Discover more from Methods & Muses
Methods & Muses Vol. 31
I am lucky to know some groovy women.
This month, I chatted with Sarah Ann Winn, a free-range Librarian and Poet, who leads workshops online and in the Northern Virginia area. Her endeavor, Poet Camp, is a project I adore, because it promises to deliver fun, educational and inspiring poetic adventures, or as she might say, ‘delightful poetry shenanigans!’
I also had the pleasure of meeting Stacy Harbaugh or DJ Shotski. Stacy is a passionate collector of records, particularly Dutchman-style Polka recordings from Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. She hosts Polka Time on WVMO-FM 98.7 (Sundays, 7.pm. CST), and she is a DJ for hire – for your next Polka party or your next vintage Soul, 80’s Pop, Easy Listening or Christmas party.
Now, I believe in serendipity. I welcome cosmic connections. As I spoke with these two creative women, I discovered that both Sarah and Stacy’s passions spark from a love of campfires. I find this charming, and dear Readers, I believe Sarah and Stacy will charm you as well. Enjoy!
Here’s my conversation with Sarah:
M: Let’s begin with background. Tell me the story of how you came to love poetry.
S: I was raised by my Grandma. She was a yard sale fan, a constant thrifter, and I was a child she could not keep in books. I read Gone with the Wind in 1st or 2nd grade, which of course was not appropriate, so my Grandma scoured yard sales looking for any children’s books that were thick. She found Grimms Fairy Tales and A Child’s Garden of Verses. That collection spanned Dickinson to e.e. cummings. I consider Emily my first real poet, so the first Poet Camp is called Our Emily Dickinson.
M: Aw, how nice! I love how you’re connecting a community of poets with poets who have gone before us. Can you speak to this communing aspect of Poet Camp?
S: As artists, I think we are drawn to specific places, influenced by our surroundings. As eco poets, there’s a reciprocity, a caring for the environment that is caring for us. We need to connect with the physical and materiality of the world, and the natural world is full of inspiration! Our foremothers, like Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver, were very private poets, embedded in their places. You can read the manifestations of place within their poetry, like in Dickinson’s Gorgeous Nothings, how modern she was, really ahead of her time. Emily’s work includes flora, fauna, magic gnomes, elves and spells. She invited spirits, and I think she wanted us to meet her on every plane.
M: I love it! What kinds of activities can campers expect?
S: Well, all Poet Camps will be generative explorations. For Our Emily, on Day 1, we will visit her house and grave on a private tour. On day 2, we will go to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. They rescue raptors, so ‘the thing with feathers’ will enter into our poetry. For Day 3, my science teacher friend will teach us about the wild flowers of New England, as we tour either a wildlife sanctuary, or a botanical garden, depending on what’s blooming. On Day 4, we will go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where we will study his use of color and letters. This ties into Dickinson’s letters, and we will write poems as letters too. Finally, on Day 5, we will wrap up with a read-around a campfire.
Oh! Of course there will be campfires the whole time. I love that cozy feeling of being around a fire with kindred spirits. I was a shy and awkward kid, so I didn’t really find community at school, but I always found it at summer camp. I want to share this feeling with other people.
And I want to stress that everything at Poet Camp is optional. Maybe campers will want to dive deep into their own work, take day time alone to write, and join in the evening for hang outs. Poet Camp will also stay small, no more than 12. For Our Emily, we currently have 8, including my science teacher friend and me.
M: Nice! So for Summer 2023, it’s Emily Dickinson in Plainfield, Massachusetts, then for Fall 2024, Mary Oliver in Provincetown. What about after this? What can we look forward to for future camps?
S: Because I want to limit my carbon footprint, it’s tricky for me to think about going too far from home, but at the same time, I want Poet Camp to be a roving residency. I’d love to focus on Rita Dove and travel to the Southwest. In the meantime, in terms of affordability, I’ve organized a sleep away camp that will just be a long weekend. So, if you’re based near Virginia, you can meet us in Cacapon State Park for some poetry and glamping!
M: Aw! All of this is so inspiring! I hope you’ll consider coming to the Midwest too.
S: Oh, I will! I love Madison and the Twin Cities. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted.
M: Thank you, Witchy. As always, it’s been lovely.
And here’s my conversation with Stacy:
M: Ok, I gotta ask this first. Why Polka?
