New Lansing Poet Laureate Takes the Stage: Ruelaine Stokes Joins List of Celebrated Poets From the Region

Ruelaine Stokes has been a passionate and committed poet in the Greater Lansing region for decades. An activist and educator, she believes that poetry and art are creative expressions that have the potential to change minds and change the world, and now she will have the opportunity to put those beliefs into action as the new Lansing Poet Laureate.

Greater Lansing joined the leagues of U.S. cities with poet laureates in 2017. The program, now under the leadership of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, has seen great success, providing new opportunities and creating growth in access to poetry. Previous laureates include Dennis Hinrichsen, Laura Apol and the current laureate, Masaki Takahashi. The selection process requires interested poets to submit their applications to the Arts Council, which are then reviewed by an external selection committee that makes the final decision on the best poet for the job.

Stokes is the first laureate to step into the role under the guidance of the Arts Council. “We are so very pleased to announce Ruelaine as the new poet laureate,” said Meghan Martin, Arts Council executive director. “She is a truly committed and passionate poet. She is extremely involved in Lansing’s poetry community and has a strong background in organizing poetry events and workshops, which will be an important part of her role, in addition to increasing the reach of this literary art form throughout the region,” Martin said.

Building on a Strong Foundation
As the new laureate program administrators, the Arts Council envisions significant growth, planning to work with past laureates to create their own support programs and other opportunities for area poets. In addition to the educational work that Stokes will offer, the Arts Council plans to build workshops and other offerings that support poets in the community who see themselves as future program applicants.

“We see the community that Masaki has built with The Poetry Room, and we want that to continue,” Martin said. “Masaki has offered a platform for local emerging and established poets, and it is important that the excitement expands and grows,” Martin said. “We want every poet to envision themselves as a possible candidate for laureate, and we want to help them prepare for success so they can someday take the stage in this growing movement.”

Beyond the Page
Without a doubt, Greater Lansing has become quite the hub for well-honed and emerging poets to share their craft. Since The Lansing Poetry Club began in 1938, there has been a poetry presence in the region that continues to evolve with poetry being an important component of area festivals and events, exhibitions and installations. The addition of The Poetry Room opened the door for even more opportunities for resident word connoisseurs to have access to poetry and invited poets from all over Michigan and beyond to experience the Lansing poetry scene.

Greater Lansing currently boasts countless numbers of page and spoken word poets who are publishing locally and nationally and performing through a variety of venues and platforms. The emergence of the Lansing Poet Laureate Program was a natural next step for the region and has proven to be an important piece of the arts and cultural community that fuels creativity and boosts the area’s economy. The appointment of Stokes marks the inauguration of the fourth laureate and the seventh year of the program whose message is that poetry can live anywhere and belong to everyone.

New Territory
Some may recognize Stokes for her role in shaping the poet laureate program with LEAP. The Lansing Poetry Center, along with Michigan State University’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry, played a supportive role in helping LEAP get the program up and running in 2017. Stokes will now take the laureate reins from Takahashi, who has created considerable momentum and a booming poetry performance scene during his reign. Soon, Takahashi will pass the torch to Stokes, who served as a mentor during his term. Support was also provided by the assistant director of the Center for Poetry, Laurie Hollinger, who now serves the Arts Council program in an advisory role.

“During his term as Lansing Poet Laureate, Masaki Takahashi energized the greater Lansing area via his open mic series, The Poetry Room, bringing many nationally acclaimed poets in as features and providing a super supportive environment for upcoming poets to share their work, as well as offering numerous workshops in area schools and community centers,” said Hollinger. She notes that Stokes is a career community poetry instigator and arts activist who will bring something new to the role. “The region will reap the benefits of Ruelaine’s decades-long advocacy for poetry as a means of care, connection and community, and I’m excited to see the continuing growth and bloom of poetry and spoken word being nurtured in our community under her care,” Hollinger said.

A Celebration of Tradition
As is customary, Hollinger is organizing the “Passing of the Laurel” event that is hosted by the Center for Poetry. This year it will be held at The Robin Theatre, home to The Poetry Room, on April 23, 2024, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The event is open to the public and will include poetry and comments by past laureates, LEAP and the Arts Council. It will mark the official beginning of Stokes’ term as the new Lansing Poet laureate.

“It’s an honor to be selected as the next Lansing Poet Laureate,” said Stokes. My mission is to engage people in the Tri-County Area with poetry so they can strengthen their skills as writers on the page and on the stage,” she said. “I want to build on the strong foundation created by the former laureates so that our community continues to nurture writers young and old and encourages them to find their authentic voices as artists and citizens. Just like the birds in the morning, we all have songs to sing.”

Engaging All Voices
This new chapter for the Lansing Poet Laureate Program sings with its promise of growing the poetry community and its reach so that everyone can participate and experience the ways in which poetry serves to share the voices of everyone and can be enjoyed by all.

“So much has been accomplished with this program thanks to all of the amazing poet laureates that have led the charge. It is our goal to build on that success to ensure the poet laureate program is welcoming and accessible, and most importantly, reflects our diverse community of poets in Greater Lansing,” said Martin. “We are excited to have our organization engaged in the literary arts and to take the poet laureate program to new levels,” said Martin. “We want to make connections wherever we can and encourage everyone to reach out to us and to our new laureate to make that happen.”

Get more info on the Poet Laureate Program and past laureates!