It is a rare honor to be acknowledged as a great poet, and one of Mercyhurst College’s own received such recognition for his work last September.
Professor of religious studies Thomas Forsthoefel, Ph.D., was lauded in a local competition for his poetry and awarded the title of Poet Laureate of Erie County.
The Erie County Poet Laureate Initiative gives the title each year to acknowledge great poetry, a great performance and a great idea in the Erie area. All the competitors read their poetry in front of an audience and presented an idea about how they would use poetry to improve the community.
This is the competition’s third year. The 2009 winner was Berwyn Moore, an English professor at Gannon University. The winners hold the title for at least one year, depending on whether the holder of the title wins the next year’s competition.
This year Forsthoefel competed with four other candidates. When it was announced that Forsthoefel had won the title, “This is a great honor, especially considering the strength and vitality of not only the four finalists, but also of the poetry community in Erie as a whole.”
Along with the title of poet laureate, Forsthoefel has been granted $10,000 to spread interest in poetry in Erie. Forsthoefel has chosen to use this grant money to go to prisons and schools to do poetry workshops to help spread interest in the healing nature of poetry.
With his title and grant, he is also bringing big names in poetry to help his cause, like award-winning poet Beth Gylys. Forsthoefel also brought David Whyte, author of six books of poetry and three books of prose, to speak and read some of his poetry during the Literary Festival at Mercyhurst that took place March 27.
Forsthoefel said Erie has a very large community of poets, and encourages more people who are interested in reading and writing poetry to get involved. The competition for the Erie County poet laureate is held every year and is open to anyone.
Forsthoefel will give his poet laureate speech Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Blasco Library.