Yesterday, Michael Salinger, Anna Soter, Steve Abbott, Mark Hersman and I had the privilege of testifying in favor of Senate Bill 84 (which aims to create an Ohio Poet Laureate position) in Columbus. Dear Ohio friends, poets and other artists, I urge you to write to your state senator and ask that she or he support this bill.
[JUNE 5th UPDATE: The Ohio Senate passed S.B. 84, and it has now moved on to the Ohio House for consideration. So thank your state senator if he or she supported the bill. And now it’s time to write to your state representative.]
Me testifying – photo by Salinger
To esteemed Chairman Burke, Ranking Member Smith and members of the State Government Oversight and Reform Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 84.
My name is John Burroughs. I am a Cleveland poet and the founder of Crisis Chronicles Press, who has published books by many of Ohio’s best writers, as well as a wide array of poets from around the world. I also co-founded the monthly Lix and Kix Poetry Extravaganza and annual Snoetry winter wordfest, and I currently host the Monday at Mahall’s Poetry and Prose reading series in Lakewood, Ohio. Our events regularly draw featured poets and other guests from as far away as New York and California and even, upon occasion, other countries.
Our out of town guests, without exception, are impressed by the vibrancy, diversity, dedication and great skill exhibited by the Ohio poetry community. I’ve heard many of them say that certain venues in Cleveland or Columbus, in Akron or Toledo or Cincinnati are the best places they’ve ever read poetry, and with some of the most talented and enthusiastic crowds. And yet, more than once, a featured poet from out of state has expressed disbelief that a great state like Ohio is one of the few states that do not yet have a Poet Laureate.
Around Presidential election season I often hear variations on the phrase “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation.” And it’s true. The same rich diversity we see and celebrate in the landscape, people and culture of our great state is a reflection of our United States as a whole. But it is also just as evident in our Ohio poetry community. You can look at the comprehensive northeast Ohio poetry calendar I help maintain at clevelandpoetry.com for evidence. Any given night, you will find live poetry events at libraries, bookstores, coffee houses, taverns, parks, festivals, farm markets, junkyards, art museums and private homes across the region. In Greater Cleveland, where I live, I personally know hundreds of dedicated published poets – white, black, Hispanic, men and women, academic and street, rural and urban, Democratic, Republican and independent, teachers, students, factory workers, grocery store owners and deli clerks, bag boys, baristas, telemarketers, restaurant cooks and servers, minimum wage earners and doctors, university professors, attorneys, accountants, electricians, registered nurses and surgical technicians, farmers, stay-at home moms and retired grandparents. I am not retired – yet – but I do have eight grandchildren.
And what state do I want my grandchildren to grow up in? The great state of Ohio, with its great Lake, great landscapes, rich history and fine people; a land where hard work, education, communication, honest achievement and our rich culture are highly valued; a land of opportunity, the heart of it all, where there is so much to discover and where not only does poetry matter – I would argue that it should and does matter everywhere – but where so many people from so many walks of life across our state know poetry matters and know how much it matters. This is why I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak before you today, esteemed members of the committee, and I urge you to support Senate Bill 84 and honor our state, its people, and its reputation by creating the position of Ohio Poet Laureate.