Poetry marathon supports local bookstore

Jackie Lalley is one of the numerous artists performing in the 15-hour poetry marathon. Photo courtesy of Sarah Buccheri.

What could you accomplish in 15 hours? Walk in Relay for Life? Take a trip to Beijing? Study for finals?

For Woodland Pattern Book Center, 15 hours of straight poetry accomplishes nothing less than keeping an important Milwaukee literary organization alive.

Woodland Pattern will host its 17th annual 15-hour poetry marathon and benefit starting at 10 a.m. this Saturday, running through 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

Anne Kingsbury, founder and executive director of Woodland Pattern, said each marathon reader is asked to read at least five minutes of original work. While poetry is the emphasis, works can also be prose, performance art, music or any combination of the above.

Kingsbury said all 150 slots (10 every hour) are booked, with people signing up as early as October. Due to such a high level of interest, Woodland Pattern began a waiting list for time slots.

Kingsbury said many slots are themed as well. For example, the first hour of the marathon, “youth hour,” will feature neighborhood children the center has worked with. Other hours, like “women of power hour,” will highlight different types of poetic writers.

Founded as a nonprofit book center 31 years ago, Woodland Pattern houses a bookstore with more than 25,000 small press titles. The center also features an art gallery, where it presents exhibitions, artist appearances, readings, experimental films, concerts, writing workshops for adults and children and fundraising special events like the poetry marathon.

Because the center is nonprofit, the staff’s inventory decisions aren’t dictated entirely by commercialism. As a result, book sales, which would normally be important for a for-profit book store, only make up less than 30 percent of the Woodland Pattern’s budget, Kingsbury said.

“We rely on grants, workshop and membership fees, ticket sales and fundraisers,” she said.

The money collected helps pay for everything that keeps the center running, such as bills and classes.

In order to ensure a successful fundraiser, marathon readers are also asked to raise at least $35 in pledges. Kingsbury said some returning readers find creative ways to raise the money.

Jackie Lalley, returning as a marathon reader for the ninth time this year, said she asks friends and colleagues to sponsor one word of their choice. With the words she’s given, Lalley comprises a poem especially for the marathon.

Lalley said this way really encourages donations because it gets the contributor involved. Last year, she said she encouraged more than 20 donations, raising almost $1,000 for Woodland Pattern.

“I wouldn’t do this for any other organization,” Lalley said. “I love Woodland Pattern because they help people find good poetry, books and art, and because of the amazing things they do for free for kids in the area.”

Though Lalley and the rest of the marathon readers contribute a significant chunk of change, the center also relies on local businesses as underwriters, who sponsor groups or events in exchange for advertising. According to Woodland Pattern’s website, nine businesses support this year’s marathon, including Stone Creek Coffee Roasters, Outpost Natural Foods and Beans and Barley.

Pat Sturgis, co-owner of local deli, market and café Beans and Barley, said his business has a fraternal relationship with Woodland Pattern, as they collaborate by underwriting each other throughout the year. He said underwriting is the major form of advertising for Beans and Barley.

“As an underwriter, you get to support something you believe in,” Sturgis said. “You commit to help financially keep alive something that you believe does a good job, and that’s how we feel about Woodland Pattern — that it’s a valuable part of the community.”

Kingsbury said the mission of the marathon is about more than just the poetry — it serves as an event where people can meet, enjoy food and beverages, find some good books and learn more about Milwaukee’s writing community.

Lalley said the marathon is a means for writers to publicize their work with a friendly audience, while also supporting an important area organization.

“Woodland Pattern makes sure that Milwaukee is a place with good literature and good literacy,” Lalley said. “The (marathon) is a crazy convergence of reading and fun that also promotes quality literature.”

Woodland Pattern Book Center is located at 720 E. Locust St. Tickets are $7 with student ID, $8 general admission. For more info, call the center at 414-263-5001 or visit woodlandpattern.org.

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