Thursday, September 22, 2016

Selecting a Poet: Ohio Poetry Day's Process



“I've been an Ohioan my whole life, and I'm honored to be recognized in my home state,” says Maggie Smith, the newly crowned Ohio Poet of the Year. A big congratulations is certainly due for this wonderful accomplishment, awarded by the Ohio Poetry Day (OPD) Association.

    Started in 1938, this non-profit organization is interested in promoting quality writing, often through its blog, chapbooks, and contests. Long-standing member Amy Jo Zook, who functions as both treasurer and contest chairman for OPD, graciously shared the process of selecting a winner. 

These books can be nominated by any well-read person, and mostly come from publishers, literary groups or organizations, libraries, or independent sources such as friends and family. A poet may never nominate oneself and will likely not know of their nomination unless told by the nominator, or until they win the title of Ohio Poet of the Year. Similarly, Smith stated “...I honestly [knew] nothing about it. I did not know my book and I [were] being considered. I received a call while on vacation... informing me that I was selected as Ohio Poet of the Year for The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and I was delighted, of course.” 

As one can imagine, there are quite a few choices to narrow down, typically into a selection of four to eight books. This is the set that the judges, members of OPD who are handpicked each year, examine. 

When asked what the judges hope to see, Zook replied that the best pick is “neither too simplistic nor too abstract.” The book should be recently published, so as “to best capture the poet’s current style.” Like Smith’s work, many of the past winners’ books contain poems about or related to Ohio, but this is not required. However, and understandably so, it must be of high quality. Zook added that “the goal is to find something accessible to a large audience,” something challenging in content that would make the reader crave more of the poet’s work.

The judges then vote after comparing all the choices, and this step is done individually. Zook believes that, by waiting until after voting to discuss the poetry with the other judges, the final pick does not become a compromise. Instead, the election is more clean and clear. 

And so the election this year led to Maggie Smith, who says her book “...was largely inspired by fairy tales and folklore, but it blends those influences with my Ohio roots.”

“Many of the poems are set in or reference places that are important to me, including my childhood home in Westerville, Alum Creek, and Schiller Park in German Village,” she explains. No doubt some of these poems will feel familiar to Ohio readers! 

To hear Maggie Smith’s luncheon reading and speech, come join Ohio Poetry Day at Heidelberg University on October 15 for the award ceremony. The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison and her other publications will also be sold there. If your interest is peaked for more of Maggie’s poetry, please visit her website maggiesmithpoet.com

For more information on Ohio Poetry Day 2016, see the following articles on the OPA blog:   

Written by Logan Morales