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Locating Lansing's Laureate

Jamie Paisley
Ruelaine Stokes speaking at the MICA Gallery about the forthcoming Lansing Poet Laureate position.

Only 6 states in the U.S. do not have a Poet Laureate, and Michigan is one of them.
After attempting to make that happen a few years ago, a group of mid-Michigan organizations have shifted to a smaller scale.

The Residential College in Arts and Humanities(RCAH) Center for Poetry at MSUbegan the process of trying to get statewide recognition of a Michigan Poet Laureate back in 2013. But as the center's Assistant Director, Laurie Hollinger put it: "I learned also at that time that there are committees established just for bills to go to die."

But nevertheless, as Hollinger explains, the pathway to creating the new position of Lansing Poet Laureate came from inside RCAH.
"Our director, Anita Skeen, was actually teaching a course in which she was going to be presenting various work of state poet laureates and national poet laureates. that was kinda the general theme of her course. She thought 'You know, doesn't Michigan have one? Why doesn't Michigan have one?' It seemed so sad and tragic that Michigan didn't have one with all of [that] Michigan has to offer."

Historically, Michigan has only had one official Poet Laureate, Edgar A. Guest, from 1952 to 1959. But with the stalled initiative to bring back a statewide laureate, RCAH and the Lansing Poetry Club turned to a more local focus and received some help from the president of LEAP (Lansing Economic Area Partnership), Bob Trezise.

LEAP sent their representative, Josh Holliday, to the Lansing Poet Laureate informational workshop which took place this past weekend in Old Town Lansing's MICA Gallery and explained why LEAP  has gotten involved.
"Bob Trezise originally had the conversation with Ruelaine Stokes and Laurie Hollinger who are our other partners on this project and he knows that to attract business, retain jobs, and retain talent, that we're going to need to be a world class, sophisticated global economy that's able to support that. So he knew that by having a Poet Laureate helps us as a region come together to increase our sophistication and showcase that we are a unique, and creative, and cultural environment."

LEAP is footing the bill for the first two years at least, for a $2000-per-year honorarium for the new Lansing Poet Laureate, which covers Ingham, Clinton, and Eaton Counties.

Applying to be the Lansing Poet Laureate means submitting your work to a committee with members from the East Lansing Art Festival, Lansing Community College, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing amongst others. But the submission also includes a long term proposal from the poets on how they can engage the community from the Capital Region.
"So that is our opportunity for our three partners" says Holliday "and me, in particular, who's overseeing the program, to [learn] how does this Poet Laureate take the best opportunities available in the region to capitalize and bring the literary art form to all three communities in the tri-county."

Although as Ruelaine Stokes of the Lansing Poetry Club, the third organization spearheading the Lansing Poet Laureate initiative, tells me, it’s not just the literary tradition that has a place in poetry.

"There's also people who are experimenting and doing wonderful things with multi-media forms of poetry. I think it's all enriching. The creative mind doesn't, you know, stay in one particular area. It's a very, very active, very sort-of exploratory endeavor. So we're thrilled to see that creativity can take many forms."

More information about the search for the Lansing Poet Laureate, including the application process which closes on March 3rd, can be found online at purelansing.com/PoetLaureate --- while the announcement of the poet chosen will occur in mid-April.

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