‘We Are the Community Maj Nurtured Into Speech’
The Kent State University literary community gathered on Sept. 14 under crisp blue skies to remember one of Kent's most beloved teachers, the late poet Maj Ragain.
“Maj wrote poems to, for and about this town, this home of his in Kent,” said David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center in his remarks at the dedication. “His poems gave shelter and solace and sustenance to our community, and it feels so right that we’re dedicating this poetry park today in his memory and his honor.”
The gathering resembled a reunion of sorts as Ragain’s close family, friends, colleagues and generations of his students gathered to celebrate his legacy with the dedication of the Maj Ragain Poetry Park, located just outside of the Wick Poetry Center on the Kent Campus. Among those there to honor him were President Todd Diacon, Mandy Munro-Stasiuk, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Maj’s son Sean Ragain, Chris Wick of the Wick family, Dorish Hendrix, the 2023 recipient of the Maj Ragain Poetry Scholarship and Maj’s spouse, LuAnn Csernotta, all of whom shared what Ragain’s legacy means to them.
“Maj offered his poems as an exchange of gifts, a sacrament of friendship."
“Maj offered his poems as an exchange of gifts, a sacrament of friendship,” said Hassler. “... Many of us have our Maj story, that memory of an intimate exchange … in letters or words or poems or a time when Maj showed you the quality of his heart … at that moment he could make you feel seen and heard. Well, many of you might think you were alone in being the center of Maj’s attention, but I promise you were not. Look around, look at all of us, we are the community Maj nurtured into speech.”
Ragain, who passed away in April 2018, came to Kent State University in 1969 and spent more than 30 years at the university as a poet, creative writing professor and mentor to many. He led weekly open mic poetry readings that served as a common ground for artists of all backgrounds to share in their love of the written word and created a strong sense of community in Northeast Ohio and beyond.
"Maj Ragain...was a beacon of inspiration. He guided, and he nurtured the creative writing aspiration of most of his students. Today, we see the fruits of his labor in the thriving literary scene that flourishes within both our university campus and also within the town of Kent.”
“Maj Ragain’s influence extended far beyond the classroom, and I think that’s really important to recognize here,” said Munro-Stasiuk. “He was a beacon of inspiration. He guided, and he nurtured the creative writing aspiration of most of his students. His dedication to their growth and development as writers was unwavering, and as a result, many of his students not only successfully pursued careers in writing, but they’ve also remained active members of Kent State’s vibrant writing community today. Today, we see the fruits of his labor in the thriving literary scene that flourishes within both our university campus and also within the town of Kent.”
Situated right outside of the Wick Poetry Center near the Lefton Esplanade, the Maj Ragain Poetry Park is a peaceful gathering spot that features colorful and lush landscaping and a sculpture by one of the Wick Co-Founders, Robert Wick. Waist-high stands dot the walkway around the park displaying several of Ragain’s poems, and a plaque in front of the Prentice House bears his name.
In his remarks at the dedication ceremony, Kent State President Todd Diacon shared that while he never met Maj Ragain, he felt like he knew him.
“I feel like I knew him, or at least some part of him, and this is because of David’s [Hassler] play ‘May 4 Voices’ and that moving, starkly lit, poetically brilliant voiceover which Maj did that begins the play,” said President Diacon who asked those in attendance to permit him to read an excerpt of Ragain’s speech from the play.
“… I was glad to find a river, a railroad track, a brick train station. Water and steel joining this to that,” Diacon read aloud. “‘I entered Kent over the old Main Street bridge and right onto Water Street. Always find a Water Street."
"Kent State University is better because Maj Ragain drove onto Water Street in 1969."
“Kent, Ohio, is better because Maj Ragain found us,” Diacon closed. “And Kent State University is better because Maj Ragain drove onto Water Street in 1969. Always find a Water Street.”