Like many teachers, Kathy Smaltz prepared for years to work with students and spent decades out of the public eye without much notice, changing the world one child at a time.
Her reach widened considerably June 18, when Smaltz was crowned as Prince William’s second Poet Laureate at Summerfest 2016, an arts festival at Tackett’s Mill Shopping Center.
“I was excited and grateful when I found out a month ago the I was the winner,” Smaltz said “And I want to continue the good work begun by the first Poets Laureate Robert Scott and Zan Hailey.”
Always energetic, Smaltz noted, “Poetry can help anyone find their voice, their sense of who they are. As Poet Laureate, I can share a gift that I have been given to allow people who struggle to express themselves.
“I plan to conduct poetry workshops not only for elementary students and teachers, but also with guidance counselors and high school students (who might mentor younger ones), troubled youth to help them use poetry to cope with problems. In addition, those in nursing homes and prisons can benefit from reading and writing poetry.
“Basically I am talking about anyone with divergent views wanting to find a sense of their own voice. I want them to find poetry pleasurable and life-affirming.”
Smaltz wanted to become a writer early on. Her mother, a writer, and her grandmother, a visual artist, encouraged her, but Smaltz didn’t understand those influences until later. A pragmatic, big-hearted and kind aunt became the most important influence on Smaltz’s character.
“When I was seven or eight years, I discovered poetry in Wee Wisdom magazine, and I knew I wanted to play with words and create poetry like that found in the magazine.
“I knew that words had power, a feeling that was further affirmed as I went on with church and pop music. I was attracted by the musicality and rhythm of poetry, and the distilled moment found in those lines.
“As a shy only child, I kept a diary for twelve years, using poetry to entertain myself, living inside my head. We lived in a rural area, so I was alone, with no one to play with. My childhood was hard, but I learned to express myself,
to make sense of things and become self reflective, capable of abstract thought.”
During her junior year in college, Smaltz realized she wanted to be a teacher. Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else. She is happiest helping people, sharing her love of words. These qualities help her counter the current educational culture of accountability and standardized testing and allow her classroom to be a bright, positive place for students.
The graduate of College of William and Mary has a master’s degree in fine arts (M.F.A.) from George Mason University.
She has far-reaching plans for the laureate program. “I feel the we are part of laying a foundation for future growth, to be in a position so that community activists can go to poets for support in helping and reaching people. I feel we could achieve peace in the world if more people wrote and shared who they are.
“Poets laureate can be ambassadors of good will, working to correct social injustice and to inspire people by bringing them together to build community not only with poetry, but with the full range of the arts,” she said at the last.
And she smiled.