Woodland Pattern: An enduring commitment to the written word

The book center has long been a haven for artists and writers of all shades. This Friday, Woodland Pattern celebrates 30 years devoted to the art of literature.
November 18th, 2010 |
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Photo courtesy Woodland Pattern via Facebook.

Woodland Pattern, a non-profit literary arts center and staple of the Riverwest neighborhood, has been a Mecca for artists of all backgrounds for thepast 30 years. The bookstore itself provides a home to local and regional writers, and boasts 180 feet of shelves dedicated to over 20,000 titles and wall upon wall of poetry.

And that’s not all.

Tucked behind the center’s two front rooms is 900-square feet of  gallery space where performances and workshops are held. The gallery can hold up to 60 in attendance comfortably, which has made it an ideal venue for art exhibitions, independent film screenings and of course, literary readings.

The space is cozy and comforting, providing an atmosphere conducive to conversation and collaborations of all sorts.

Upon entering, one can’t help but notice the display of chapbooks aligning the shelves. Other areas of the store are stacked with small press poetry, fiction and nonfiction, literature from around the world, magazines, and publications that range from contemporary music to film and photography.

“Access to contemporary literature is a main focus, on poetry in particular,” Literary Program Director Chuck Stebelton says. “We always aim to present poetry in the context of a whole art, and we try to present a wide range of poetry and contemporary writing rather than focus on accessibility for its own sake.”

This Friday, the Harley-Davidson Museum will play host to Woodland Pattern’s 30th Anniversary gala, a celebration in honor of the book center’s enduring commitment to the arts community. The event features an evening of food, art and fellowship as Woodland Pattern honors Sally Tolan and Robert Ragir, two longtime supporters of the center.

The pièce de résistance, however, is a  live reading and performance from acclaimed writers John Giorno and Anne Waldman.

Giorno, an innovator of poetry and performance, is best know for his mass communication exercise Dial-A-Poem. In 1968, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Dial-A-Poem made contemporary poetry available over the phone to millions of people. Giorno credits Andy Warhol (who cast him in the film Sleep) as a tremendous influence in his development as a writer. To date, Giorno is known for his no-holds-barred live performances.

Waldman’s career as a writer, performer and cultural/political activist spans over 40 years. She has collaborated with a number of musicians, artists, and dancers and cofounded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics with Allen Ginsberg in 1974.

“Anne and John are both incredible performers and verbal virtuosos,” Stebelton says. “It’s truly special to have them be a part of our 30th anniversary celebration.”

Due to the state of the economy in the past few years, Milwaukee has seen a fair share of independent bookstores close. However, a new threat to the publishing world has emerged in recent years : online books. With e-readers flooding the market and online reading become prevalent, the book as a physical object is beginning to lose appeal. And yet, Stebelton feels that this very predicament  makes what Woodland Pattern has to offer even more relevant, and perhaps what has kept them viable over the decades despite shifts in the economy or changes in technology.

To Stebelton, the book as a physical object offers intimacy and warmth that rewards attention.

“Anyone can walk into the book center and find something they didn’t necessarily know they were looking for,” Stebelton says. “Whether it’s a fine press edition by a new or favorite poet or a chapbook that would otherwise be distributed only at readings”

Woodland Pattern’s goal has always been to promote a lifetime practice of reading and writing, while at the same time provide a forum and resource center for artists and writers. The center and its programs are considered to be a national treasure. Friday’s celebration is a testament to that mission and its significance in our culture.

“This event has us looking forward to another 30 years of innovative arts programming,” Stebelton says.

Woodland Pattern Book Center’s 30th Anniversary Celebration takes place on Friday, Nov. 19 at the Harley Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal St. The opening reception starts at 5:30 p.m. and will feature a silent auction accompanied by hor d’oeurves. The main event and readings begin at 7 p.m. Visit Woodland Pattern online for more information and ticket prices.

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