Academy of American Poets awards fellowship to McNiece

Ray McNiece hosting an Ekphrastic poetry event at Heights Arts. [photo: Greg Donley]

Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate Raymond McNiece has been awarded a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets. McNiece is among 22 poets nationwide who will receive $50,000 each in recognition of their achievements, and who will complete proposed projects.  

Cleveland Heights holds the distinction of supporting the oldest poet laureateship in Ohio, through a partnership between Heights Arts and the city of Cleveland Heights. Every two years, Heights Arts’ volunteer community team, Heights Writes, reviews submissions and chooses a new poet laureate for a two-year position.

McNiece, who will end his term in April 2023, will continue to work with Heights Arts and other partnering organizations such as the Center for the Book and Lake Erie Ink to complete his "The Poem for Cleveland" project, which will create a mosaic of Cleveland voices past, present and future through intergenerational, multicultural workshops. 

Among his civic duties, McNiece coordinates Heights Arts’ Ekphrastacy, Artists Talk and Poets Respond series.

The Ekphrastacy literary program is a series of artist talks and poetry readings held regularly in the Heights Arts gallery, in conjunction with its exhibitions. Cleveland-area writers are invited by the poet laureate and Heights Writes Community Team members to view the installed artworks and respond with a new poem. Five weeks after an exhibition opens, the artists talk about their work and the poets read their poems, often resulting in a surprising dialogue. Participating poets receive an honorarium for their participation. 

The next Ekphrastacy event will take place on Thursday, Sept. 22. McNiece will join poets Diane Vogel Ferri, Ariel Alexander, and Diana Lueptow as they respond to the Impagination and Jackie Miller exhibitions.

Cleveland Winter by Ray McNiece 

Cleveland winter gray 
from November till May 
lake effect pall every day, 
one stacked upon the next 
like slabs in a steelyard. 
Maybe a clump of weeds 
smashed beneath stays green.  

Grizzled, ashen faced 
old bachelor uncle waits 
his cataract eyes watching 
through fish-scale window, 
for me to take him to soak 
his Slovenian immigrant bones 
in cinderblock bath-house.  

Dawn’s first dull light fills 
the aluminum pot he hammers 
into shape to hold his daily 
ration of meals on wheels. 
But when he stops, heat 
leaves its skin, leaving 
his hands raw and dingy.  

He holds them over blue  
flame of stove like the last  
blast furnace in the Flats 
as the sun’s molten smile 
slides out from under clouds  
before nails of  thin sleet tap 
down the sky’s tin roof. 

[originally published in "Heartlands Today"]

Tom Masaveg

Tom Masaveg is a local public artist specializing in augmented reality installation and graphite works on paper. He's also the programs manager at Heights Arts. Contact him at

Read More on A & E News
Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 3:38 PM, 09.01.2022