Hamilton, Ohio – Say the word Appalachian out loud. Did you pronounce it app-ah-LAH-shin, like a cat? Or do you say app-ah-LAY-chin, like laying down for a nap?
Kari Gunter-Seymour wants to know.
As a woman of Appalachian heritage – she’s a third-generation native of Athens County in eastern Ohio, nine generations removed from ancestors who came to the United States from England – those little details make a difference.
As Poet Laureate of the State of Ohio, those little details are crucial.
“Poetry is just vital to civilization,” Gunter-Seymour said. “It’s healing and poets are truth sayers. If you look to the poets and the fine artists, you will find the truth there. In a state or municipality or city with a poet laureate, they are committing to the arts.
“They’re inviting us to step away from the left side of our brains, from the cold hard facts of life, to experience the adventure of our right brains. That’s really important to do, to experience.”
Didn’t know Ohio had a Poet Laureate?
No worries. It’s a relatively new position. One Gunter-Seymour couldn’t have imagined even if it had existed sooner. She never set out to be a poet, let alone Poet Laureate. In fact, she didn’t start writing poetry until 2009 when she was well into her 40s.
“And I have to tell you, my early poems were really, really bad,” she said. “There’s such therapy in writing, though. I had been journaling and journaling and journaling, but somebody suggested I try to write poetry. In poetry you have to focus on every word, every syllable, and it’s a very intentional way to write. It was very healing.”
Healing turned into part of her mission as bard of the Buckeye state.
“In the state of Ohio, the poet laureate does what he or she wants to do,” she said. “There are no prescribed job requirements. For me, it was to work with teens and adults who are incarcerated and with women in addiction recovery. The work there has been rewarding and humbling.”
Gunter Seymour is only the third Poet Laureate in state history – following Amit Majmudar (2016-2018) and Dave Lucas (2018-2020) – and the first to serve two terms.
She began in 2020 amidst the Covid shutdown. While she did a lot of work via Zoom in her first term, Governor Mike DeWine reappointed her in 2022 to continue her mission of service with more personal contact. “There’s no doubt I worked hard (to become a good poet), but I was so lucky to have so many people who were willing to extend a hand to me,” she said. “I want to extend that hand back to other people who could use a lift, a little bit of support, somebody who believes in them.”
Gunter-Seymour will share more of her story during the Celebrating Self luncheon speaker series at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts Wednesday, March 1.
Expect to hear about her work with prisoners and those in recovery, some of her own acclaimed poetry, the anthology she edited - I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing, Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, which celebrates the work of more than 130 Ohio poets - and more. “I won’t have any trouble filling 40 minutes,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m excited to get there and to see the audience and talk with them face to face.”
Tickets - $19 for members and $25 for non-members – are available here. Every Celebrating Self program includes a featured speaker, as well as a buffet luncheon served by our catering partner, Two Women in a Kitchen.
Doors open at 11 a.m., with lunch served at 11:30 in the Carruthers Signature Ballroom. Gunter-Seymour takes the stage at noon; a Q&A session follows her presentation.
On April 5, join us for the final Celebrating Self of the 2022-2023 season – Local Stars of Reality TV. TvHamilton’s Jeff Archiable hosts a panel discussion featuring local reality TV stars Brad Baker (Shark Tank) and Susan Vaughn (The Amazing Race).
The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.
Building Community Excellence through the Arts and Culture