Verse That Gives Voice: Wick Poetry Center to Celebrate 40 Years

Anniversary events will culminate in September with three-day festival celebrating the international voice of the Wick Poetry Center

Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center marks its 40th anniversary this year with three days of poetry events and a gala planned for September to celebrate the program that has provided a platform for creative voices across the globe.

David Hassler

“Our 40th celebration will be a testament to the ongoing mission of the Wick Poetry Center to encourage new voices and to bring poetry to the most urgent and evolving needs of our communities through readings, workshops, panels, interactive exhibits and digital platforms,” said David Hassler, the Bob and Walt Wick Executive Director of the Wick Poetry Center. “It will also be a joyous homecoming for so many of our past Wick authors, scholarship winners, student interns, community members, and the Wick family.”  

The celebration, Sept. 19-21, will include panel discussions, workshops and readings, culminating in a gala dinner on Saturday, Sept. 21, he said.  

Elite Poets Featured

The event will focus on the themes of Poetry and Healing, Poetry and Science, Poetry and Peace and Poetry and Social Justice, and will feature a start-studded lineup of poets including:  


Poet Lineup for WIck 40th Celebration
From left to right: Padraig Ó Tuama, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield and Adrian Matejka


Padraig Ó Tuama: Irish Poet and theologian, Ó Tuama’s work centers around themes of language, power, conflict and religion. He is the host of On Being’s “Poetry Unbound” and the author of “Poetry Unbound; 50 Poems to Open Your Life.” “Feed the Beast” is his most recent collection with “Kitchen Hymns,” a volume of original poems, and an essayed poetry anthology “Poetry Unbound; Poems on Being with Each Other” are expected to be released this year. From 2014-2019, Ó Tauma was the leader of the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation community. 

Naomi Shihab Nye: Based in San Antonio, Texas, Nye is a poet and children’s author, and was the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate from 2019-2022. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Book Critics Circle, the Lavan Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Carity Randall Prize, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry award, the Robert Creeley Prize, and many Pushcart Prizes. From 2010 to 2015 she served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2018, she was awarded the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Jane Hirshfield: Award-winning poet, essayist and translator, Hirshfield is the author of 10 collections of poetry, and two collections of essays, and has edited and co-translated four books collecting the work of world poets from the past. In 2017, with the March for Science in Washington, she founded Poets for Science, an interactive exhibit of science poems and writing invitation housed at the Wick Poetry Center, which has traveled to venues across the country. 

Adrian Matejka:  Based in Chicago, Matejka is editor of Poetry magazine. A graduate of Indiana University Bloomington and the Master of Fine Arts program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Matejka served as poet laureate of Indiana in 2018-19. He is the author of “The Devil’s Garden,” which won the New York / New England Award and “Mixology” a winner of the 2008 National Poetry Series. His third collection, “The Big Smoke,” was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. His most recent collection of poems, “Somebody Else Sold the World” was a finalist for the University of North Texas 2022 Rilke Prize and the 2022 Indiana Authors Award. His first graphic novel “Last on His Feet: Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century” was published in February 2023.   

All four will give readings and host panel discussions, while Wick staff will guide attendees through writing workshops and immersive tours of interactive exhibits centered around the four themes.

Poet Maggie Anderson, founding director of the Wick center, also will be a featured guest, along with past Wick Poetry Prize recipients.

“The 40th anniversary will truly be a celebration,” Hassler said.  

Registration will begin next week, but those who pre-register now will be sent an email to be among the first to register.

Learn more about the celebration and pre-register.  

Wick History

Brothers Bob and Walt Wick first established scholarships in 1984 to support undergraduate poets at the university. Bob was a sculptor and former art department faculty member at Kent State, and the scholarships were born out of a desire to honor and memorialize Bob’s son Stan (1962-1980) and Walt’s son Tom (1956-1973), both of whom died as teenagers.

Bob Wick
Bob Wick

Over the next 20 years, the scholarships expanded into the Wick Poetry Program, which steadily increased its presence on the Kent Campus and involvement within the community. In 2004, the Wick Poetry Program was officially named the Wick Poetry Center, and in 2009, its popular Traveling Stanzas debuted as a collaboration between the center and Kent State visual communication design students.

In 2014, the Wick Poetry Center renovated a residence that once belonged to May H. Prentice, the first female faculty member of Kent State. In this new location, the center also created the Maj Ragain Poetry Park, a peaceful space in the heart of the Lefton Esplanade, featuring the Edwin S. Gould Amphitheatre, “Seated Earth” bronze sculpture by Bob Wick, and the Joan and Ron Burbick Outdoor Gallery.

Lasting Legacy of Generosity

Although the Wick brothers have both passed away, the Wick family continues to support the center. A recent gift of $1 million brings the family’s total lifetime commitment to Kent State to more than $3.5 million. Chris Wick, son of Walt, pledged the donation in November 2023, acting as a representative for his family. The gift created an endowed position for the executive director of the center to maintain the kind of visionary, innovative leadership that has led to the center’s elevated national profile and highly regarded status and will memorialize the brothers’ tremendous efforts to bring the power of poetry to the larger community.

Hassler followed Anderson as the second director of the center in 2009, after working with her for five years developing and leading the outreach programs for Wick. Over the past 20 years, he has helped the program secure a national presence with efforts such as its Poets for Science exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the Global Peace Poem in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Kent State May 4 shootings, the Freedom Story exhibition for the dedication of the Now and Forever Windows at the Washington National Cathedral, and many other initiatives, including “Dear Vaccine,” a global poem that spoke to the hope that sprung from the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine. “Dear Vaccine,” has garnered national media coverage and attention and was turned into a book and stage performance. 

“Thanks to the original vision and generosity of Bob and Walt Wick, and now Chris Wick, our center will continue to grow, transforming the lives of students and community members, locally and nationally, welcoming all into the ever-expanding Wick family of poets,” Hassler said. “I am most proud of how, through the passion, skill and dedication of our staff and student interns, the center continues to innovate new ways to bring poetry to everyday lives.”

Learn more about the Wick Poetry Center


POSTED: Thursday, February 29, 2024 01:42 PM
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2024 09:12 AM
Lisa Abraham