One year into his three-year term as poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Mich., Lew Klatt calls himself an ambassador for poetry with the responsibility “to encourage the writing and reading of poems in the community he serves.”
A member of Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Klatt has long found affirmation in the Reformed perspective for the writing and studying of poetry. In fact, he sees language as “fundamental to the cultural mandate,” and poetry as a way to “resuscitate language and unlock the potential of speech.” Poetry provides opportunity to exercise God’s gifts of creativity and imagination, he said.
The laureate’s goal is “to make poetry as accessible as possible without dumbing it down or compromising its complex beauties,” said Klatt, an associate professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. He noted that he has had much practice in devising strategies to make poetry accessible, especially for students who are not English majors. He is already using these skills as the community’s laureate to find contact points with those uninitiated in the art of poetry.
As poet laureate he has begun initiatives that bring poetry into the experience of both adults and children. He is involving local book groups in reading collections of poetry. Klatt and his committee are also working with the Grand Rapids Historical Society and Grand Rapids Public Library in after-school programs teaching students about the history of transportation in West Michigan and culminating in the writing of haiku. His dream is to have some of these haiku exhibited on city buses.
Among Klatt’s publications are three collections of his poems: Interloper (2009), which received the Juniper Prize for Poetry; Cloud of Ink (2011), awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize; and Sunshine Wound (2014).
Klatt was nominated for the position by fellow English professor Gary Schmidt.