From the Mohawk, the name Cuyahoga means "crooked river.” From the Seneca, “place of the jawbone.” The Cuyahoga River is a circulatory system in our region and the larger body politic of Northeast Ohio. The river, like all waters in cultural stories and myths, has the capacity to heal. With the River Stanzas project, an evolution of the award-winning Traveling Stanzas project, the Wick Poetry Center will examine and give voice to the many ways the river can sustain us creatively and teach us about our connection to the environment and our community.
Since July 2018, the Wick Poetry Center has been conducting a series of intergenerational community forums and conversations around the value of the river in our lives, its history, and our shared future. In collaboration with the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Akron and Kent Public Schools, Wick Poetry Center’s outreach team will lead field trips and workshops—“river walks” and “river talks”—aiming to bring the river to the city, and the people of the city to the river. They will be inspired to “dream the river” in its next 50 years.
The crisis for our river achieved critical mass on June 22, 1969 when the Cuyahoga caught fire. The photographs (immortalized by a Time magazine cover) ignited the hearts and minds of people around the country. The river became a symbol for the environmental movement, and the crisis offered the country an opportunity to examine public environmental policies and our communities’ relationships with our planet.
In June 2019 our community celebrated the 50th anniversary of our river’s rebirth. From crisis, we had the opportunity to celebrate the success through poetry, art, and design, showcasing our community’s vibrancy—its riverbanks and bike trails, its hiking paths and streetscapes, and rise to the challenge of conveying what we’ve learned to the stewards of the next generation.
We've put together a kit of resources to create conversations around the Cuyahoga River in classrooms around Northeast Ohio. Each plan contains unique content and tips for how to get started.
Each lesson is built on the basic principle of “charging the air” with a great model poem, writing as a group, writing individually, then sharing. Adjust this to your group’s needs. It always helps to try the prompt out on your own to find the places where you got stuck as well as the moments where it really clicked for you.
In addition to the Model Poems, there are resources included on this site to help with your lesson. A gallery of archival photos, lists of verbs, nouns, and adjectives, and a collection of students’ work are all here to help you make the most of these lesson and create your own poetic conversations about the Cuyahoga River.
This prompt is a good place to get started. It includes reference to this history, uses, and ecology of the Cuyahoga.
This is a great prompt to use outdoors. Encourage students to use their senses for a few moments.
Ekphrasis is a description of a visual work of art through language.
Kathy Winograd’s poem
“Dragonfly”, offers us a series of questions to get started.
Poetry in letter form is another great generative activity. From the opening, “Dear River” writers take on a different orientation to the river.
One of our Teaching Artists, Mariah Hicks, came up with a great lesson that gets students out of their seats and into the movement of the river.
One of our Teaching Artists, Carrie George, came up with the idea of asking students to imagine what it would be like without the river.
Gary Snyder’s ecstatic “For All” spins the familiar call of the Pledge of Allegiance into a commitment to
This lesson is an opportunity for writers to look at the river as a teacher or mentor and to find qualities in rivers—and other aspects of nature—that are worth emulating.
This lesson is an easy, quick way to loosen up and have fun with different sensual and factual aspects of the river without getting too hung up on delivering a message or creating powerful metaphors.
National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $2 million in Creativity Connects grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2018. Included in this announcement is a grant of $90,000 to the Wick Poetry Center for River Stanzas: A Collective Dreaming of the Cuyahoga. The Creativity Connects category advances the role of the arts in the nation’s creative ecosystem by supporting projects featuring partnerships between the arts and non-arts sectors.
“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Through the work of organizations such as the Wick Poetry Center in Kent, Ohio, NEA funding invests in local communities, helping people celebrate the arts wherever they are.”