Aurora Native Scatters Poetry Gems Across US And Germany – Northern Public Radio (WNIJ) | Start Classified

A native of Aurora-American, she began her writing journey in fourth grade. It’s a journey that took her around the world. Along the way, she enlisted others to join her.

Ingrid Wendt is a poet, editor and teacher. She wrote her first poem at Bardwell Elementary.

“I remember it because I hated it,” Wendt said. “I was so embarrassed because it was so stupid. And I knew I was stupid, but I thought I had to rhyme. And I remember the first stanza. I have a fourth grade teacher who is also very pretty.”

There she said she got stuck. she considered. Try to figure out what word rhymes with.

“No wonder the boys are all saying woo, woo.”

Wendt shared that she thought all poems had to rhyme. She said she started getting annoyed with rhymes, and she stopped writing for a while. She later learned that she thought rhymes were necessary, because as she lay in her crib her mother read her Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.

“I loved the rhythms of poetry. They were in me from the start. Growing up in Aurora I was privileged, very privileged, to have piano lessons at the age of six. So the music of poetry was very deep inside me.”

But the next poem she wrote wasn’t until her sophomore year of high school. And that’s when she learned that poems don’t have to rhyme. She wrote an article about an institution in her hometown.

“I love the Fox River. I missed the fox,” she said. “Anyway. And so the world is in a terrible state and an angel comes down and speaks to this person walking along the river in the fog.”

She left Fox River and moved to Iowa for college. There she studied English with the intention of becoming a short story writer. But after graduating, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

She went to the University of Oregon to continue her education.

“I found out that MFA students — I have a master’s degree in creative writing — went into teaching,” she said. “So I started looking for a job as a teacher just to do something. I didn’t know I could go to a big city and maybe start working for a publisher.”

But she has worked in many big cities, teaching poetry to children and other teachers. Wendt’s work even brought her to Germany. But Eugene, Oregon became her new home.

Her first teaching position was as a visiting professor at California State University, Fresno. After three years, she said she was ready for something different.

“I realized that to really be a good professor, I needed more life experience. And besides, I was married and pregnant at the time,” she said. “It was a perfect time to stop for a while and take a break from science.”

She spent three more years caring for her family. Then, in 1974, she learned about The Poets in the Schools. This program was created by The Poetry Society. It teaches children how to write poetry and teachers how to teach the craft. Wendt got the job. She said she loves this new position.

“But I got to teach kids poems that don’t necessarily rhyme. Open those eyes,” she explained. “And, more importantly, let them know they can be creative themselves.”

Then the school budget in Eugene, Oregon, where she lived, changed and art funding was cut. Wendt said she was forced to travel farther to do this work. This excursion resulted in Wendt’s book “Beginning with the Small Things”. After that, she began speaking and giving teacher workshops.

“And then I hit on the teachers. So they felt confident because so many teachers think they can’t do it,” she said. “They are not poets, they cannot teach poetry writing.”

Not only did Wendt ride the poetry wave outside of the home, but she also had someone special who joined her on the drive home: her husband, Ralph Salisbury. He was also a poet. The two were married 48 years before his death. Wendt said he was the first to read her poetry.

“We were soul mates,” she added. “We were opposites in many ways. But we saw the world the same way.”

Wendt has written several books and received numerous awards, but there is something that she is very proud of.

“One of the highlights of my life was being invited to go back to Bardwell School to teach fourth grade classes. And that’s when I wrote my very first poem.”

In 2008, Wendt was inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame by one of her childhood friends, Nancy Hopp. Hopp said she wanted to do that because there was no one doing everything Wendt was doing.

“Yeah, great stuff. She is also a photographer. If she sends me notes, notecards, the words, the photograph, it’s hers. And I just think it’s amazing.”

In addition to her writing, Wendt said she puts the same effort into her music. She sings in a choir, most recently at Carnegie Hall.

Even after all of her travels, Wendt said she would love to return home and do more work at the Aurora Schools, where her journey began.

  • Yvonne Boose is currently a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth project. It’s a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. For more information on Report for America, visit wnij.org.

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