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Could Illinois' next poet laureate hail from Will County?

Joliet West English teacher Mark Eleveld is part of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate search committee.
Joliet West English teacher Mark Eleveld is part of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate search committee.

A Joliet West English teacher is part of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate search committee.

Mark Eleveld is encouraging the community to submit their suggestions

Nomination qualifications are posted on the website. Deadline to submit is Aug. 15.

Eleveld hopes many people take the nomination process seriously and that the committee receives many nominations, especially from Will County.

There is no age requirement, he said.

"We are hoping a lot of people are nominated," Eleveld said.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced the 13 committee members on June 30.

The committee is chaired by Nora Brooks Blakely, president of Brooks Permissions and daughter of for Illinois poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks.

In addition to Brooks, Illinois’ previous poet laureates were Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, and Kevin Stein.

Together, these poets represent great diversity in their works, Eleveld feels.

"Think about going from the rural poetry of Carl Sandburg to the urban poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, how much distance,” Eleveld said.

Pritzker also recently proclaimed Illinois native and folk singer/songwriter John Prine as an honorary poet laureate, the first Illinois poet to receive that honor.

Prine died April 7 after contracting the coronavirus.

Forty-four U.S. states currently have poet laureates, along with several cities. Naming a poet laureate underscores the importance of reading and education, both of which are important to Eleveld.

When considering nominations, keep in mind that the honor of poet laureate is actually a position of service, Eleveld said.

“The bigger picture for the job is that you’re supposed to spread the word about the joys of poetry and writing In general,” Eleveld said “You’re supposed to have a working knowledge of the state of Illinois and share concepts about what it means to live and work in Illinois.”

Poetry readings and performances are still very relevant today, he feels.

"They're platforms for a lot of different people and a lot of different ideas and different expressions that they would not be able to share otherwise,” Eleveld said.

Poetry, especially in today’s world, is still a way for people to express themselves in a creative, non-threatening way, Eleveld said.

Eleveld compares the writing and sharing of poetry to the way people used to have discussions around the dinner table.

People could speak their minds in a respectful way and feel safe even if everyone else didn’t agree with their viewpoints, Eleveld said.

That goes for kids as well as adults, he feels.

"Students need creative outlets like anyone else," Eleveld said. "Especially right now."

Eleveld also teaches philosophy at Lewis University in Romeoville and is the editor of The Spoken Word Revolution poetry books, according to a news release from Joliet Township High School District 204.

In addition Eleveld worked extensively with American poet Marc Smith, founder of the poetry slam movement, and helped program the first poetry jam at The White House in 2009, the release also said.

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