Ohio Poet of the Year 2019


I got a suspicious email back in August. It alleged I’d won a statewide contest. I am not so easily fooled. I wrote back:

“In case you are a wealthy foreign prince, I have nothing to extort. I’m a friendly hermit who drives a  rusty 2004 Honda and wears worn out shoes.”

The emailer responded with contact info for the Ohio Poetry Day Association (OPD), which has awarded Ohio Poet of the Year since 1938.  He said he wasn’t affiliated with the organization, but was helping out since they had trouble getting in touch with me. He asked me to call Amy Jo Zook, contest chairperson for Ohio Poetry Day and coordinator for Poet of the Year. He explained the organization is run by such a venerable board that they only operate by phone and mail.

Suspicious indeed. But I investigated.

I googled Amy Jo Zook and discovered she has a doctorate in English, won the Ohio Poet of the Year award herself back in 1988, and has volunteered for literary causes for decades. I reverse-searched the number I was given and it matched up with her name.

Hmm. Could this be a real thing? My publisher had sent my book off for several awards…

A Nigerian prince  seemed a more likely possibility than my winning anything. Rather than think about it, I went back to editing manuscripts. When that distraction didn’t work, I took a bucket of kitchen scraps out to the chickens, picked some green beans, and watered our mulberry saplings. I still couldn’t muster up the courage to make the phone call. Maybe it was the memory of my mother listing among a woman’s sins the attitude, “she certainly thinks highly of herself.”

That evening, bolstered by two substantial glasses of Merlot, I finally called Dr. Zook. She explained that books are nominated by publishers, literary groups, libraries, and other independent sources — self-nominations are not accepted. No list of nominees is released. The choices are narrowed down to eight or fewer books, which the OPD judges then compare individually before voting.

She told me about the history of the award.

Back in 1938, the State of Ohio set the third Friday of every October as Ohio Poetry Day. This was the first poetry day established by a state government in the United States, thanks to Tessa Sweazy Webb who spent thirteen months lobbying the Ohio General Assembly. She argued, ‘For each living reader a living poet, for each living poet a living reader.’

And Dr. Zook told me about her years handling the details of Ohio Poetry Day and its publications, all proudly done without email or internet. She said the annual OPD event takes place the weekend of October 18-19th at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio with workshops, readings, and all OPD awards.  (She mentioned Mary Oliver was Ohio Poet of the Year in 1980!)

All this to say, I was indeed voted Ohio Poet of the Year on the strength of my newest collection, Blackbird

My impostor syndrome is now in full flare. Vast appreciation for Tessa Sweazy Webb, Ohio Poetry Day board and judges, and my wonderful publisher at Grayson Books, Ginny Connors. Also, vast shock at finding myself in any category that includes luminaries such as these recent Ohio Poet of the Year winners: Susan Glassmeyer, Kathy Fagan, and Maggie Smith. Sometimes good news IS real.

Pinch me when you see me.

“Poetry is more a threshold than a path.” Seamus Heaney



47 thoughts on “Ohio Poet of the Year 2019

  1. Oh my! Congratulations, Laura! Well-deserved!

    On Sun, Sep 22, 2019 at 7:15 AM Laura Grace Weldon wrote:

    > Laura Grace Weldon posted: ” I got a suspicious email back in August. It > alleged I’d won a statewide contest. I am not so easily fooled. I wrote > back: “In case you are a Nigerian prince, I have nothing to extort. I’m a > friendly hermit who drives a rusty 2004 Honda a” >

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Laura, OH-MY-DAWG! Can you hear my really high voice screaming CONGRATULATIONS!? I am jumping up and down with pure glee and excitement for you, my friend. You so TOTALLY rock with words. I am honored to own several of your books. Thank you! Way to live out loud!

    Cheers, with hugs and love! Amy

    [image: rainbow crayon heart.jpg]

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you Amy, you are such a dear. Recognition is a strange mix of emotions for an introvert like me.

      I just got your amazing handmade gift. Nearly burst into tears with gratitude for your original poetry paired with such vibrant backgrounds. Thank you. Mail to follow, likely at a much later date.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations Laura! When I saw the heading I was already thinking “Yay!” although your intro got me wondering if it truly was a scam so “Not Yay!”, but I’m glad that it did turn out to be a story with a happy ending after all. You’re very humble, and nothing is wrong with that, but those who’ve read your poetry know that such possibilities are endless for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think my attagirl posted on WordPress because I have forgotten yet another password. However, I am soooo happy for you. You’re in great company with Mary Oliver, or perhaps she is in great company with you. Yeah. I like that better. I will just be coming back from a trip to Georgia the 15th but I would so love to be in the audience when you are so deservedly honored. Finally, the world is learning what we have long known. So proud of you.



  5. I loved your story on Ohio Poet of the Year. I could tell from your post that you are an excellent writer with a great sense of humor. I myself have had almost no exposure to poetry. I once read and liked the poem ‘Fog’ by Carl Sandburg and that’s about it. Congratulations to you on the Ohio Poet of the Year Award. I’m sure you deserve it. Take it from someone who is definitely Not a prince!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Such gracious words indicates you may secretly be a prince….

      Many people have had very little exposure to poetry. Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” clearly made an impression on you. Those images can’t help but linger. I think part of the problem is the way poetry tends to be taught. Here’s a response to that from a much-loved poet.


      I ask them to take a poem
      and hold it up to the light
      like a color slide

      or press an ear against its hive.

      I say drop a mouse into a poem
      and watch him probe his way out,

      or walk inside the poem’s room
      and feel the walls for a light switch.

      I want them to waterski
      across the surface of a poem
      waving at the author’s name on the shore.

      But all they want to do
      is tie the poem to a chair with rope
      and torture a confession out of it.

      They begin beating it with a hose
      to find out what it really means.

      —Billy Collins

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Let my ego meet your ego in the land of egolessness.
    I can’t muster the appropriate elaborate poetic congrats this deserves!
    Overjoyed by your done good!!
    Let her fly in pastures of Love.

    Liked by 1 person

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