S: Of course! So, a lot of fans have stories about being raised with Polka music and how it connects to their cultural heritage, but my story is a little different.
I wasn’t born in Wisconsin. I’m from Indiana, but when I’d visit my Grandparents in Wisconsin, I loved it. I always thought Wisconsin was pretty, and the water tasted better. Fast forward to my late 20’s. I was laid off from my job at a nonprofit, and I was at a point in my life where I thought I should move. I knew I wanted to live in a city, but New York was too expensive and Portland too pretentious, so I chose Madison.
I was here for a while when friend of mine said that if I wanted to see the real Wisconsin, I needed to go camping, so I did. You know when you’re camping, you wake up and life is pretty simple – you build a fire and make coffee, and I always brought along a little radio, so I’d turn it on, and inevitably, I’d find a station playing Polka music. So it was that feeling, being outside by a fire, drinking my coffee and listening to this happy music. I want to recreate this. I want to make Polka cool.
M: Aw, I love this! So listening to Polka was the beginning. How then did you become a DJ, and why the name DJ Shotski?
S: Well, for years I collected records, and I’d go out to see live Polka bands as much as I could. Then, I made a New Year’s resolution for 2020 to learn more about turn tables and how to work the equipment. When Covid hit, I had all this time during lockdown to read manuals, teach myself, and of course, to listen to records. And I thought about how I really wanted to share Polka music. In the summer of 2022, the opportunity for the show on WVMO came up, and now I’m trying to get more in-person gigs.
And about the name. First, I experimented with some German words, so many umlauts! Ha, ha! These felt too obscure, and nothing was really sticking, but then I saw a film called “It’s Happiness: A Polka Documentary.” This is a great film about the Polka scene in Wisconsin, and a concertina bar in Milwaukee, and there was this scene where folks were doing a shotski, and I thought, That’s it! That’s my name!
I know the name is associated with drinking, but I don’t want the emphasis to be on this. I deeply respect friends and loved ones who are in recovery. To me, “shotski” sounds cute, it’s a good brand, and such a Wisconsin thing, shots and skiing.
M: I agree, it’s playful, and you’re right, this is part of Wisconsin. Growing up, I loved dancing the polka, but even as a little kid, I knew there was at least one song, with lyrics that were, well, mean, to women. What are your thoughts on this?
S: Yes, there are definitely some problematic lyrics, and I know which song you’re talking about. The good thing about being a DJ is I can choose not to play records that are hurtful or about body shaming. I play Vintage Polka for a Modern Audience, so a big part of making Polka cool again is to keep it friendly, inclusive and inviting.
M: Nice. Thank you for your kindness in this crazy world.
S: Of course!
M: I want to ask more of a detail question now. Why are you specifically into the Dutchmen style? I’m asking because, in my family, I’m half Polish and half German, there’s always a debate over which style of dancing is better.
S: That’s a great question. I guess part of what I love about Dutchmen-style are the tuba and the banjo. I’d like to learn to play these, and the concertina too. I don’t know, I think there are whispers in our DNA that guide us –
M: Did you just say ‘whispers in our DNA’? Oh man, my poet ears love this!
S: You’re welcome.
M: Ok, last question, for now, because I could talk forever about Polkas. You’ve got a gig coming up in April in New Glarus, in a vineyard, which I think is so fun. Do you hope for more gigs like this, or what is your dream gig?
S: I’d love to have a regular gig in a cozy bar, host a vinyl night, and folks would come because they knew DJ Shotski was sharing some good music.
M: Nice! I hope you find this, and please keep me posted. It’s been a pleasure.
S: Thank you! Nice meeting you too and will do. We’ll be in touch.
Thank you, Readers. I hope you enjoyed learning about two beautiful women, practicing groovy art in the world. Stay tuned for next month, when I’ll introduce more Poets and Artists of Madison. Until then, be well!
Post Script /Editor’s Note:
I forgot to include some important details about my pal Sarah.
While she is a wunderkind in my brain, she didn’t jump from reading poetry in 2nd grade to Poet Camp Organizer. As you can learn from her website, since 2015, Sarah has been teaching and gathering folks in classes with welcoming and intriguing names like: Spring Blossoming Cozy Writing Retreat, Muse as Mermaid: Saltwater Poems, Tarot Poems and Poet as Scientist.