Ohio's poet laureate is a neighbor
What does it take to become the state’s poet laureate? In Ohio, one might say, “It takes one to know one.”
When Dave Lucas, who lives in Cleveland Heights, met Ohio’s first poet laureate, Amit Masmudar, of Columbus, they discovered that they shared many similarities. With Masmudar’s encouragement, Lucas expressed his interest in the position to the Ohio Arts Council, and was granted an interview.
He was asked to submit samples of his work and to write a proposal for furthering the mission of the poet laureate position, which is to encourage literacy and learning. Now, almost halfway into his two-year term, Lucas’s proposal will carry him across the state to cities, suburbs, rural towns and college campuses—wherever people gather to share the love of words in the form of poetry.
While spreading poetry across the state, Lucas hopes Ohioans will come to recognize its presence in the everyday—in slang, jargon, song lyrics, tweets, dramatic scripts—wherever words take on a deeper meaning.
According to Lucas, people should not always press to “get” a poem. Its significance can lay simply in the sound of the words.
Asked about his proposal, Lucas said that he planned to spread the appreciation of poetry through a monthly column, which he titled “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry.” He is distributing the column free of charge to newspapers and other media outlets. It can currently be seen in indie papers, such as Cleveland Scene, Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) The Observer, The Bargain Hunter (Tuscarawas), The Devil Strip and others.
A big fan of Cleveland Heights, Lucas relocated here twice, after stints in academia out of state.
“It’s an interesting time and place to be in the Heights,” he said, where he regularly runs into talented people and colleagues Kathy Ring and Thrity Umrigar. “Its backyard neighborliness is a real plus,” he added. “You have to be able to like where you live and work.”
Lucas gives a shout-out to some of the people who influenced his career as a poet, including George Bilgere, Rita Dove, Charles Wright, Mark Strand and Linda Gregerson.
Lucas’s first book, Weather (The University of Georgia Press, 2011), received the Ohioana Book Award for Poetry in 2012. Named by Rita Dove as one of 13 “young poets to watch,” he has also received a Discovery/The Nation Prize and a Cleveland Arts Prize.
A lecturer in the English department at CWRU, Lucas is co-founder of Brews + Prose at Market Garden Brewery and of Cleveland Book Week. He also teaches at the Sweet Briar Creative Writing Conference, the John Carroll Young Writers Workshop, and the Cleveland Clinic Program in Medical Humanities.
Looking ahead, Lucas sees more poems, more teaching, local projects and a reading series in his future. He has a second book of poetry ready for publication, and is hoping it will attract more attention when word gets around it comes from a poet laureate.
Evan Komito is a resident of Cleveland Heights an occasional contributor to the Heights Observer.