Tag Heights Writes

Tag Heights Writes

Actor, Critic, Playwright, Poet: Cleveland Heights’ Next Poet Laureate

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Kathleen Cerveny, Heights Writes Committee

Christine Howey poet laureate“No matter where you go in Cleveland Heights you see people you know or want to know.” So says Christine Howey, the incoming (2016-18) poet laureate of Cleveland Heights. I met with Christine at Stone Oven – one of those places in the city where everyone meets everyone else, to get her perspective on the unique office she was about to occupy. Amid comments extolling the virtues of the Heights, including its diversity, Christine noted that very few cities have their own poet laureate; “How cool is that!”

Christine grew up and has lived most of her life in Cleveland Heights. She was a director and stage actor at Dobama Theatre for many years, and is the theater critic for Scene Magazine. She was named Best Critic in Ohio by the Cleveland Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. Christine is a playwright and her one-woman play, Exact Change, is a poetry-rich narrative which received its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theater in 2014 and which she performed last year at Playhouse Square, the New York Fringe Festival, in Provincetown and other places in the Northeast Ohio region.

In addition to her performance resume, Christine’s poetry has been widely published by Pudding House and Kattywompus Press and in numerous anthologies. She has written articles for The Daily Beast, Northern Ohio Live, The Plain Dealer and other publications.

Christine identifies herself as a performance poet. Not a ‘slam’ poet, although she has performed successfully in that genre, but one who actively pursues the drama and uses dramatic devices in reading her work. As an actor, she is very interested in how speaking poetry “creates a new way to access the words and helps people think in a different way.” In fact, her project as poet laureate will be to offer workshops to help people learn and practice speaking their work. She will welcome writers of all levels of accomplishment and is particularly interested in creating intergenerational workshops where youth and older citizens can learn and share together.

As she begins her term of office this April (National Poetry Month), Christine will be directing two one act plays she imported from the New York Fringe Festival, at Blank Canvas Theater, in the 78th Street Studios building on Cleveland’s west side. She will be formally introduced to the Cleveland Heights community at the City Council meeting, 7:00 PM April 18.


Kathleen Cerveny was the 2013-14 Cleveland Heights poet laureate. She is recently retired from the Cleveland Foundation where she was the Director of Arts Initiatives for 25 years. She lives in the “Royal Heights” neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.

2015: A very literary year

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 Poet’s Log: January 10, 2016

Since becoming the Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate in April 2015, I’ve found literature thriving in a wide variety of places – some of them surprising. Here’s a look back at my year of living in poetry            – Meredith Holmes

April 2 –Ekphrastacy for Heights Arts “Impermanence” gallery show. This exhibit of pairs of photographs of Cleveland places, taken decades apart was fascinating. Time and place are the stuff of poetry. “Then and now” photos of the Flats, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Terminal Tower, and Coventry Road inspired six poets to write about childhood, the Vietnam War, Cleveland’s robber barons, neighborhoods lost to gentrification, and landmarks that remain miraculously endure.

April 12 – Favorite Poem Project at the Lee Road Library. At this annual public celebration of poetry, all are invited to read their favorite poem. This being Cleveland Heights, many people read poems that spoke eloquently about social justice. I read “the Future” by Philip Levine, 2011 U.S. Poet Laureate. To find out more about him, go to www.poetryfoundation.org.

May 21 – Ekphrastacy for Heights Arts “Syncope” gallery show. Four poets, two of whom are also science fiction writers, responded to the subdued, abstract photos and drawing in the exhibit with evocative, dreamlike poems about dreamscapes, light and dark, shadow and shape.

Mac's BacksJuly 13 –Release of Harper Lee’s lost manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, a sequel (although written first) to the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Suzanne DeGaetano of Mac’s Backs organized a festive midnight release party at the bookstore. Mockingbird fans were treated to a documentary film about Harper Lee, Tequila Mockingbird drinks, Miss Maudie’s layer cake, and Calprunia’s lemonade. And of course, while waiting for midnight, we all enjoyed the finest in book browsing. Mac’s is a favorite venue for poets and writers to present their work. Go to www.macsbacks to see who’s scheduled next.

