Poet Laureate

Erie County Seeks New Poet Laureate

Erie County is seeking a new Poet Laureate for 2021-2022! What is a Poet Laureate? Someone who takes their writing seriously. Someone who is ready to contribute to the history of poetry in Erie County and foster the appreciation of verse across the community. Are you that someone?

To be eligible you must be a resident of Erie County whose works have appeared in literary journals, books, anthologies, or other media. Do you regularly contribute to the region’s poetry community, and are you comfortable with public presentation and interaction? If you answered yes, consider applying to be the 2021-2022 Erie County Poet Laureate. Download the 2021-2022 Application packet for further instuctions. Should you have questions please call 814-451-6303 or email dsmith@eriecountypa.gov.

Some people ask why Erie County needs a Poet Laureate. You might as well ask why Erie needs a philharmonic, a playhouse or an art museum. Erie County needs a Poet Laureate so that we may see the world around us as they see it with its many foibles, joys and hurts. “The great theatre of the world is written in verse, and its poetry reconciles us to the manifest absurdities, injustices and cruelties of our natures. There is nothing to match verse that lifts so readily into saying what is exact, evocative and moving” (John Holcombe).

Poetry matters in Erie County because it is a vital part of literacy, and literacy is a vital part of culture, and culture is a vital part of our community’s landscape, that vision of our community that makes it an appealing place to live.

The Erie County Poet Laureate Project has tapped into a wellspring of local award winning poets from higher education, to Poets working the beat of our poetry community. Erie County’s first two Poets Laureates, Berwyn Moore and Dr. Thomas Forsthoeful came from Gannon University and Mercyhurst University respectively. Others like Ron Hayes, Cee Williams Marisa Moks-Unger and Dr. Chuck Joy demonstrate the way poetry cuts across all backgrounds, race and gender.

Current Laureate

Erie County Poet Laureate Chuck Joy
Poet Laureate Chuck Joy

Chuck Joy  Renamed Erie County’s 2020-21 Poet Laureate

A pandemic year can feel like a decade and in fact it has been almost two years since I began my second term as Erie County’s sixth Poet Laureate in September, 2019. Throughout this time I continued to respond to invitations to appear as Poet Laureate, early on at Fort LeBoeuf High School and toward the end at Thasia Anne Lunger’s stage presentation Women of Word.

The theme of my second year as Poet Laureate was partnership with the Erie County Public Library and on 9/16/19 we co-produced an Open Reading and Annual Photo for poets residing in Erie County. The Library displayed and retains the Photo, and throughout the year developed and displayed its poetry holdings.

On 11/13/19 we co-produced a symposium titled Spoon River Anthology and the Poetry of 100 Years Ago featuring participating professors from several of Erie’s many universities, specifically Mercyhurst, Gannon, and Edinboro; followed on 1/19/20 (the snowiest morning of that winter!) with a staged reading of selected poems from Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, featuring a diverse cast of readers including the Erie County Clerk, the County Executive, the Mayor of Erie, an Erie School Director, the Director of the Library, an elementary school student, two child psychiatrists, the professors from the Symposium, poets resident in Erie, theatrical talent, and poet John Burroughs from Cleveland. The staged reading also resulted in a documentary video record of the event provided by CAM Erie.

By the time of the 2020 Poet Laureate Annual Reading, COVID-19 was among us and that Annual Reading was produced live for simulcast including Facebook and tape at the CAM Erie studio. Similarly, the Poetry Therapy Workshop for Healthcare Professionals on 5/5/20 provided by accomplished poetry therapist John Fox from the Institute for Poetic Medicine was presented virtually.

As the pandemic prevented the production of live poetry events, the partnership with the Library led to the development of Poetry Live!, another in Erie’s long series of weekly poetry open mic events, hosted by Patric Nuttall from the Library, both live and virtually, as conditions permit. Another lively partnership developed with WQLN through the person of Halle Sullivan who co-produced that station’s on-going program of Poetry Minutes as well as a calendar of Poetry Events on wqln.org.

In summary, a long and eventful second term for which I am grateful and which I hope to be followed by a rousing and vigorous competition among poets resident in Erie County to be my successor.

About the Poet Laureate Initiative

Dr. Joy was awarded a second term as the 2020-2021 Erie County Poet Laureate. He receives a $7,500 grant, which provides a $3,000 stipend to the poet and $4,000 to carry out a project to help bring poetry to the people of Erie County. Five hundred dollars goes to administration and other costs. The community project is unique to the Erie County Initiative, ensuring that the Laureate uses the majority of the public funding to enrich and educate the region through poetry.

Erie County government, in cooperation with Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Gannon University, Mercyhurst University and Penn State Behrend, started the Poet Laureate Initiative in 2009. Already, it has received recognition for its impact on the arts in our region, receiving the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association County Arts Award in 2011 and the National Association of Counties National Arts Award in 2012.

Past Laureates are Berwyn Moore, 2009-2010; Dr. Thomas Forsthoefel, 2010-2012; Ron Hayes, 2013-2014; Cee Williams, 2015-2016, Marisa Moks-Unger, 2017 -2018 and Dr. Chuck Joy 2019-2020.