River Stanzas Project Gives a Voice to the Cuyahoga River
In May 2018, Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center received a $90,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Since then, the center has been busy strategically planning and implementing the River Stanzas Project in communities around Northeast Ohio.
The River Stanzas Project helps “use poetry to reflect on the history of the Cuyahoga and project forward the future we want to have,” explained Charles Malone, program and outreach manager for the Wick Poetry Center.
“As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the (Cuyahoga) river burning, the grant has helped us make sense of the history of the Cuyahoga,” Mr. Malone said. “In a time where environmental conversations are very present, how do we get back to the reasons for environmental protections? What do we want the river to be in 50 years?”
The Wick Poetry Center has used a large portion of this grant to focus on implementing poetry and education about the Cuyahoga River in local schools. “Last fall, we did a lot of outreach in the community -- in Crestwood, Kent and in Akron -- both high schools and elementary schools,” Mr. Malone said. “We brought the history and science of the river into the classroom in a creative writing experience.”
The grant also has allowed The Wick Poetry Center to partner with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This partnership allows the River Stanzas Project to be present in many programs throughout the park.
One aspect of the partnership includes the collaboration of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Environmental Education Center with the nationwide “Every Kid in a Park” program. This program allows any fourth-grader to receive a free trip to the park. The Wick Poetry Center wants to implement the River Stanzas Project into this program as one of the immersive experiences offered to the children.
“Beginning in April, we will begin taking fourth-grade classes into the park and spending a couple of hours with them, walking, writing and engaging,” Mr. Malone said. “Young kids don’t know much about the river burning; I find myself being the first to tell these kids of the incident.”
According to the Traveling Stanza’s website, “The crisis for our river achieved critical mass on June 22, 1969 when the Cuyahoga caught fire...The river became a symbol for the environmental movement, and the crisis offered the country an opportunity to examine public environmental policies and our communities’ relationships with our planet.”
Another main portion of the grant will focus on the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River Burning and Rebirth on June 22. Events will be hosted during the week leading up to the anniversary all over Northeast Ohio. “The grant has allowed us to be present in all celebrations,” Mr. Malone said.
Throughout the week, there will be events on the headwaters of the river, at the Wick Poetry Center, in Akron and in Cleveland and at the mouth of the river. “The river connects all of Northeast Ohio, and we plan to be present in all of these areas,” Mr. Malone said. “The grant has allowed us to be a good supportive partner with each community.”
David Hassler, project director of the River Stanzas Project and director of the Wick Poetry Center, said the grant also has allowed the River Stanzas Project to be present in Kent. “This aspect is super exciting and has become much more in-depth than we originally intended,” Mr. Hassler said. “We’re very excited to partner with the city of Kent in a more in-depth way.”
The River Stanzas Project will be present in downtown Kent during the months of June and July. It will include digital tools, analog tools and printed posters designed by Kent State graphic design students that combine the voices of community members and students. The city of Kent also is participating in the installation of several large 30-40 feet long murals of River Stanzas throughout the city.
“The gallery is going to be very impactful and interactive,” Mr. Hassler said. “It is going to give us a space to set the tone for conversations during the key months.”
The Wick Poetry Center is getting the public involved by putting up signs that prompt them to go to the URL or use a QR code to create a digital thread community poem. The center will be creating an evolving community poem based on these submissions. These poems will be displayed in businesses around Kent.
“The goal of our efforts is to commemorate the 50th anniversary river burning and give voice to the river,” Mr. Hassler said. “We want to reflect the last 50 years of the river and to dream the next 50 years to come.”
To learn more about the River Stanzas Project, visit: https://travelingstanzas.com/educators/river-stanzas
To view lesson plans that implement poetry about the Cuyahoga River into the classroom, visit: https://travelingstanzas.com/educators/river-stanzas/lesson-plans
Image: Group Poem by Kent Parks and Recreation Summer Camp, Design by Anna Moorehead