Cleveland Botanic GardenJuly 21 – “Branch Out” at the Cleveland Botanical Garden was a celebration of trees and architect-designed tree houses. I was delighted to find, among the fanciful structures scattered throughout the Woodland Garden, one called Poetry House. It had lots of irregularly shaped windows for gazing at forest and sky and was equipped with paper and pencils to encourage visitors to write. Most of the tree houses have been taken down, but Poetry House will be a permanent feature of the Woodland Garden.

August 1 – Cleveland INKubator. Billed as a literary unconference, the INKubator was a free, one-day gathering of writers, readers, booksellers, and arts organizations at the downtown Cleveland Public Library. Heights Arts hosted a table, and Kris Platko and I talked up Ekphrastacy and the Haiku Death Match and hawked my second book of poems, Familiar at First, Then Strange. The INKubator was also the launch of LitCleveland, a new literary organization for writers and readers that offers classes, free workshops, and other literary events. To learn more, go to www.litcleveland.org.

gentleman of the spoken wordAugust 2 –Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word. I’ve heard a lot about these talented young men, and finally got to hear them at the One World Festival held at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Their renditions of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King brought the  written word powerfully to life. The Gentlemen have a loyal following that cares deeply about poetry; audience members spoke and sang the words along with the performers. To learn more, go to www.thedistinguishedgentlemenofspokenword.com.

The Gentlemen will be performing at The Singers’ Club of Cleveland on March 12, 2016. At this spring concert, “A Whitman Sampler,” the chorus will sing pieces inspired by American poetry. To learn more, and to find out about the poetry contest The Singer’s Club is sponsoring, go to www.singersclub.org.

Phil MetresAugust 21– Phil Metres at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I went to hear poet and professor Phil Metres read from his chapbook of ekphrastic poems, Museum Pieces, at a Friday evening Art Bites. Dr. Metres led a small group around the museum, stopping to read poems inspired by particular pieces.  We began inside with “Stargazer,” (“What is most ancient / is most translucent ”) and ended outside facing the lagoon, standing next to “The Thinker” (“I trace the contours of detonation / tongues of flame still lapping the thinker’s feet”). Dr. Metres directs the Young Writers Workshop, a summer creative writing camp for young people. To learn more about the 2016 session, search, Young Writers Workshop, John Carroll University.

October 1 – Ekphrastacy for Heights Arts “Emergent 2015.” Young poets from the Northeast Ohio Masters in Fine Arts, Creative Writing program and from John Carroll University responded to work by emerging artists trained in northeast Ohio. The result was a stunningly original and authentic reading. One of the poets had been writing seriously for only a year.

October 10 – Haiku Death Match. This competition, in which poets vie for audience approval of graceful, meditative, 17-syllable poems, drew an enthusiastic audience and will be an annual Heights Arts event. Marc Zeale, a relative unknown, won the 2015 trophy. So start composing your Haiku now. You could be the next Haiku Death Match Master.





Haiku Death Match: Slugging it out in 17 Syllables

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Poet’s  Log: 2015

haiku master death matchThis Saturday night, October 10, at exactly 7 p.m. the 2015 Haiku Death Match will commence inside Dobama Theater.  Eleven of Northeast Ohio’s best Haiku poets will vie for the title of Haiku Death Match Champion. Pairs of poets will face off, reading their best haiku poems. The audience votes for the best poem in each round, and the poet with the highest score wins.

But wait — 11 is an odd number. “In the case of an odd number of competitors,” the Haiku Death Match rule book says, “the current poet laureate must step in and compete.”  So I will be up there with the most toned Haiku poets in the region. I have a small arsenal of poems, but I am worried about who I’m up against.


At least I’m doing my worrying in 17 syllables:

McNiece will get me

with something locally sourced.

I dread that moment.


Beware Cerveny!

Her complex, subtle Haiku

are chrysanthemums.

Completely above my pay grade:

Landis understands

physics, packs the universe

into seventeen.

Up on the roof with Cleveland’s creative community

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Poet’s Log, July 6, 2015

Meredith Holmes at Creative MorningsI did not expect, when I became Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate that I would end up in high places. On May 7, I read poems at the Bluegrass in the Fields concert, which was held in a magnificent downtown penthouse apartment. Then on June 19, I found myself on the roof of the Fairmont Creamery in Tremont to hear RA Washington, a Cleveland writer and community organizer, talk at a CreativeMornings Cleveland event.

