Wick Poetry Center receives grant to grow Traveling Stanzas project

Jillian Holness

The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University received a $125,000 grant from the John. S and James L. Knight Foundation in March during a ceremony at the Akron Civic Theatre as part of the Knight Arts Challenge.

The grant will allow the Wick Poetry Center to grow its Traveling Stanzas: Writing Across Borders project.

According to Wick Poetry Center’s Director David Hassler, Writing Across Borders is a way the center is using its Traveling Stanzas’ website as a vehicle to share the voices of children and adults in the Akron area, many of whom are refugees and immigrants.         

“It makes their voices (a) part of a larger conversation in our community,” Hassler said.

The project will also celebrate the rich, diverse culture in Northeast Ohio.

“Many of them are newcomers to this community and it’s a way to not only make them feel a part of our community but to help educate others about their heritage and unique lives,” Hassler said.

Traveling Stanzas began as a pilot program in 2009. Graphic design Professor Valora Renicker called Hassler to see if he could recommend poems to give to her students to be made into posters. The posters first appeared in Akron Metro buses.

“We expanded it to create a website and now have made it into an interactive project,” Hassler said.

Although refugees and immigrants are the main focus of Writing Across Borders, anyone from the community is welcome to submit to the website.

Assistant French Professor Sharon Bell was inspired to submit her poem “Fly Girls” after taking a summer creative writing class at KSU.

“I thought it would be really cool to see one of my poems in print,” Bell said.

People can upload a video of themselves reading their own poetry or the work of another poet. 

The center will choose original poems to create posters for.

Uriel Harper, a senior English major submitted a poem he wrote called “Isolation” along with three other works written by other poets.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to get your voice heard,” Hassler said. “You don’t have to be an established poet,” Harper said. “You can pretty much be a person passionate about words and writing.”

He suggests going to the website and listening to some of the poems before submitting.

“You have to read to be a good writer,” Harper said. “If you ever submit to a publication, you have to read their stories to see what they like.”

According to Hassler, the grant activity hasn’t started yet. Money from the grant will be used for teaching artists to conduct writing workshops, design of poems into posters and the creation of short videos interviewing community members whose poems were features on the website.  

Hassler also said the money will be used for the exhibit and outdoor kiosks.

“It’s a two year project,” Hassler said. “We anticipate designing new poems into posters that will travel in the Akron Metro buses and then creating outdoor kiosks we have in our poetry park in the North Hill neighborhood.”

In year two, the center plans on creating an interactive exhibit where people can pick a poem and choose what language to hear and read it in.

Hassler said Writing Across Borders is an important project because it helps give a voice and a face to people who are often marginalized.

“It helps us actually hear the voice of the other in our lives and be in a position to have a meaningful conversation with that voice,” Hassler said.

He hopes this project will encourage more dialogue in the community.

“When you enter deeply into a poem, you can join a larger conversation of others who have read that poem and responded to it,” Hassler said.

To learn more about the Traveling Stanzas’ website and to listen to a poem, visit its website http://travelingstanzas.com/en/home/.

Jillian Holness is the humanities reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]