'Reach into the soul of Elgin': City's second poet laureate ready to Mann her post
The city of Elgin has its second poet laureate.
That may be news to people who didn't know Elgin had a first poet laureate. Raising the profile will be part of Gareth Mann's new job.
The Elgin Poet Laureate Project began in 2018. At the time, Elgin was the only suburb to have a poet laureate. Aurora started a program in 2019.
Mann, 75, was part of the committee that chose Chasity Gunn to be the city's first poet laureate. Mann began her two-year term on Jan. 1.
"I'm looking forward to being able to share my enthusiasm for poetry in the community," she said. "I love the sounds of words, the rhythm of words, but it's the content that makes a poem really touch the reader's heart."
The purpose of the poet laureate is to celebrate the heritage, culture, and diversity of the city through the art and appreciation of poetry. Mann will be charged with writing and presenting poems specifically for local events like public holiday gatherings, graduations, dedications and the like.
"I think it can make an event special," she said. "It can also be a way to expose more people to poetry."
Mann is especially interested in that second part.
A longtime teacher, Mann has taught English, foreign languages and poetry at Elgin, St. Edward and Streamwood high schools and Elgin Academy. She also did a stint as a middle school gifted coordinator for Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300.
She began her writing career as a playwright and also penned several musicals, some of which were performed by area community theater groups.
She transitioned from writing musicals to poetry in the mid-70s.
"Songwriting is kind of the simplest poetry," she said.
For almost a decade, she's been running a poetry writing group at the Gail Borden Library that meets once a month. During the pandemic, she started a Facebook group called Pandemic Poetry. The nearly 150-member group shares what they've been writing since the pandemic began. Three of her recent poems were featured in an anthology called "When We Turned Within: Reflections on COVID-19 (Volume 2)."
Her background in poetry and teaching make her ideally suited for the job, said Jane Erlandson, part of the committee that chose Mann.
"Gareth is really active in the poetry community and has a lot of ideas about educational programs," Erlandson said. "We see this term as a way to grow more poets laureate."
She also hopes it's a term that can get them back on track after COVID-19 slowed down the momentum they were trying to build in the program's infancy. Gunn spent an extra year in the position because of the pandemic, but a lack of local events meant not much happened.
"This really is a formative term," Erlandson said, adding that there was a learning curve for the committee, who will now work more with the poet laureate to plan events. "Gareth was part of the instrument who began the program, so she's more prepared for that aspect."
Mann said the first big event she's organizing as Elgin's poet laureate is "Loving Elgin: A Poetry Celebration" on Feb. 13 at Gail Borden Library. She'll be soliciting people of all ages to write a poem about something they love about Elgin.
"My fantasy is to be able to reach into the soul of Elgin and have people feel things about our city and feel proud of being in Elgin," she said.
Writing poems on demand for specific events will be new for Mann, who said her poetry is more emotive.
"I don't think that a poet laureate should write terribly complicated poems," she said. "I think they should be clear and to the point and celebrate a particular event or person in the town. The people who hear them should enjoy it."
Mann said she and the committee will make everything she writes as poet laureate available to the public on their website or social media.
"The city owns me," she said with a laugh. "It's a job of public service, and it's important that I give the work to the people of the city if they want it."