Poetry back on the rise in Greater Lansing

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It’s a rare weekend when there isn’t some type of poetry event in Greater Lansing. When I talked with Laura Apol, MSU writing professor and Lansing poet laureate, she was about to leave for a poetry workshop she was conducting in Grand Ledge. At the same time, poet Ruelaine Stokes was a featured writer at the Eaton Rapids Poetry Club.

Poetry has blossomed in the area and Apol attributes it to several factors. “We are living in a time when people need to have voices and give voice to others. Poetry is happening everywhere,” she said.

Apol said another reason for poetry’s ascent is the Center for Poetry at MSU, which brings in major poets and conducts workshops.

She said the proposed state budget, which includes a slot for a state poet laureate, would further bolster poetry as an important piece of culture. The Library of Michigan would administer the post, which still has to be approved by the legislature.

“The position would empower local laureates,” she said. “It’s also about what a poet laureate would say about Michigan: That we are raising our children to appreciate the arts,” Apol said.

Robert Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, which sponsors the Lansing area poet laureate position with the MSU Poetry Center and the Lansing Poetry Club, agrees with Apol.  Trezise said he sees poetry as an important part of place making which he preaches as an economic tool for attracting new businesses.

At a recent literary event at REO Town’s Robin Theatre, Tresize observed a packed house of young people listening to the spoken word. He said many of those in the audience were young REO Town business owners.

“We are making different kinds of connections,” he said.

And that’s one reason Trezise and the LEAP Board established a poet laureate position in 2017. The first poet laureate was Dennis Hinrichsen who served two years. Apol, only the second to hold the position, is noted for her poetry that engages directly with the lives of others and is often documentary in nature.

Her poetry collection “Requiem, Rwanda,” published by MSU Press in 2018, is based on her work to help healing among the survivors of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. She is currently at work on a scholarly book on “poetic inquiry,” which melds poetry and research.

Apol, who has held numerous workshops and readings in the community, said, “I wish there were four of us,” referring to the position of poet laureate.

M.L. Liebler, an award-winning poet and Wayne State University professor, is also the poet laureate for St. Clair Shores, a post he’s held since 2005.

“Being a poet laureate is more than just a title. A poet laureate’s job is to help citizens of all ages understand that literature and the arts is essential to one’s growth and awareness to help create a healthy society,” he said.

One of the characteristics of the poetry culture in Lansing — according to Rosalie Petrouske, a Lansing Community College writing professor and poet — is a lot of younger people of diverse backgrounds are getting involved.

She also cites the number of poetry groups and venues have increased for both “the stage and page” poets.

In addition to Writing at the Ledges, a writing group she helped found, there’s the Lansing Poetry Club, the Poetry Place, the Blue Owl Reading Series and events by MSU Poetry Center.

“Poets in Lansing are finally getting recognized as significant,” she said.

One other characteristic of the poetry scene is there is a group of dedicated poets who organize events. That long list includes Petrouske, who has put together the program Six Voices in Winter, a series of readings next Wednesday at the Okemos Library. Petrouske said each of the women offer a unique vision in their poetry. The women have picked five themes and will rotate between themselves, reading one poem at a time.

“It will be fast-paced,” she said.

The five other poets joining Petrouske: Mary Fox, who has published two volumes of poetry and was formerly a teacher at Fowler High School and LCC; Cheryl Caesar, who teaches writing at MSU and is an officer in the Lansing Poetry Club; Melinda Pope, who fuses poetry with her photography and mixed media art together; Margo Krusinga, who will present poetry inspired by the 60 acres of land surrounding her home, and Mary Anna Kruch, a career educator whose poetry is inspired by her Italian family and the family farm in Northern Michigan.

In a twist of poetic license, Petrouske said, “What could be better than six wonderful women on a warm winter night?”

Six Voices in Winter

6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26

Okemos Library

4321 Okemos Road, Okemos

cadl.org/about/our-locations/okemos

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