To further appreciate the profiles of poets, poetry and literary arts in the Athens community, the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission will fund and administer a new program: the poet laureate. A committee of judges selected Jeff Fallis as the inaugural laureate.
“We use language so much every day, and we kind of take it for granted,” Fallis said. “Poetry makes us stop and realize how strange and alive language is. We can realize new possibilities for everything through poetry. I think it is the place where we can imagine new ways of feeling, thinking and being.”
The poet laureate's first appearance was on Sept. 25 at the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department’s Pop Up Park at the Red Cross Community Safe Cookout.
The application consisted of the poet’s work, their resume and their vision. The committee of judges was composed of art administrators, educators, librarians and local poets.
To enhance poetry throughout the community, Fallis will make several appearances during his two-year term. Fallis intends to focus his appearances towards making poetry more visible and accessible.
The Pop Up Park, where Fallis made his first appearance, brings a park to areas of Athens-Clarke County where there is not much recreation, ACC public art coordinator Tatiana Veneruso said. It accomplishes this by providing a bus coated with art designed by local artist Eli Saragoussi.
Veneruso said the events will include art activities, sports and games. At the upcoming Pop Up Park, Fallis will talk to the youth about the ways poetry can be used as a means of expression. Veneruso said the upcoming event is free and open to the public, but it is aimed towards the Highland Greens residents.
Veneruso said the poet laureate position is more than a title. A poet laureate is an ambassador of literary arts in the community who can speak on the subject of poetry and represent poetry through various appearances.
“Jeff is community-minded, and he has a really wonderful vision of how he would implement the program in terms of accessibility and a variety of ways to engage the community,” Veneruso said.
There will be visual art at the event, and Fallis plans on providing poetry based activities for elementary aged children. He plans to give paint samples to inspire children to write poems based on colors.
Fallis received his undergraduate and doctorate degrees in English and creative writing from the University of Georgia and now teaches at Georgia College.
Fallis spent most of 2020 working on writing the introduction to a poetry book by John Seawright, an Athens poet from the 1980s and ’90s. The book was incomplete when Seawright passed away in 2001. Fallis said this project inspired him to apply for the position as the poet laureate.
Fallis said he would like to make poetry more accessible to all the diverse citizens of Athens, including people who are incarcerated or houseless and the Athens Community Council on Aging. He also strives to put poetry in public places as art displays.
“Compared to the music and visual arts scene in Athens, its literary scene has often been overlooked, and I would like to find ways to commemorate its poet history,” Fallis said.
Veneruso also hopes to bring poetry and art to a more diverse audience.
“I think a lot of times with the arts, sometimes it can be seen as elitist or pretentious even, so we want to reiterate that the arts are for everyone — not just for academics or for the wealthy, but for anyone in our community,” Veneruso said.