CreativeMornings is a global breakfast lecture organization with chapters in 117 cities worldwide. The presentations are free of charge and held at 8:30 a.m. on the third Friday of every month. The same subject is discussed in all 117 chapters all over the world. CreativeMornings Cleveland was launched in January 2015. Hosts have included MOCA, Spaces, and the Cleveland Public Library.  (To find out more, go to CreativeMornings.com).

The topic on this breezy, cloudy day high atop the Fairmont Creamery was revolution. Yes, revolution.  Something I have not heard mentioned since 1980, when we started talking about devolution. Of course, we’re always hearing about “revolutionary” new products that will change our lives, but that’s marketing and advertising. The kind of revolution where we – that is, “we the people,” — make change instead of being affected by it — that kind of revolution hasn’t gotten much air play lately.

I wondered, as I sipped my free cup of Phoenix coffee and looked over Tremont to the Cleveland skyline, wouldn’t a discussion about revolution be a little risky in Moscow or Tabriz or Jakarta? These cities are among the 117 where there are active CreativeMornings chapters.

RA WashingtonRA Washington’s take on revolution was “Personal Politics, Identity, and Grassroots Organizing in Post Riot Cities.”  “The first thing he told us was that the next day — June 20 – was Tamir Rice’s 13th birthday.  He urged us all to take part in a community remembrance being held at the Cudell Recreation Center. Then he observed how few black people there were in the audience of 50 to 60 people, which led right into his concept of revolution. It’s not Che Guevara leading a guerilla insurgency, and it has nothing to do with advertising slogans. RA Washington’s kind of revolution has its roots in conversation.

He thinks that listening – really listening  — and talking to each other is the only way we the people will achieve a fundamental, 360-degree change in the way we think about and relate to each other. This is neither as simple or as easy as it might sound. We are set in our ways, a lot of us are afraid, and Cleveland has been a segregated city for a long time. He suggested we pretend we’re outsiders, and told about coming from El Paso, Texas to Cleveland about 20 years ago.  He didn’t know there were places he wasn’t supposed to go, music he wasn’t supposed to like, and people he wasn’t supposed to talk to.  So he went where he want to, listened to music he liked, and talked to people who interested him.  He crossed boundaries, which he now realizes, was revolutionary.

He pointed out that in Cleveland, as in other post-riot (the urban rebellions of the late 1960s) cities, most re-development plans for the affected neighborhoods have not worked because nobody asked the neighborhood residents what they needed. “And digital empathy is not enough,” he said.  Digital media are good organizing tools, but exchanging views with your Face book friends is not action. “There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Only real, on-the-ground conversation will make change,” he said.

When a young woman in the audience asked Washington how to get started, he was ready with an idea.  He said, “Watch my Facebook page. I’ll announce a Karamu Theater play that everyone here will go to. Karamu Theater is turning 100 this year. We’ll take this opportunity to talk to each other.”

This isn’t everything RA Washington said, but it’s the gist of it. Visit his bookstore, Guide to Kulchur, Text, Art and News at 1386 West 65th street in Cleveland. It’s more than a bookstore. It’s a hub, a place to think, talk, write, read, and make.  RA is the big, African American guy behind the counter. You can’t miss him.


April and Poetry and All

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Poet’s Log, April 28, 2015Roz Chast Poster

 By Meredith Holmes

If you want to get in the spirit of National Poetry Month, you can’t do better than logging on to “Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry” on the Cuyahoga County Library website (www.cuyahogalibrary.org).

Each day’s post includes a poem by a northeast Ohio poet and a writing prompt. This is the second year that “Read + Write …” has been brought to the public by the Cuyahoga Country Library. “Read + Write,” is the brainchild of Diane Kendig, a poet and college teacher, who lives in Canton, Ohio. Kendig suggested that the Cuyahoga County Library, take poetry to the people via the internet. Kendig would curate 30 poems – one for each day of National Poetry Month — and post them on the library’s web site.

