Poetry is art


By Marilyn Delk


When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recently announced his reappointment of Kari Gunter-Seymour as the state’s Poet Laureate, a position she has held since 2020, he stated that he was pleased that the poet would continue “creating connections through poetry with communities all across Ohio.” Creating connections seems an especially vital function these days, as divisive social, intellectual and political issues take center stage—and connecting through the arts is a profoundly wise and enriching choice.

The Ohio Arts Council posts a job description for Ohio Poet Laureate, stating the the person holding the designation “has the opportunity to foster the art of poetry, encourage literacy and learning, address central issues relating to the humanities and heritage, and encourage the reading and writing of poetry across the state.” The list of duties concludes that the Ohio Poet Laureate will “share and promote poetry through public appearances, readings, workshops, and digital and social media.” Kari Gunter-Seymour has been a diligent proponent of all that is required in the criteria listed above.

A ninth generation Appalachian who has endured negative stereotypes based on that lineage, the retired instructor of Journalism at Ohio University focuses on lifting up underserved voices, and says that she is enthusiastic about empowering those who have not been taught about art and its value. Gunter-Seymour, who has led writing workshops with prison inmates and works with women in recovery housing, says that her Appalachian identity empowers and underlies her work.

The poet’s latest collection, Alone in the House of My Heart, won the 2023 Book of the Year Award from the American Book Fest and edited I Thought I Heard A Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, which earned the 2023 Poetry Anthology Best Book award; other accolades include being named Ohio Poet of the Year in 2020.

Poetry is quite un-poetically defined as “the art of composition that attempts to stir imagination or emotion through language chosen and aranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.” The art form has a long and varied history, dating back to prehistoric times and evolving in various form around the globe. I grew up believing that poems were only created with rhyming lines, and although I thorougly enjoyed nursery rhymes, found most poetry boring or silly—I did not understand the value of poetry. And then I learned that the art form is more complex than I had realized, that words put together in poetic fashion could make me laugh or cry, or offer wisdom and insight into something profound.

In announcing Gunter-Seymour’s re-appointment, Governor DeWine said that a highlight of his inauguration was the poet’s sharing of her poem “Perfect Pitch,” a work featuring references to music icon Dolly Parton. The text of the poem, minus one verse, follows:

I rode middle school-bound

In the back seat of my aunt’s station wagon

listening to her and mama sing “Jolene,”

trading verses, harmonizing the chorus,

I’m begging of you please don’t take my man!”

A few years later it was “9 to 5.”

They were fired up and it was Dolly’s doing.

This was rural Ohio, the bottom lip

of Northern Appalachia,

right shy of Perry Como country.

The women in the family worked

the TS Trim factory, spitting out

Honda car parts. Started out

on the assembly line, worked their way

up to paint, then detailing, then welding.

… .

Brave women in the work force determined

to see their daughters inside college classrooms,

the hell out of factory row.

I didn’t know then that I was being raised

by a feminist, taking back her power.

Like Dolly, my mama would never use that word,

no matter how much she embodied it.

She was proud to hang up her welder’s helmet

end of shift, pick up her paycheck, sing in the front seat

of a station wagon with women she loved.

The Ohio Art Council’s site states “Kari Gunger Seymour’s poems offer a refuge where one’s curiosity, intelligence, and awareness of the complexities of contemporary Appalachian female culture take shape.” Nothing silly or boring about that; poetry is an art form that inspires minds and stirs souls.

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