In the video that accompanies his poem “Driving While Black,” Mwatabu Okantah, poet-in-residence for Pan-African studies at Kent University and director of the Center of Pan-African Culture, says, “My approach to writing poetry is, I’m telling [a] story about experiences, about connecting history from one generation to the next.” A digital broadside of his poem, set against a blistering backdrop of reds, oranges, and yellows featuring two silhouettes, a police car driving in the distance, and two hands tightly gripping a steering wheel, appears next to the video.
Okantah’s poem is just one of many included in the Wick Poetry Center’s Traveling Stanzas project, which aims to “facilitate a global conversation through the intimate and inclusive voice of poetry.” The project, established in 2009, has been promoting poetry on its website as well as through public spaces in northeast Ohio. Anyone can contribute to the project by recording themselves reading an original poem or a poem they love. The Wick Poetry Center then selects a few poems to showcase, and Kent University’s School of Visual Communications Design creates an original work of art—whether it’s a video, illustration, or animation—to accompany the poems.
The poems in the Traveling Stanzas archive, which includes works by Rita Dove, Martín Espada, Dorianne Laux, and W. S. Merwin, among many others, have been printed on posters and posted in and around Akron, Ohio. However, Wick endeavors to expand the reach of the project even further and to make the poetry of the community even more accessible to people. Next year, Wick plans to develop Traveling Stanzas into a mobile poetry exhibit that would involve the installation of portable, interactive touch screens throughout Akron. Passersby will be able to use the exhibit to access poetry in five different languages, some of which will be pulled from the Traveling Stanzas archive, as well as related artwork. After maintaining the exhibit in Akron for a year, Wick plans to take it on a national tour.