Markle native Wagner to put many miles on car promoting art of poetry as state’s new poet laureate

Markle native Shari Miller Wagner, pictured here at Pine Hills Nature Preserve, in Waveland, was named the new Indiana poet laureate by the Indiana Arts Commission in November. Over the next two years, Wagner will be promoting the art of poetry across the state, making stops at state parks, historical sites, schools and more.
Markle native Shari Miller Wagner, pictured here at Pine Hills Nature Preserve, in Waveland, was named the new Indiana poet laureate by the Indiana Arts Commission in November. Over the next two years, Wagner will be promoting the art of poetry across the state, making stops at state parks, historical sites, schools and more. Photo provided.

Originally published Dec. 21, 2015.

For the next two years, Markle native Shari Miller Wagner will be traveling all over Indiana.

Though the locations in her rearview mirror will be changing constantly, her reason for visiting them will remain the same: promoting the art of poetry.

Wagner, now a Westfield resident, was named Indiana poet laureate by the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) in November. She’ll be the fifth person to hold the post, with her term running from the start of 2016 through the end of 2017.

As poet laureate, Wagner will have a variety of responsibilities, all of which will be tied to fostering an appreciation for poetry across the state.

“Just very thrilled to be named and to serve Indiana in that way, to be an ambassador for poetry in the state,” she says.

Wagner developed a love for poetry during her time growing up in the Markle area. Experiences she had as a student at Norwell High School helped nurture that affinity, she relates.

“I had very good English teachers there that stressed the importance of using sensory detail in your writing,” she explains. “Also, we had a visiting poet from the Indiana Arts Commission. I think she was working on her doctorate at Purdue and she came in for a number of sessions and worked with us in poetry. So, that was a wonderful experience.”

Wagner went on to obtain a bachelor’s in English from Goshen College and a master’s in creative writing from Indiana University Bloomington. She has authored two books of poetry, “The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana” and “Evening Chore.” Currently, she is a faculty member at the Indiana Writers Center, in Indianapolis, where she teaches poetry and memoir writing.

After being nominated to succeed the outgoing poet laureate, George Kalamaras, Wagner found out in October that she was among the nominees to be named finalists.

“As a finalist, there were questions that I responded to in the written form,” she explains.

The questions were posed by the selection committee, which is comprised of seven professors from English departments at Indiana colleges.

From there, Wagner was interviewed by the committee and the head of the IAC. She was notified that she’d been named the new poet laureate a week before it was announced to the public on Nov. 18.

Wagner’s responsibilities over the next two years will include making appearances at schools and libraries across the state; giving advice to the IAC and other organizations on how to further the art of poetry; promoting poetry and poetry education at the local, state and national levels; encouraging and supporting the work of Indiana poets; and establishing and maintaining a website and Facebook page.

The opportunity to educate a wide variety of people about poetry is one of the aspects of being poet laureate that Wagner is most excited for.

“I’ve taught with all ages and I love working with all ages,” she enthuses. “I’ve worked with grade-school kids up to Seniors in nursing homes.”

Wagner is also thrilled that her tenure as poet laureate happens to coincide with two significant Indiana milestones: the bicentennial of the state’s founding and the centennial of the state parks’ founding.

“I’d like to plan some readings and workshops that would take place in state parks and also historical sites,” says Wagner of commemorating the occasions. “Also, I’m going to be in conjunction with historical societies and some nature centers, also libraries nearby those state parks or historical sites.

“Also, I think it would be interesting for someone to gather the people to have a workshop where, in the community, people would write poems using memories of their family history associated with that park or historical site.”

Writing new poems may not be among Wagner’s responsibilities as poet laureate, but she expects she’ll be inspired to put pen to paper all the same by the many places she visits, especially the outdoor locales.

“I know I’ll be writing poems about the parks I go to,” she says, “because I really love poems inspired by nature. I grew up in a woods in Wells County, surrounded by fields.

“Nature poems are the first poems that inspired me to write.”

More information about Wagner can be found on her website, www.shariwagnerpoet.com.

One of the main reasons Wagner is so passionate about poetry is because, in her mind, it’s a convergence point for multiple art forms.

“The way of painting, you paint with your words and you also create music with the language,” she explains. “And it’s kind of like dance, too, the way you arrange the lines and where you break the lines, it’s a kind of dance of the words, too.

“For me, it’s the perfect art form.”