Director of Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center Inspires at TEDx Akron EventPosted Feb. 17, 2014
David Hassler, director of Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center, received a surprising call in October. The organizer of TEDx Akron, an independently organized offshoot of the national TED conferences, wanted Hassler to give a speech at the November event.
“It literally only gave me about four weeks advance notice to prepare a 17-minute talk,” Hassler says.
Hassler had to quickly learn the mechanics of giving a TED talk, including the “arc” of discussion and the strict timeframe.
“It was more challenging than I thought it would be because I’m not used to having a timeframe to talk,” he says. “I had a real sense that it was very verboten to go over 17 minutes. This invisible cane would come out and wrap around my neck and pull me off the stage.”
Fortunately, no cane yanked him off the stage, and Hassler’s “Giving Voice: The Conversation of Poetry” speech was a success. He centered on group poetry and the discussions that come from writing and collaborating. Hassler discussed the “aha moment” that happens when writers feel the spark of their creativity and connection with a peer.
His talk focused on an experience in 1995 working with a 5th-grade class at St. Sebastian in Akron.
“That truly has been a bottomless source of inspiration, humbly looking back at that first day of walking into a classroom, having no real plan,” Hassler recalls. “I learned from the children in that class how a group poem can be triggered and what works and how we are most inspired.”
Hassler says he regularly draws inspiration from many of his peers, from the Wick Poetry Center’s former director, Maggie Anderson, to his own 5th-grade teacher, as well as poets of the past and people he connects with through the pages of his writing.
“When I teach and help inspire others, the effectiveness of my teaching is partly all the influences of the people who have shaped and informed me,” Hassler says. “There’s a long chain always stretching way back, and we are just a part of that. That’s really the greater satisfaction: It doesn’t begin and end with me.”
Hassler says presenting his TEDx talk was a part of this conversation about writing and sharing.
“It was almost a ritualistic way to formalize and give voice to that sense of a larger chain,” he says. “I could say my TEDx talk was a gratitude talk to being in this larger conversation.”
Hassler’s speech continues to affect others, garnering 1,286 YouTube views as of Feb. 12. He calls the feedback “wonderful and surprising” as he received emails from friends and strangers reacting to the speech. The most significant response came from a woman who was in that 5th-grade class in 1995. The woman, now a special education teacher near Canton, said she remembers the experience of writing poetry that day. Hassler now has plans to visit her classroom this semester.
“It’s wonderful to think of my message being passed on,” Hassler says. “Poems are a wonderful way of keeping gifts in motion.”
Hassler says he appreciates the exposure and conversations created by YouTube and the TEDx website. YouTube views aside, he says the Wick Poetry Center, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in September, will continue to focus on the fundamentals.
He wants to use digital technology to bring in “the oldest technology, which is literally writing and, before that, language itself,” Hassler says. “I don’t ever want the newer digital technology to replace the value of being physically present with each other and using that presence to inform others how we create and inspire.”
Participating in the local TEDx talk has stirred in Hassler the desire to give a speech at a national TED event. He says the stories of the Wick Poetry Center and Kent community, his hometown and current residence, deserve to be told.
“I’ve lived abroad, and I’ve lived in many different places around this country, and I chose to come back to Kent,” says Hassler, who received his bachelor’s and master’s at Cornell and Bowling Green State University, respectively. “It has a deep, resonate feeling for me to have the opportunity to work in this community. I think that Kent has a story to tell about our creativity.”
To learn more about the Wick Poetry Center, visit www.kent.edu/wick.