Friday, September 14, 2018

Wellspring of Imagination Goes Visual in its Seventh Year

by Chuck Salmons

Throughout Ohio, examples of literary citizenship shine and provide opportunities for writers of all ages to grow as artists while simultaneously supporting their communities. Since 2002, retired teacher Alan Cohen has organized the Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry, in Hocking County, an annual event that welcomes the public to hear and learn from some of the nation’s top poets through readings and workshops.

I first met Alan more than a decade ago, at one of the annual festivals, and since then have come to appreciate his ability demonstrate the “power of poetry” (the namesake of the festival’s website) to move people in ways they never thought possible. He and his wife, Evie Adelman, work together to organize the Hocking festival, including hosting the featured poets, getting musicians on board, and finding venues. Just when I thought they couldn’t do much better, Alan formulated a plan for engaging more of Ohio’s high school students. How did he come up with the plan?

Poet David Lee with Thomas Ellison (Dayton) and Sara Abou Rashed (Bexley).
“Boredom,” Alan told me jokingly, adding that he often gets ideas when he’s doing repetitive chores, such as splitting wood, around his home, which is nestled in the Hocking Hills. He explained that the subconscious takes over and ideas move to the forefront of his mind. Thus, the Wellspring of Imagination program was borne of mundanity.

The idea was to “get good teachers to reach kids through poetry.” He wanted kids to spend time outdoors, taking inspiration from nature, and to learn from great poets who were also solid educators.

A noble cause, to be sure, but could it be done? Having forged relationships, through the annual festival, with terrific poet educators, Alan reached out to three poets he and Evie featured previously: David Lee, Alison Luterman, and Lisa Starr. As it turns out, the idea was an easy sell, and the first Wellspring of Imagination program kicked off in autumn of 2012.

According to the Power of Poetry website, Wellspring is “an intensive three days with prominent poets and artists, working on writing, visual arts and presentation,” culminating in a reading on the final evening of the program. As Alan writes in his letter to teachers, many Wellspring students “have had life changing experiences” going through the program. Indeed, as one 2016 student writes on the website: “I wish I could go back every year for the rest of my life.”

Since Wellspring’s inception, Alan has invited several other poets to lead the program, including Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, a four-year veteran of the event, and Ohio’s own Wendy McVicker. Alan says the program sees an average of about a dozen students per year, with most coming from Ohio. But a few have come from outside the state. He’s hoping for more kids this year and to that end, sought the help of OPA to reach more high school teachers.

New for 2018, Wellspring will modify its emphasis. While past programs sought students who love poetry, this year the event welcomes “students with a deep love of the visual arts.”
Evie Adelman (r) with Jessica Kennedy (Columbus).

“Our activities will play these two disciplines with each other, striving for increased aesthetic stimulation for everyone,” Alan writes. In addition to poet teachers, the program will feature strong artists, including a watercolor painter and a photographer. And students will create their own artwork.

Alan’s goal? Ultimately, every participant, from the poets and organizers to the students, will experience a greater sense of community through the arts. And that’s the goal of any literary citizen.

To learn more about the Wellspring of Imagination, visit the program website. Teachers who are interested in participating can contact Alan directly by phone at (740) 385-3918 or by email at

Watch videos of past performances:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Denison Student Wins 2018 NFSPS Edna Meudt Memorial Award

Interview by Chuck Salmons, OPA President

Iryna Klishch, a senior at Denison University (Granville, Ohio) was chosen as this year’s winner of the 2018 NFSPS Edna Meudt Memorial Award, which includes a cash prize and publication of her first chapbook, A Monster the Size of the Sun. Klishch, who is Ukrainian by birth, grew up just outside Chicago. I interviewed her via e-mail to discuss her award and the chapbook.

CS: First of all, congratulations on the award and on graduating from Denison. After reading the chapbook, I’d say the NFSPS made the right choice. How has life changed since receiving and sharing the news? Or has it?

