Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

July 6, 2014

On Poetry: From one laureate to another

This poem is by way of introducing you to JoAnn Balingit, who was selected as poet laureate of Delaware after I moved to Traverse City.

During my own tenure as poet laureate, I instituted a three-day writing retreat at Cape Henlopen Beach, supported by the Delaware Division of the Arts. I chose participants anonymously, based on the quality of their work. JoAnn, if I remember right, was one of the ones selected for the first retreat.

What happened on retreat? There were twelve poets. We gathered at the state-owned Center at Cape Henlopen (an environmental treasure saved, by the way, for the people of Delaware by our Vice President Joe Biden). We worked alone all day, in our rooms or at the beach or anywhere we chose. This alone-time was the best part for many. Bag lunches were available at noon, and at the evening meal we were all together, copies of our day’s work in hand for others. After dinner we gathered for a three-hour workshop.

A great deal of growth can happen in a short time in that intense situation.

Many times that growth continues. Since then, JoAnn has published three books, spent a month in France on a Bread Loaf Fellowship, and become an assistant editor for YesYes Books — besides all the work she’s done in Delaware, visiting schools, giving readings, arranging poetry events, as poet laureate.

It’s been a joy to me to watch a number of those writers I felt that I was “discovering” develop into full-fledged, publishing poets.

JoAnn is in Traverse City now because her son Julian is attending a three-week summer music program — he’s a pianist —at Interlochen. She’s using this time as an occasion to get acquainted with northern Michigan.

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