Reaching out is nothing new for Grand Rapids' first poet laureate
Sunday, April 20, 2003

By Ann Byle
The Grand Rapids Press

Grand Rapids is writing a new line in its literary history with the selection of the city's first poet laureate.

The honor goes to local poet Linda Nemec Foster, who will perform her first official duty at 10 a.m. Monday when she reads an original poem as part of the grand opening the newly refurbished Ryerson Building of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

"I am thrilled and delighted and, especially, honored to be Grand Rapids' first poet laureate," Foster said. "I'm excited about the prospect of having poetry more visible in the community."

Linda Samuelson, the Grand Rapids Public Library staff representative to the Humanities Council of Grand Rapids, the organization that chose Foster, said the timing is right.

"We have had an active Humanities Council for 25 years, and poetry is an important part of our programming and the programming of the Grand Rapids Public Library," she said. "We decided that Grand Rapids was ready for a poet laureate."

The goal, according to Foster and Samuelson, is to increase the public's interest in poetry and to bring about discussion and thoughtful writing throughout the community.

"Poetry can connect us to each other," Samuelson said. "Most poetry comes from the heart and soul, and we find that we have a common understanding of humanity. That sounds lofty, and it is, and it's true as well."

Miriam Pederson is a Humanities Council board member, an associate professor in the Aquinas College English department and a poet. She said the post of poet laureate is especially important today.

"I feel that having someone represent the city as a poet is a marvelous idea," Pederson said. "Especially during these times, poetry really sustains us in expressing our grief and emotions. To have someone who is an advocate for poetry is very helpful and appropriate for us."

As poet laureate, Foster will have four official duties during the first year of her two-year appointment.

First, she will participate in the opening of the new library. She also will lead a communitywide poetry reading at the Grand Rapids Public Library this fall. Then, during the winter, she will lead a poetry writing workshop for the public. She also will read at a citywide civic event involving the Grand Rapids city government. Details for these events will be provided at a later date, as will information about her duties in her second year of service.

"Linda has a remarkable history of contributing to our Grand Rapids community through many poetry workshops, programs in schools and writing classes she's taught," Samuelson said. "She's very accessible, as well as has a remarkable list of publications. Probably the key, though, is that she's so accessible and willing to share her talent."

Foster has had six books of poetry published, with three still in print. "Living in the Fire Nest," published in 1996 by Ridgeway Press, is a full-length poetry collection. "Contemplating the Heavens," released in 2001 by Ridgeway, is a limited-edition, fine art poetry chapbook.

Her most recent book of poetry is "Amber Necklace from Gdansk," published by Louisiana State University Press. It's been selected as a finalist for the Ohio Book Award and other poetry awards.

Foster is a native of Cleveland and has lived in Grand Rapids since attending Aquinas College. She and her husband, Tony, helped to endow the Aquinas College Contemporary Writers Series eight years ago.

"What is so important to me in this role is that I've been invited to be part of the celebration of our new library," Foster said. "Growing up, the library opened up so many doors for me. The big thing was to go downtown in Cleveland to that phenomenal building with its vaulted ceilings and marble steps.

"When I was in our new library downtown, I got that same feeling of awe and wonder. And when you have that feeling, it's magic."

As Grand Rapids' poet laureate, Foster will receive a stipend of $2,000 per year. Funds for this project have been raised through the Michigan Humanities Council with matching contributions raised locally.

"This is a wonderful opportunity," Foster said. "I've worked for 20 years doing community outreach for poetry.

"The poet laureate position is another dimension of what I do. It helps broaden the public's awareness of and interest in this art form, and I say bravo to that."

© 2003 Grand Rapids Press.