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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 owl111@frontier.com.

Watch videos of past performances:

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