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Kari Gunter-Seymour poses for a portrait at the Dairy Barn Arts Center on March 6th, 2018.

New poet laureate wants Athens to be known for its poetry

Kari Gunter-Seymour wasn’t always a poet. But when her son, a combat veteran, was serving in Iraq, she began writing as a form of therapy to keep herself from thinking of what could happen to him.

“It was just a horrible time. The violence there was so profound; the death rate was so high,” Gunter-Seymour said, holding back tears. “Every single moment, I wondered if my son was alive.”

She said her son is fine, and she continues to share her poetry throughout Ohio.

A poet from Amesville, Gunter-Seymour was selected to be the poet laureate for the City of Athens in February, according to a previous Post report. Since then, she has been working with poets locally and around Ohio to support the “thriving poetry community” in Athens. 

Gunter-Seymour is the second poet laureate in Athens. The city received four applications for the position and interviewed two candidates, Carol Patterson, chair for the Athens Municipal Arts Commission, said. 

A committee of three recognized local poets and a member of the commission selected Gunter-Seymour. Poet laureates receive a $2,000 yearly stipend, Patterson said. 

“Kari’s proposal includes a broad spectrum of social media, public readings, poet gatherings and a ‘create space’ book to remain with the city,” Patterson said in an email. 

Gunter-Seymour said she worked for Ohio University for more than 20 years as a graphic designer for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine before being promoted to director of creative services for University Advancement Communication and Marketing. She is also an instructor for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. 

“I love teaching it, and I love the students,” Gunter-Seymour said. “They’re very inspiring.”

Despite her success, Gunter-Seymour struggles to talk about it. She said in Appalachia, there are so many people living with little that she doesn’t want to brag about her success. 

Gunter-Seymour said she wants Athens to be known for its poetry along with its fine arts and musical talent. On Tuesdays at 9 p.m., Donkey Coffee hosts Designated Space, an open stage that allows poets in Athens to share their poetry with people in Athens. 

Gunter-Seymour has started organizing an additional open mic night at the Dairy Barn Arts Center on Thursday nights to provide another venue for poets in Athens to share their work.

“Each time I set up these events, there will be an Athens-based poet who will open the evening for us, and then we’ll have an outstanding poet from throughout Ohio, and then we’ll have an open mic,” she said.

Gunter-Seymour plans to work on a book called “Expressively Athens” featuring poets around Athens from kindergarteners to adults. Some of the art displayed on utility boxes around Athens will be in the book.

Although some have questioned the need for the position, Gunter-Seymour said it has value. 

“It’s an artist's duty to record history. We’re the visual and spoken word recorders of history,” she said. “We’re so lucky that our city has seen the value of having someone do that very thing, that can make an impact on what’s happening in the community and surrounding areas based on what’s happening with the art.”

Gunter-Seymour also founded the Women in Appalachia project, which encourages women to address discrimination with their art.

“We travel through different art galleries and venues with our work,” she said. “So we’re sort of activists in a very non-confrontational way saying ‘Hey, look. We are not what you think we are. Look what we’re capable of.’ ”

The Athens Municipal Arts Commission has scheduled an inaugural poetry reading to introduce Gunter-Seymour to the public on April 26 at ARTS/West from 7-9 p.m. She will share a poem called “Just When You Thought You Knew Her.” 

City Planner Paul Logue said that he’s excited to see what she will bring to the poet laureate position.

“She is an incredibly talented artist and we are fortunate to have her and so many other artists in Athens,” Logue said in an email.


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