IK: Thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to read my chapbook. The support I’ve received from family, friends, and Denison’s community has been so incredibly moving. People have been so kind and generous with offering feedback, supporting the little book, and bringing all new light into my life. Poetry has always been the one constant, true thing in my life and for that I owe it the world—so to be able to share it with a larger audience other than my workshop class, has been a dream come true.

CS: You are Ukrainian by birth, but grew up in the Midwest. How old were you when you moved to the U.S.? What kind of role has your Ukrainian heritage played in your development as a writer/poet?

IK: I moved to the United States when I was around 6 or so. But my younger sister and I went back constantly—visiting my grandparents each summer for a span of 4 or so months. All my happiest childhood memories are there. My grandmother was and is a wonderful story teller. She’d tell Russian folk tales, incorporate her own wit and charm into each piece, and leave my sister and me falling in love with stories from a very young age. My grandfather was an avid reader, and I was constantly surrounded by novels, adventure, and classics. I feel so much love for Ukraine, and because of the current political situation, I find it important to write about themes of war, power, family, and always—light.

CS: There is a strong feminine voice in these poems. Does this voice represent someone from your personal life or is it imagined?

IK: My mother, my grandmother. They are the strongest, most courageous women I know. Their support, their love, their curiosity have helped and shaped me in a multitude of ways. They have taught me the importance of kindness, love in all that I do: that home is an experience, never a place.

CS: As in the chapbook’s title, the sun, heat, and energy all permeate the imagery in the collection, especially in terms of items that are yellow or orange in color, which can convey happiness or joy. But in reading the poems, they built on each other in a sense that was oppressive, like a stifling summer day in the southern U.S. What was the inspiration for such a dominant trope?

IK: A majority of these poems settings were taken from Nadvirna, Ukraine. I’d spent so many summer months swimming in the river, so many months surrounded by trees and gardens, fields and mountains. To be surrounded by so much light, and then to have that contrasted with Ukraine’s history, current political situation, was always so difficult for me to understand. How can so much beauty exist with so much hate? How can there be lightness and darkness? I hope my poetry was able to shed some ideas on how this could be so.

CS: The sounds that come through in the poems create a real tension. There are many m sounds, especially in names such as Maria, Michelle, Magnolia, Ma. Combined with other “soft” sounds, like apricot, these seem to counter “hard” sounds, like teeth, stockings, lipstick. Add to that the visual movement that is conveyed by the shape of many of the poems on the page, and I’m left feeling as if I’m being pushed and pulled, like a struggle. I’m thinking of the line in your opening poem, “The Kingdom of Heat”: “war is something we have no language for.” Was establishing a sense of struggle something you strived for in the collection?

IK: I’m glad you found themes of struggle evident in my poems, both in subject matter and in visual disposition across the page. Creating a sense of struggle, the hesitation, the quick reading, the soft speech were all very prominent and important to me. I wanted my readers and audience to read quickly, then to stop, have their eyes move across the page, let the words fall. More than anything though, I wanted my poems to be read with a sense of urgency, I wanted to create language that was all fists, but all light.

The judge for this year’s contest was Dr. Benjamin Myers. He was the 2015–2016 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and currently teaches at Oklahoma Baptist University as the Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature.

Many thanks to Iryna for her thoughtful responses. Her book, A Monster the Size of the Sun, is available from here.

Learn more about the NFSPS College Undergraduate Poetry prizes here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Poetry Anthology to Raise Awareness of Opioid Crisis in Ohio

Anyone following the news in recent months knows that Ohio, and the nation as a whole, is facing a severe crisis of citizens succumbing to opioid addiction. OPA was contacted recently by faculty at Ohio University to help raise awareness of the impacts of this epidemic. Specifically, a new anthology is being compiled to spread the word about this crisis. The new collection will feature poems, stories, non-fiction essays, and artwork. Currently, the editors are interested especially in receiving poems and non-fiction. The call for submission details are below.


