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IPFW professor named state poet laureate


IPFW English professor George Kalamaras has been selected as the fourth Indiana state poet laureate, the Indiana Arts Commission announced Wednesday.

As the appointed state laureate, Kalamaras said he plans to use his two-year term to make poetry accessible and interactive statewide from practicing poets to those who are being introduced to poetry for the first time.

His first task will be launching a state poetry website, “Wabash Watershed: Where the Rivers of Tradition Meet the Rivers of Innovation,” in February.

The website will feature information about poets residing in Indiana, as well as a resource of poetry events throughout the state. Kalamaras said it is better to embrace technology to touch young students, as well as other poets, than to avoid it.

“Poetry is sometimes misperceived as only a high art, that not all people can understand it. My responsibility is to let the people in the state of Indiana know that poetry is for them. It’s not something that’s removed. It’s not beyond the common person. Poetry is for everybody.”

Kalamaras will receive an annual stipend and per diem to make educational presentations, promote poetry and writing in schools and communities.

Kalamaras, who succeeds Karen Kovacik, began his term Jan. 1.

“I feel humbled by the appointment, and I’m extraordinarily excited to serve as an ambassador for poetry throughout the state,” he said.

Born in Chicago, Kalamaras grew up in Cedar Lake, 45 miles south of Chicago in northwest Indiana. He fell in love with poetry at a young age, writing his first poem at the age of 12.

“I didn’t really get serious until I was in my late teens, early 20s, and then I started to really gain an interest in reading stuff beyond just nursery rhymes and things like that,” he said.

Kalamaras received his doctorate in English from State University of New York at Albany in 1990, along with his wife, Mary Ann Cain. That same year, Kalamaras and Cain moved to Fort Wayne to join IPFW’s English and Linguistics Department, where the couple is still a part of the faculty.

Publishing six books of poetry and more than 725 poems in anthologies and magazines internationally, Kalamaras has held numerous poetry readings throughout the U.S. and India, where he was guest lecturer and researcher.

He has received a Creative Writing Poetry Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has twice received an Individual Artist Fellowship Grant from the IAC. In 2009, he won IPFW’s Outstanding Researcher Award.

Despite all of his accolades, Kalamaras remained unsure that he would be selected poet laureate. The IAC conducts a statewide call for nominations for the position that were reviewed by a committee representing Indiana’s major institutions of higher education.

“I just assumed it was going to be a long shot. I put it out of my mind,” he said. “I just felt really honored with the nomination. Then I found out I was a finalist, and I had an interview with the Indiana Arts Commission, and then that’s when I started thinking that this was getting kind of exciting.”

Kalamaras said one of his goals is to organize a circuit of poets throughout the state who know one other and will share their work.

“Poetry is a practice. It’s a meaning-making activity,” Kalamaras said. “It’s not always about the outcomes, it’s really about what we learn about ourselves, about the world, and our relationships during the process of writing the poem.”