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Lima making its mark in poetry

Apr. 2—LIMA — A community can be known for many things, whether it is industry or geography or demographics. For proponents of the arts, helping a community create its own voice artistically can create a true sense of identity and value. In Lima, those artistic efforts can be seen in murals on building walls and heard on stage through music and theater. However, another form of artistic expression is on the rise in Lima: poetry.

As ArtSpace/Lima is accepting nominations to become the city's next Poet Laureate, signs of the growth of poetry in the region are becoming more evident, from packed houses at Vibe Coffeehouse for its monthly Lima Land Poetry Slam to the November 2023 publication of "River and Rust," a collection of the work of Lima and Allen County poets.

"Spoken word [poetry] has had a re-emergence, and we see that mirrored in Lima," current Lima Poet Laureate Timothy Cheeseman said. "We have the Lima Land poetry group that does the monthly readings at Vibe. Those are packed; they are literally standing room only and they're now having to charge for people to come in. The Ohio Theatre had an open mike night for a period of time. Also, I think 15 cities in Ohio have poets laureate, now. So I think it is a trend to respond to a re-emergence of poetry as a common, powerful voice, one that can give some identity and shape some artistic integrity for a community."

The metered verse and rhyme found in the sonnets of Shakespeare and Byron may, at first glance, sound out of place in a blue-collar rust-belt community like Lima, but spoken word poetry, defined by the Poetry Foundation as "a broad designation for poetry intended for performance," including slam poetry, has been finding a voice in Lima. For Lima native Courtney Owens, poetry, both in spoken word and on paper, has not only been a creative outlet, but it has taken her to performances at city events and even at the statehouse.

"No matter what style of poetry I do, it's always uplifting, and in the words that I speak, I'm always trying to empower and enlighten people," she said. "One of the greatest feelings that I've had when I spoke at 'Survivors Speak,' and I actually spoke in the rotunda at the Ohio state capitol, and it was full of violent crime survivors and families of victims. After I did my spoken word piece, people came up to me and told me that what I said helped them through the day and it brought hope and light to them."

Encouraging creative writing in Lima is part of the broader mission of ArtSpace/Lima to promote artistic expression in the area. For executive director Sally Windle, these efforts have unearthed a treasure trove of talent in this area, including in areas like poetry.

"I think in this community, we have a lot of creativity and that's why we've sustained arts for many years," she said. "This is just another outlet, but we have people who have done amazing things with that. It's maybe not typical for this type of town because industrial towns don't usually have this emphasis like we do, but it's always been here."

Initiatives like the Lima Poet Laureate program as well as the Lima Creates grant are intended to help burgeoning artists to find their voice while helping to put Lima on the map as a cultural hub.

"I just won a grant from the city to go ahead and finally publish my single book of poetry," Owens said. "I will also do an audiobook and I'll have visuals with spoken word pieces to make a video to blast out on YouTube."

Owens hopes to have her book published later this summer.

As entries continue to be submitted to ArtSpace for the city's next poet laureate, Cheeseman hopes that his successor will continue to help the area discover more deeply its own poetic voice.

"I would say that ArtSpace is looking for someone who has that combination of a deep connection with the area, some level of poetic work that is out there and a vision for what they think would be good to do next," he said.

For more information on the poet laureate program, contact ArtSpace/Lima at 419-222-1721.