Since the arrival of a full-blown epidemic in the abuse and addiction of opioids in the United States, Ohio has consistently ranked at the top of the list for overdoses and deaths. As a result of this epidemic the lives of many Ohioans have been significantly impacted in various ways. Policymakers and a wide range of professionals have attempted to devise responses, but opioid use and overdose deaths continue to rise.


In an attempt to give a voice to this crisis and provide an in depth look into the opioid epidemic in Ohio, we are compiling a collection of first-person accounts, to be published in 2018 by The Ohio State University Press, under its Trillium imprint. We are seeking a wide range of perspectives to illustrate the impact, severity and scope of how this issue has affected the people and communities of Ohio. Contributions may include: real-life stories in narrative form, fictional short-stories based on real-life events, photographs and other visual media, and poems. If you have an idea for an alternative format or medium, run it by us. If you would rather participate in an interview rather than contribute something on your own, we are happy to arrange for the conversation to be published in an edited form. Your name or other personal information will not be shared unless you prefer that it be.

The editors are seeking contributions from all regions within Ohio, and seek to capture a wide range of perspectives. Examples of contributors could include, but are not limited to:

Recovering Opioid Addicts and Current Opioid Users
Family and Friends of Addicts or Recovering Addicts
Educators and Coaches
Medical Professionals
Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders
Government Officials
Addiction Specialists
Residents of Opioid-Affected Communities
Representatives of Nonprofit Agencies
Community leaders and members of faith-based organizations
Other individuals impacted by opioid use/overdose

The editors aim to curate a diverse selection of contributors. Submissions from underrepresented minorities are especially welcome. All professional backgrounds and levels of education are welcome.

Any proceeds from the collection will be donated to a charity involved in addressing the opioid epidemic within the state of Ohio. Contributors must be over 18 years of age and residents of
the state of Ohio.

This collection is being edited by three faculty members at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine:

Dr. Daniel Skinner, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Health Policy
Dr. Jane Balbo, DO, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
Dr. Berkeley Franz, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Community-Based Health

The project is being managed by Kacy Gaddis, M.Ed, Curriculum Coordinator at the Heritage College, in Dublin.

If you believe that your story can have an impact, and are willing to share it, please send the following information, with the subject line “Opioid Collection,” to Dr. Skinner at

Your Name
Brief description of your perspective, or the story you wish to tell
Your town or region
Proposed medium (narrative, poem, visual art, interview, etc.)
Proposed length, if known
Contact information
Preference regarding authorship/anonymity

Potential contributors can expect to hear back within a week of proposal submission. Proposals invited for submission will receive direction from the editors regarding length and scope.

Please send proposals no later than May 1, 2018. Early proposals appreciated. Actual submissions must be submitted by June 1, 2018.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

OPA member, Betty Bleen Named Runner Up in the Prestigious BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard Competition

The National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS), an organization to which the Ohio Poetry Association belongs, named Westerville, Ohio poet and OPA member, Betty Bleen as runner up in the prestigious BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard competition. Bleen has been invited to read her poem at the NFSPS national convention in Denver, Colorado on June 2, 2018, along with the other prizewinners. The BlackBerryPeach competition challenges poets to present their original poetry in print and spoken word.

First Place went to  Rosemerry Trommer of Placerville, Colorado. As 1st place winner Trommer receives the grand prize of $1,000. The second place prize winner of $500 is Susan Chambers of Good Thunder, Minnesota. Third place winner of $250 is Ryan Jones of Grayson, Georgia. 

Vice President Joe Cavanaugh, chair of the contest stressed the importance of reaching out to all poets by recognizing spoken poetry in its many forms as a powerful poetic genre.

