Retirement, Elizabeth Kerlikowske says with a grin, has her busier than ever, deep in art projects and encouraging other artists. A retired professor of English at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Kerlikowske served 25 years as president of Friends of Poetry in Kalamazoo.
“It all started 35 years ago with Martha Moffit,” says Kerlikowske. “She saw poems on buses on a visit to New York and came home to start Friends of Poetry.”
The nonprofit supports and promotes poetry, sponsoring various literary events, workshops, and annual contests such as Poems That Ate Our Ears (open to all Michigan students, K-12) and Artifactory (open to anyone).
“Artifactory is the collision of poetry and artifacts,” she says. “It’s our ninth annual collision, and we had more entries than ever. People write about mastodon bones, old radios, celery, of course, and Lady Justice. She’s a big statue holding a sword next to the neon One-Hour Valet sign, and I was thinking if those two had a relationship after the museum closed, that would be great.”
Contestants choose a Kalamazoo artifact that fascinates them at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and write a poem about it, or about a museum experience. Winners are published in a chapbook. Retired museum curator Tom Dietz provides historical commentary and winning poems are read at an event held at the museum.
Kerlikowske says, “A shout-out to Allegan High School students and their teacher Nancy Hascall for bringing them out to the museum for inspiration.” She says that's how new poetry fans are created.
Recently, Friends of Poetry has added yet another facet to its support of poetry: a small press called Celery City Chapbooks. It publishes short poetry manuscripts submitted in a contest. One winner is chosen from local talent and the other regionally.
Kerlikowske ponders the value of poetry and its creation. Asked if winning Artifactory poets get prizes, she shakes her head. “There’s a reading and you get published. People say oh, how nice! And you feel good about yourself. At some point, that has to be enough.”
The Artifactory reading will be held at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum on Sunday, February 22, at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
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