CSU Poetry Center fosters a love for poetry

BY ASHLEY MOTT

Arts & Entertainment Editor

Cleveland State University has many new buildings coming to light, as well as additional shiny bells and whistles for students to play with and enjoy. However, there is a gem that took up residence in Rhodes Tower many years ago that many students still have yet to uncover.

The Cleveland State Poetry Center was created back in 1962 to spread the word about poetry and literature in the Fenn College of Engineering. Since then, it became a small press in 1971 that was loosely associated with the Cleveland State English department.

In the nearly 50 years following their creation, they have published almost 200 poetry collection books, averaging about 3-5 books a year. According to Graduate Assistant Zachary Peckham, the poetry center has always had a long and rich history with the student body of Cleveland State. He is one of three graduate assistants who work with the poetry center and within the business of the small press itself.

Though the poetry center may be a small press, its reach is national as their books are distributed through the Small Press Distributor company, also commonly referred to as SPD. Books that were published by the small press can be found in local bookstores and online by distributors like Amazon.

Part of the reason the poetry center has been so successful in its publishing endeavors is because of the many national competitions that come to Cleveland State to be hosted and read for.

Three of the competitions that the poetry center works with are currently going on, and while they are not open for student entries, Peckham believes that students should still follow along to see how national competitions work, gain some knowledge about poetry and how it is possible to be successful as an author. The winners of the competition will be published by the Cleveland State Poetry Center and have their book distributed nationally.

“A big mission of the poetry center is to bring work into the light, and into the public, that might not otherwise have a chance to,” Peckham said in reference to how the winners are chosen.

It seems as though many submissions are ready to be published, but the poetry center is all about getting the best and most interesting work out there. Since there are so many books going out of print and less people reading physical materials, it is becoming harder to foster the love of real physical books instead of technological reading devices.

However, that does not discourage those working at the poetry center. For Cleveland State’s small press there is something special about holding a book in your hands and turning each page rather than sliding left or right on a tablet or computer screen.

“I feel like we have so much low-key anxiety emanating from these glowing screens all the time, that to pick up a physical item and interact with it and let it take you somewhere else is pretty great,” Peckham said.

Getting students to follow the competition and explore their love for poetry and expand their knowledge is just one outcome of the competition. Even though students can’t enter, they are able to read the books that win right here on campus in Rhodes Tower room 415, where the poetry center houses all the books they publish.

In addition to that, the center also hosts the Lighthouse Reading Series, which is a series of readings for students to come and enjoy. In conjunction with the Lighthouse Reading Series, the poetry center also hosts the Writers at Work series where the authors at the reading will stick around for a question and answer session for students, staff and the public to enjoy.

“The reading line up lately has been a pair of readers, one whose book we have published and one person [that] we are just able to bring, whose work we also find exciting,” Peckham explained.

The combinations of authors allows students to be able to have many of their questions answered about what it’s like to enter the competitions and win, if making a living is hard or if they have any recommendations to aspiring writers, along with any other questions they may have. While there hasn’t been a student competition hosted by the center just yet, for students to put these questions and answers in to action, there has been talk about it, according to Peckham.

In the meantime, young writers can get some experience working with the small press by volunteering for events or by inquiring about internships. While there is not technically a formal way to apply for an internship, it has been done in the past for credit with the university.

There is so much that the Cleveland State Poetry Center offers the student body that can help aspiring young writers find their path. Though it may be hidden up on the fourth floor of Rhodes Tower, its reach is immense, and with graduate assistants like Peckham, who are eager to help students find their love for poetry, it has become a resource that can answer many questions for those who are still finding their way in the world of creative writing.

Originally Published on The Cauldron.

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