Thursday, May 22, 2014

Your government in action


Here is the testimony I gave in support of Ohio Senate Bill 84 which would create the position of Ohio Poet Laureate. I spoke with four other folks: John Burroughs, Steve Abbot, Mark Hersman and Anna Soter.


To Chairman Burke, Ranking Member Smith and members of State Government Oversight and Reform Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 84. Good Afternoon Senators. My name is Michael Salinger; I am a literacy consultant, educator, engineer, father and a poet. I have spent the last decade working with students, teachers and administrators across Ohio and the world incorporating poetry into the curriculum as not only a finished art product, but as a tool to aid in pupil’s understanding and educator’s assessment of lessons.

Poetry is precise and concise language; it is the poet’s job to distill experience into an instant. As former U.S. Poet laureate, and Ohio native Rita Dove has said, “If we're going to solve the problems of the world, we have to learn how to talk to one another. Poetry is the language at its essence. It's the bones and the skeleton of the language. It teaches you, if nothing else, how to choose your words.”

Through the reading, writing and listening to of poetry we can learn how to choose our words wisely, how to convey meaning and emotion as well as empathy for the voices of others. The refined nature of poetry invites the reader to slow down and pay attention to nuance, to think deeply about the words being read. Poetry invites contemplation. A writer of poetry takes time to craft their thoughts in order to record their experience so that others may interpret it. In short, poetry hones one’s communication skills to a sharp point.

Ohio has been the home to many, along with Ms. Dove, who have chosen their words wisely, Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Daniel Thompson, James Wright, Kenneth Koch, Mary Oliver, D.A. Levy, Marilyn Nelson and former U.S. children’s poet laureate Jay Patrick Lewis to name just a handful. We Buckeyes have always had important things to say.

It is in this spirit of appreciation for insightful communication that I contend it is right and just that Ohio join the 45 other states who recognize a poet laureate. In doing so we will show the citizenry of our state the esteem we hold for civil and meaningful discourse. We will show our appreciation for deeper thinking and set a good example for our students.

It is often a poet laureate’s charge to take on a project, to provide poems for important events within their state, to raise the public’s awareness to the genre. Nationally these projects have included Billy Collin’s Poetry 180, which supplied poems for every school day to be read and discussed by classrooms and Kay Ryan’s Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, which highlighted the work of students in community colleges across the nation.

This is where I believe our Ohio poet laureate will leave a positive and lasting mark within the state, in the projects they initiate reminding folks, especially our youth, of the importance of precision in language and careful listening.

I hope this esteemed body sees fit to support and pass Senate Bill 84 to officially recognize what many in our great state already believe, poetry matters.