The life and times of the poet-in-residence

A talk with Ripon College’s poet-in-residence Freesia McKee 

By Caitlin Marsch

 

For the fall 2022 semester, Freesia McKee is Wisconsin’s Own Library’s Poet-in-Residence at Ripon College. The Poet-in-Residence position includes living on campus and teaching a poetry class for a semester, while also working on their own poetry and writing a book of poems.

 

The position is only open to those with some kind of connection to Wisconsin. As McKee grew up and graduated from high school in Milwaukee, she fit the bill. She explained that the position appealed to her for many reasons, but especially because she can teach while having time to work on her own writing.  

 

My favorite part of being the poet in residence is having all this time and space to write poetry. I’ve drafted almost 30new poems since I arrived here. My other favorite part of being the poet in residence is the ecopoetics class I’m teaching,” McKee said.

 

McKee is currently teaching “Ecopoetics: artistic and ecological connections,” a class in both the English and Environmental Studies departments. 

 

Our class is a small and mighty group of writers doing some really heavy lifting as poets at the intersections of culture, social justice, and the environment,” McKee said. 

 

McKee has taught at multiple colleges, most recently at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.

 

My goal as a teacher is to facilitate a space where students feel comfortable practicing language and using it to amplify their voices and experiences. A big part of teaching writing is simply fostering confidence, since so many of us have experienced negative reactions to our writing in the past,” McKee said. I want my students to become proud of their creative risk-taking and use of language. I hope to encourage students to celebrate their authentic selves linguistically, socially, and artistically.”

 

McKee said that she first heard about Ripon College when she was a high school student and attended a forensics tournament on campus, but did not envision herself teaching here at the time.

 

 “As a high school student visiting for a forensics meet, I remember thinking of the campus as historic, and also being very nervous to perform my forensics piece,” McKee said.

 

McKee got a new perspective when she came here to teach. “My first impression of Ripon College was how supportive the faculty community is here. The degree to which faculty support, mentor, and celebrate each other is a unique strength of this place. Then, when students arrived in August, I was impressed by how involved and immersed students are here,” McKee said. 

 

McKee also talked about some of her inspirations. 

 

“As a poet, I’m inspired by points of tension, questions that cannot be answered, and the dynamics of apathy and disconnection. As a teacher, I’m inspired by several of my own former teachers who weren’t afraid of pedagogical experimentation and naming social justice issues in the classroom. As a human, I’m inspired by artists, activists, birds, seeds, and trees,” McKee said. 

 

McKee will facilitate multiple events on campus, including a writing workshop and open mic in partnership with the Ripon College Queer Straight Alliance on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 4:30 p.m. to commemorate National Coming Out Day. McKee will also be giving a reading of her own poetry written during her time at Ripon College on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 1: p.m. in Lane Library. More information about McKee can be found at freesiamckee.com.

 

The Wisconsin’s Own Library is a collection of thousands of books and pamphlets created by Wisconsinites, and owned by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Wisconsin. It has been housed in Lane Library since 2007 and has focused on poetry since 2017.

Poet-in-residence, Freesia McKee. Photo Courtesy of Ripon College

A section of the Wisconsin’s Own Library poetry collection. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Marsch