Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Nov. 27 newspaper on Page A1.
Kari Gunter-Seymour will soon be stepping down from her position as the city of Athens’ Poet Laureate, but she won’t be leaving the town without a celebration of the town’s art scene.
Gunter-Seymour is releasing a book in coordination with the city of Athens, called “Essentially Athens Ohio.” The book contains poetry, stories, songs and also black and white photos of the Art Outside the Box project, which puts Athens-based artists’ work on electrical boxes around the city. All the contents relate to Athens, making the book “place-based,” according to Gunter-Seymour.
“They all have some tie or connection to Athens — some blatantly so, and others you see as you continue to read,” she said. “It’s really neat in the discovery of it.”
Gunter-Seymour is in her second term as Athens Poet Laureate, following in the footsteps of the first such person to hold the position, Alison Stine. As the poet laureate, Gunter-Seymour has travelled across the state and even to other states, representing Athens and bringing some of Athens’ art to other towns. She also brings poets to Athens for gatherings in the Spring and Fall.
“This next season we’ll have a poet in from Tennessee, so that subjects us to poets from other states to get a feel for topics, for dialogues, just bringing in some new, new, new voices, but also bringing in people from around Ohio,” she explained. “Each time, someone from Athens opens. So, this will be our third year of this project. It’s been so fun.”
Additionally, she hosted several visiting poets and artists in Athens when they visited.
Her list of accomplishments stretches even further, however: Gunter-Seymour helped create a mApp Athens Poetry Trail, utilizing a museum app created by Ohio University professor Nancy Stevens. The trail begins at the Dairy Barn Arts Center and ends at The Ridges. Nine poets contributed, and Gunter-Seymour is working on more trails of the same kind for the future.
“We have museums all around of us, out of doors museum, we just have to be made aware,” the poet said. “ While you’re walking, you can stop and read a poem at a certain spot in the trail. It doesn’t reflect maybe what you’re seeing, it just creates some mindfulness and triggers some beautiful thoughts.”
She also created the Spoken & Heard poetry series, and hosted potlucks every other month for poets and artists to read around and workshop their work.
“The cool thing about the potlucks is it kind of is a mutual community space where people could read their work or not, there was no pressure,” she said. “I think food also unites us ... the whole concept of why I wanted this job was to build community, to make this community aware of this amazing asset we have, which is poetry ... this book is the proof of it.”
The Athens art collective book Gunter-Seymour has curated, Essentially Athens Ohio, will launch at the next one of her potlucks, which is set for Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. at ARTS/West.
The book is a collection of perspectives of Athens. The topics range from the mundane to the unnoticed — one poem discusses the Burrito Buggy, while another discusses church bells at noon, and still another meditates on the thrift store New-To-You.
Gunter-Seymour said she is grateful for the outpouring of art to fill the book with, and grateful for her time spent learning from these artists.
“I am not the best poet in this town, by far, no way — but I’m a good organizer,” she said. “It took about a year to build the community and build trust so people would feel I would do right by them, and so every time I had a potluck or a reading at the Dairy Barn ... each time I would announce that I am taking submissions for this book.”
Over 100 individuals contributed content to the book, including Athens School District 6th graders, life-long Athens residents and everyone in-between. Gunter-Seymour called it a celebration of Athens life.
“This is not my book — I’m the collector, the editor, but this is not my book,” she said. “Hundreds of people were involved here who tested me with their book. What an honor.”
The book will be for sale at the event, as well as in Little Professor Book Store, the Dairy Barn, White’s Mill and online on Amazon. Gunter-Seymour said she hopes those who come to the event use the time to speak with the artists and perhaps gather their signatures under their works in the book.
This will be her last big hurrah, as she is stepping down from the position.
“Even the worst of Athens is pretty good. There are so many people doing good things, and I’m just a small part of that,” she said. “This job has been like a dream, it really has.”