Kendig knew this would work because of her experience teaching a course at The University of Findlay, called “E-Poetics.” She says, “The students, most not English majors but junior Business and Haz-Mat Majors, were studying poetry on the internet. They were fascinated, loved going to poets’ websites, loved a lot of the contemporary writers … I just think that if you can lead people to the right poems and poets, they like poetry a lot more than they think they do, and the internet is such a good medium for doing just that.”

The marketing staff at the library were skeptical, but “Read + Write” has been a tremendous success. Last year, 400 people signed up for the daily April email on the first day, and 1,000 by the end of the first week. This year, there are at least 1,200 subscribers.

You will find a tremendous range of poets and poems here.  If you browse through the poems for this year and last, you will find free verse, sonnets and villanelles, serious and light poems, expansive and introspective poems, and poems that have an impact both on the page and spoken out loud. There are even funny poems.  Kendig says, “… in Northeast Ohio I think we have a truly good, funny vein of poetry. Not cheap tricks humor, but poets getting a kick out of life and poetry.”

In many cases, Kendig has included old favorites that are out of print and not on the internet, trying to give them a second life on the web. “So in part, she says, “it’s a retrospective of what Northeast Ohio poets have been writing for 30 years.”

To get the “Read + Write…” email, go to www.cuyahogalibrary.org and click on “Join Us” in the  Read + Write box at the top. Fill out the request form that appears, and prepare to be amazed and delighted by thirty poets near you.


Once and Future Poet Laureate

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Poet’s Log,  April 10, 2015

By Meredith Holmes


HeightsArts executive director Rachel Bernstein (far left) with outgoing Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate Kathleen Cerveny (center) and incoming Poet Laureate Meredith Holmes after presenting them with commemorative glass plates by Cleveland glass artist Shayna Pentecost.

In April 2005, I was surprised and delighted to be chosen by HeightsArts as the first Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights. In January 2015, the Poet Laureate panel at Heights Arts invited me to fill the post again. I was just as delighted and almost as surprised.

A lot has changed since 2005. HeightsArts has a new director and a bigger staff; the HeightsArts gallery has undergone a renovation and expansion; and five poets laureate have put their personal stamp on the post. Most recently Kathleen Cerveny, has created – Ekphrastacy — a signature HeightsArts program that marries visual art and poetry.

The post of Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate is not a political one. The poet laureate is chosen by and works with HeightsArts, an independent non-profit arts organization. However, because the mayor and members of city council have always supported Cleveland Heights as a Home for the Arts in general and the poet laureate-ship in particular, it’s become a tradition for the outgoing and incoming poets laureate to read a poem each at the first Monday night city council meeting in April.

On Monday, April 6, Outgoing Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate Kathleen Cerveny, read “Song of the Builders” by Mary Oliver, from her book, Why I Wake Early (2004). “It’s a poem about service,” said Kathleen, noting the public service work done by all members of council. The poem ends:

Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion and read:

What Kind of City is This?

It is a city like any other
with parades and meetings,
good and evil, high school plays,
fire escapes, fires, movies, liars,
and the false rain of lawn sprinklers.
Bells and whistles, potholes,
migrating birds, trash, and feral cats.
Snow falling past streetlights,
books waiting to be read,
salt-washed sidewalks, trees rustling
in and out of their clothes.
Children attempting flight.

It is a city like no other.
You like to drive around
and remember its many lives.
The building where you rented
before you bought a house —
the Dori-Lee, apartment six.
This park is where you met X
and later, Y, come to think of it.
You used to walk to the movies
all the time when that building
on the corner was a movie theater.

Here is a Thai restaurant
that used to be a McDonald’s
and before that was a hamburger
joint with waitresses so surly
they swore at customers —
especially hippies and high school kids.
Here is the art gallery that used to be
a Starbucks, and before that, a Sushi place,
and before that, a variety store,
and before that — you can’t remember.
Here is the pub where the wake
for your daughter’s best friend’s
>mother was held one February.
Years later, it closed briefly
then miraculously re-opened.

Once a row of trees on your street
was cut down for no reason.
Everybody was outraged
and grieved the trees for months.
Then new trees were planted
and now, unless you’d lived here
a long time, you’d never know.