A video of the convention performances will be posted on YouTube and NFSPS will publish the prizewinning entries including written and oral versions of four poems from each, in a 6" by 9"book that will be for sale at the Convention and will be marketed on

To learn more about the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, visit there website at

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Kari Gunter-Seymour named Poet Laureate of Athens, Ohio

Kari Gunter-Seymour was recently named poet laureate of Athens by the Athens Municipal Arts Commission (AMAC). Gunter-Seymour began her tenure as poet laureate on February 19, 2018.

A third-generation Athens County native and longtime OPA member, Gunter-Seymour will hold the position of poet laureate for one year and, pending an evaluation at the end of her first year, potentially a second. She will have access to a $2,000 stipend to pursue projects as poet laureate.

Gunter-Seymour holds a BFA in graphic design and a MA in commercial photography, but she is a self-taught poet. She started writing poetry after her son was deployed for Korea in 2002 and is now an active member of the arts community in southeastern Ohio and an award-winning poet.

“I woke up each morning, when I was able to sleep, wondering if my son was alive,” said Gunter-Seymour. “It was poetry, finding those few precious words to explain my fear and analyze my faith, that kept me grounded, got me through.”

The many awards she has won for her poetry include two Pushcart Prizes and a first-place finish in the BlackBerryPeach Spoken and Heard competition, sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. However, Gunter-Seymour said that the position of poet laureate is different from any other she has held or award she has won. The Athens community is growing as a center for diversity and the arts, and she owes much of her success to the place and the people that helped her get where she is now.

This service to my community is something deeply personal for me,” said Gunter-Seymour. “A way of giving back in honor of all who reached out to me to ease my journey.

Gunter-Seymour already has a number of projects she hopes to implement. She has created an official Athens Poet Laureate Facebook page for poets to interact and connect, and she has scheduled monthly poetry readings at The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens. She’ll also be spending time working with Athens High School students towards the end of March. She has scheduled her first reading and discussion as poet laureate for April 26 at ARTS/West in Athens.

Her future plans include a coffee table book entitled Expressly Athens, “a place-based mixture of community poetry submissions and art that has been selected for ‘Art Outside the Box’ throughout the years.” “Art Outside the Box” is a project that creates vinyl wraps from juried fine art submissions to cover the city’s traffic control boxes. Poetry for ages kindergarten through adult will be accepted for jury starting in September.

Upcoming Poetry Event Organized
by Gunter-Seymour
Gunter-Seymour’s biggest goal for her time as poet laureate is to “bring all who wish to participate in poetry – write it, read it, teach it, share it – together as many times as possible, in environments conducive to rich interactions, networking and empowerment building. I want everyone to have a voice in what is/should/could be happening with poetry in Athens County.”

As someone who had a long and non-traditional path to becoming an acclaimed poet, Gunter-Seymour wants to provide opportunities for both established poets and beginners to grow and share their work. She hopes that the position of poet laureate will open some doors that would otherwise have been closed to her, allowing her a level of autonomy to organize poets and events.

“I want to spend time with my fellow poets in celebration of the natural beauty that surrounds us here in Athens, [as well as] our inclusive attitude, our inventiveness, our interconnectedness, diversity, and love of the land and the arts,” said Gunter-Seymour.

Learn more about Kari at her website:

Written by Abby Studebaker, OPA Intern

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Governor Names Dave Lucas Ohio's New Poet Laureate

Governor John R. Kasich recently announced that Dave Lucas of Cleveland Heights has been named Ohio’s poet laureate. Lucas is Ohio’s second poet laureate, the last being Dr. Amit Majmudar, and his two-year term began on January 1.

Lucas currently teaches at Case Western Reserve University. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from John Carroll University, his M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia, and his Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. You can read a review of Lucas' book, Weather, here

Lucas, originally from Cleveland Heights, is excited for the opportunities that this new position presents to foster a love and appreciation for poetry across Ohio. He already has plans in the works for a multimedia poetry project, which will be announced once plans are finalized through the Ohio Arts Council.

