Jan. 18 2017 01:35 PM

Lansing groups team up to create new literary honor

Detroit Free Press columnist Edgar Guest was Michigan’s only poet laureate, holding the title from 1952 until his death in 1959. Three local groups are looking to name Lansing’s first poet laureate this spring.
Courtesy Photo

“I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” wrote Joyce Kilmer in a 1913 poem named “Trees.”

Lansing already has plenty of trees, and if everything goes according to plan, it will also have its first poet laureate in time for April’s National Poetry Month. While the state of Michigan is one of a handful that doesn’t have a poet laureate, several Michigan cities, including Port Huron, Detroit and Grand Rapids, and even the Upper Peninsula have poet laureates.

The idea of Lansing having its own poet laureate has been discussed for some time, but it was only recently that an alliance was forged between the Lansing Poetry Club, the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) to make it a reality.

Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP, sees poetry as way of expanding the cultural placemaking efforts of the region. Trezise, himself an accomplished poet, is interested in the region’s “road not taken.”

“At every turn, our region needs to look and feel like an international, diverse and sophisticated environment, so that our companies have a greater success rate with talent attraction,” Trezise said. “Every major city or state has a poet laureate, so we will too.”

The poet laureate is being called an “ambassador” for poetry and will serve two years, receiving a $2,000 per year stipend. The selected poet will be charged with offering instructional workshops and public readings in Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties. The poet laureate may also be asked to per form readings at official city and county events.

The search for a poet laureate will begin with a workshop explaining the new position and its requirements from 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 5 at the MICA Gallery, 1210 Turner St. in Lansing’s Old Town. Applications for the position are available online at purelansing.com/poetlaureate.

To qualify, an applicant must be at least 18, a resident of Clinton, Eaton or Ingham County and an experienced and skilled poet dedicated to producing poetry in textual and or oral traditions. The applicant will be expected to provide examples of their work. Deadline for applications, which will be reviewed by a panel of poets, is 5 p.m. March 3.

The Lansing Poetry Club will soon celebrate the 80th anniversary of its founding in 1938. Ruelaine Stokes, president of the Lansing Poetry Club, said poetry is “one of the oldest and most powerful art forms, and it helps us see the complexity and glory of human existence and transcend our day to day struggles.” Over the last several years, both the RCAH Center for Poetry and the Lansing Poetry Club have worked diligently to expand the reach of poetry in the community by bringing in national poet laureates and Pulitzer Prize winning poets and by holding poetry events with provocative themes like erotic poetry and murder ballads.

Maybe the refrains of poetry will be heard by the Michigan legislature and encourage them to create a Michigan poet laureate, which would be the first since Detroit Free Press columnist and poet Edgar Guest held the title from 1952 to 1959. Michigan poet Will Carleton, who was wildly popular in the late 1870s, was informally called the state’s poet laureate.

Patricia Clark, poet laureate for Grand Rapids from 2005 to 2007, said she thinks the position is important because “the literary arts are often not represented on the local landscape.” She also believes the position gives the poet a platform to lobby for literary causes and to host events.

Clark, who has published several books of poetry and is a professor of writing and poet in residence at Grand Valley State University, also believes in the transformative aspects of writing poetry.

“It builds literacy and (the poet laureate position) encourages young people to write and recite poetry, which builds a lot of poise and self-confidence,” she said.