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Ohio Poet Of The Year Finds Beauty In Daily Life

Laura Grace Weldon's book Blackbird sitting on tree branch. [Laura Grace Weldon]
Laura Grace Weldon's book Blackbird sitting on tree branch.

Procrastination paid off for Laura Grace Weldon, named 2019 Ohio Poet of the Year by the Ohio Poetry Day Association.

A writer and editor, Weldon admits she often lets her attention drift to other subjects when facing a deadline.

“I call it ‘sideways procrastination.’ I think people in many fields are familiar with whatever your main focus is supposed to be, you find other purposeful things to do. Cleaning a drawer or washing the car or writing poetry. That's a playful aspect I think we miss in so many things. We humans are playful beings and whatever feels playful and fun and passionate to us is often where we should be,” Weldon said.

[Laura Grace Weldon]

Weldon discovered the place where she should be is writing poetry. Weldon was an avid reader as a child, including poetry, but she had never written any outside of what she described as some “teen angst poems.” However, she used poetry in some of the jobs she held throughout her career, including nonviolence workshops as a writing instructor and as an activities director at a nursing home.

“The residents seemed to have no voice at all. So I started a memoir project and a collaborative poetry project which allowed people to contribute individual lines to themed poems. Even the person with severe dementia who just spoke in the same words over and over again, I could use their words as a refrain. We published a book of those poems,” Weldon said.

Weldon turned to poetry at her jobs because she felt it offered people a method of expression that's different than other kinds of writing.

“I think poetry has a way of getting to the essence of things, and it helps people step beyond their linear thinking and it just frees people across all sorts of disciplines,” Weldon said.

In her late 40s, facing the death of her mother and to avoid her writing and editing tasks, Weldon began writing her own poetry. Over the next decade, Weldon had over 140 poems published in journals and anthologies. In 2013, Weldon’s first collection of poems “ Tending” ( Aldrich Press) was published.

Many of Weldon's poems demonstrate her interest in the natural world and what it's taught her on the farm she has with her family in Medina.

Laura Grace Weldon and her dog Winston visiting cows on family farm [Laura Grace Weldon]

“I think the exposure to nature as you're walking back and forth to the barn and doing chores certainly influences you, especially when you're out at dawn and dusk and are exposed to different times of day and weather. I think many of us walk around with the big questions of why the world is the way it is and what we're doing here. The answers to those are always in the things around us, or at least the answers we’re seeking can be found in the things around us,” Weldon said.

A critic wrote that Weldon's poems “find beauty in the sacrament of the ordinary,” which is something she strongly embraces.

“I think my work is very plainspoken. Maybe the dirty word in poetry is ‘accessible,’ but mine is definitely accessible and that works for people,” Weldon said.

[Laura Grace Weldon]

Her second poetry collection, “ Blackbird,” ( Grayson Books) published earlier this year, led the Ohio Poetry Day Association to name Weldon Ohio Poet of the Year. The association is a non-profit organization with close ties to the Ohio Poetry Association(OPA). In 1938, Tessa Sweazy Webb, founder of OPA, convinced the Ohio General Assembly to make the third Friday in October “Ohio Poetry Day,” making Ohio the first in the nation to have a poetry day established by a state government.

The Ohio Poetry Day Association, which Werner described as “venerable,” has a limited online presence. Werner found out about being named the 2019 winner via a text late in the evening a few months ago.

“I received a text from someone associated with the organization that said: ‘I bet you know that you’ve been named Ohio Poet of the Year.' I thought it was a scam,” Weldon said laughingly.

Once she discovered it was the real deal, she said she was shocked and honored.

The comment that award-winning Northeast Ohio poet George Bilgere made about Weldon’s most recent collection sums up what she hopes her poetry does for people.

“I finished ‘Blackbird’ and took a long winter walk through the park, seeing the world with fresher, keener eyes and feeling of gratitude,” Bilgere wrote.

Laura Grace Weldon [Dave DeOreo/ideastream]

Hear Laura Grace Weldon read her poem “Earthbound.”