Lucas’s interest in poetry didn’t officially begin until he was in college, but he felt drawn to language even before then.

I started writing poems seriously in college—I’d dabbled before,” said Lucas, “but years before that, I'd become aware of something compelling and mysterious in both the language of poetry and everyday language as well—in reading it, in hearing it spoken or sung. I couldn’t have put it in these words then, but I think that was the beginning of my life in poetry.”

During his time as poet laureate, Lucas hopes to connect Ohio readers from all walks of life with the many forms poetry can take. According to an Ohio Arts Council news release, Lucas "is planning a multimedia project involving people from diverse places and backgrounds allowing them to experience a variety of opinions about poetry." 

I hope to celebrate the work and legacy of Ohio poets and to celebrate poetry as we find it in ‘traditional’ poems and in unexpected places as well,” said Lucas.

Among Lucas’s many achievements are the 2012 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry for his work Weather, as well as the Cleveland Arts Prize, Emerging Artist in Literature.
His friends and family have been proud and supportive of Lucas’s newest role. “They’re already sick of hearing about it,” said Lucas. “That’s what makes them such good friends.”

By Abby Studebaker

Thursday, February 1, 2018

OPA to Co-Sponsor Poetry Reading at the Decorative Arts Center in Lancaster

By Abby Studebaker

As April approaches, it brings with it a break from subzero temperatures and the start of yet another exciting National Poetry Month. OPA will kick off this yearly celebration of poetry with a reading, coordinated by our very own Kari Gunter-Seymour, in partnership with the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio on Sunday, April 8.

Located in Lancaster, the Decorative Arts Center puts on exhibitions every year with the goal of engaging and inspiring through the arts. Beginning January 21 and running through April 15, the exhibition Artists of the Winding Road A-Z will feature the work of 12 artists living and working in Appalachian Ohio.

From asphalt to repurposed materials, the art in this exhibition reflects the region and its diverse inhabitants, and it has inspired OPA to co-sponsor a collaborative poetry reading in Lancaster.

The reading, titled “Rise Up Appalachia: Voices From Southeastern Ohio,” will take place from
2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 8 and will feature poems inspired by the art in the exhibition. Twelve southeastern-Ohio poets, each inspired by one of the 12 artists, has crafted an ekphrastic poem in conversation with that artist’s work.

Poets are free to interpret the art and the theme however they wish. Just as there is no single Appalachian experience, there is also no single artistic experience.

“This project is about observation and reaction,” said Gunter-Seymour. “Is it political, generational – complex or simple? Is it angry, sad, happy? Is there pride or sympathy involved? Are some of us outlanders who have made a home here or have we been here all our lives? Are we teachers, church goers, waiters, mechanics, as well as poets? How has living in Appalachia impacted us, or does it?
OPA is no stranger to collaboration and working across media. Visual art has the power to spark a poetic response and vice versa. Crossing boundaries, genres, and disciplines is one of the things art of any kind does so well. Gunter-Seymour, who is the founder and director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP), an arts organization, says that this commitment to lifting up the arts and artists as a
whole is what drew her to OPA.

The moment I learned of OPA, I wanted to become a member,” said Gunter-Seymour. “I continue to be impressed with the ongoing commitment of OPA’s leadership and the variety of opportunities they provide to members.”

Because of her ties to southeastern-Ohio poets and her experience organizing arts events, Seymour was the natural choice to curate this reading.

Poets who will be reading include Cathy Cultice Lentes of Rutland, Eli Redfern of Athens, and Jane Ann Fuller of Logan, among many others.

Everyone is welcome to attend the reading and view the artwork that spurred it, and Gunter-Seymour especially hopes to see OPA members in the audience as we “brush off winter’s cobwebs and celebrate renewal.”

Entrance costs $10 at the door, or $8/$5 for Decorative Arts Center members who pre-register. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early to view the exhibit before the reading begins. And a special printed program that features the poems will be available to attendees (quantities are limited).