. He also is a tutor for the Chelan and Douglas County Literacy Council.

Chris FergusonAs he begins his career, Dahlin doesn’t know where his poetry will take him, but he is continuing to write. The poet laureate title has been inspiring, he said. “It's humbling in the sense that it caused me to become even more judgmental of my own work, wanting to only display my best in order to live up to the title,” he said.

Ferguson hopes that the naming of Dahlin will lead to naming other student leaders in various fields, such as an Honors College artist-in-residence. Donations to the Honors College can be made through Stout University Foundation.

The Honors College was elevated to college status in 2012, becoming only the second Honors College in the UW System. Honors College enrollment topped 550 students this fall. University enrollment is 9,619.

‘Drowned-Out Voices’

One of Dahlin’s unpublished poems is “Drowned-Out Voices.”

As with much of my work, there's a deep root critique of society, a call for people to consider our humanity being at stake. Culture, both perpetuated by ourselves and others, has us stifling our true feelings and sincere intentions. This same stifling can explain our exploitation of the land and our disconnection with nature and the nature of things. 

“We are clever, the world and its devices are clever, but the suppression of our true selves, the voice of our hearts is what's truly needed if we want to fix our systemic issues. We need to let ourselves feel again.”

“Drowned-Out Voices”
My heart scurries in a way
that the rest of me doesn’t obey.

My lack of motion
speaks to the world.
I am contained
by the appropriation,
the hesitation of my own hand.

My soothing demeanor,
a proper misconceiver.

We all play so unfairly,
“Make-up” slathered thick.
Mutually suppressing because
we’re mutually suppressed.
Our hearts, always whimpering.

We suffer because of mind;
thinking our way into bind.

We need the heart
more than ever,
this the land yelps,
but we are too busy
thinking about thinking.

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Photos

Top: Connor Dahlin, poet laureate for UW-Stout’s Honors College, speaks during his poetry recital in November.

Middle: Connor Dahlin

Bottom: Chris Ferguson