Calvin professor Lew Klatt to be Grand Rapids poet laureate
Calvin English professor Lew Klatt was recently named poet laureate for the Grand Rapids area, succeeding Grand Rapids Community College professor David Cope. He will begin his three-year term this April.
“The poet laureate is an ambassador for poetry, creating programs and projects to foster the writing and reading of poetry by the public,” explained a press release announcing Klatt as the poet laureate.
While he knew that fellow English professor Gary Schmidt had nominated him for the position of laureate, Klatt didn’t expect the Grand Rapids Poet Laureate Selection Committee to choose him for the job.
“I was surprised I was selected, only because there are a number of wonderful poets in city, and Calvin has never had a poet laureate before,” he explained.
Klatt nevertheless looks forward to building on the current poetic culture in Grand Rapids.
“I think Grand Rapids has a very strong poetry scene already,” Klatt said. “The various institutions of higher learning in the greater Grand Rapids area have wonderful programs to promote poetry. Grand Valley State, for example, has a poetry night at the end of October. They’ll invite a high profile poet or two to read poetry and sign books. It’s very well attended. And Calvin has the Festival of Faith and Writing. So I want to build off the strong poetry culture [in Grand Rapids] — to encourage and cultivate it.”
While Klatt isn’t ready to reveal all the details about what he plans to do as poet laureate yet, he is especially excited about working with the youth of the greater Grand Rapids area. He already has an idea for a project working with elementary schoolers to write poetry about the history of transportation in Michigan.
“Between the auto industry and the freighters, our state has a particular commitment to transport. I thought it would be fun for kids to learn about the history of transport in state and then write some poems that expressed their interest in [that history],” Klatt said.
Klatt is also considering putting together a poetry exhibition that incorporates graphic art.
“Most times, we think of poetry as an oral expression — coming off the page or inhabited by the voice of the poet. We have poetry slams and recitations, but often neglected is the way the poem looks on page — the way it’s presented as a typographical technology. I would like to foreground that aspect of poetry in some kind of exhibition. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an exhibition,” he said.
Klatt has explored the ties between visual art and poetry before in his own work, most notably in his first collection of poems, “Interloper,” published in 2009. Klatt received the Juniper Prize for Poetry for the book.
“One of the primary aspects of poetry is its imagery — pictures with words. So the next step is to leave words behind and just go with pictures or symbols,” Klatt said, explaining the connection between poetry and visuals.
In addition to “Interloper,” Klatt comes to the position of laureate with a vast body of work known at the national level. He published a second collection of poems, “Cloud of Ink,” in 2011. The collection was awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize in 2010. In addition to the two books, Klatt’s poems have been appeared in Blackbird, Denver Quarterly, Washington Square and “The Best American Poetry 2011,” among others.