Wick Poetry Center celebrates 10 years of its ‘Traveling Stanzas’ project

Grant Fletcher, an adjunct visual communication design professor, looks at “Emerge” poems created by visitors of the “Traveling Stanzas” exhibit in Taylor Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2019.

Alexandra Sobczak

This pencil is a rope 

 that pulls my heart and brain 

 onto the paper. 

 This pencil is a ladder 

 I climb to heaven.

Third-grader Hei Nay Tha wrote these words, which hang on a poster designed by Brandon Mahone at the poetry exhibit in Taylor Hall.

The Wick Poetry Center brought its touring “Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders” exhibit home to Kent State to celebrate the project’s 10-year anniversary.

The interactive exhibit is on display in the Taylor Hall Gallery. It showcases recent posters from the project and includes multiple stations where visitors can hear additional information and create their own poetry.

Poets, both workshop participants and famous writers, read their work aloud in videos. A collection of texts hang on a wall, in which visitors bold-face particular words that stand out to them. A community poem threads together lines from visitors. Coloring pages of poems and their designs rest on a table, along with a basket of markers.

David Hassler, the director of the poetry center, and Valora Renicker, an associate professor in the School of Visual Communication Design, started the project by pairing the center and VCD students.

The poetry center focused on outreach for this project and taught poetry workshops in the community. VCD students then paired the poems with designs and turned them into posters displayed around Kent.

The posters can be found in PARTA buses and on electrical boxes around Kent. The poems and designs were also put on greeting cards and postcards. The goal was for people to encounter poetry and design in places where they wouldn’t usually see it, Renicker said.

The collaborative process between VCD students and the participating poets in the project create an important connection, said Charles Malone, the program and outreach manager of the poetry center.

“For a designer to take those words and turn it into a poster, the writer feels very heard and very validated in a profound way,” Malone said. “And then when the writer feels honored by that work, the designer gets to feel that they were really successful. That quality of deep connection is what poetry is always striving for.”

The English Department offers a course called “Teaching Poetry in the Schools,” which allows students to teach outreach workshops. Some of the workshops are part of the “Writing Across Borders” project.

Some of the poems and designs that came out of the project are displayed on kiosks across campus, accompanied by audio recordings of children reading their poems.

“You can see preschool children who can’t even read, create a poem,” said Györgyi Mihályi-Jewell, the marketing and public relations communication specialist at the poetry center. “It’s really magical once you go there and press the button and hear these kiddos reading their poems.”

The project keeps the poems relevant, Malone said.

“The big thing has been the way in which it’s been able to adapt to address different current issues and needs of the community,” Malone said. “It’s been able to say, ‘We’re going to take this, and we’re going to talk about this bigger issue that’s shaping our lives.’”

The project works with immigrants and refugees. The poetry center partnered with Urban Vision, an after-school program in Akron, and the International Institute of Akron.

The poetry center is nationally recognized as part of the Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 25 poetry organizations.

Only two organizations in the Poetry Coalition are associated with universities, said Mihályi-Jewell.

“We are very honored to be part of it,” she said.

The project exposes VCD students to poetry in ways that are sometimes new to them because they base their designs on their interpretations of the poems, Renicker said.

“It gives them a lot of creative freedom,” she said. “On one hand, they are working for a client. The Wick Poetry Center gives them feedback on whether they feel that the visuals are going in the right direction for the poem. Yet at the same time, the designer is given a lot of leeway on how they want to express themselves.”

For Mariah Hicks, a senior journalism major and a student worker at the poetry center, the “Traveling Stanzas” project helped her build confidence in her own work.

“I’ve been writing poetry since probably sixth grade, and I never used to want to share anything at all,” Hicks said. “Ever since I started teaching in the community, it’s made me a lot more confident in my voice and a lot more confident in helping others to find their voice.”

“Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders” will be in Taylor Hall until Feb. 21. After that, it will move to the Lakewood Public Library and return to Chautauqua Institution this summer.

Alexandra Sobczak is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected].