By Elisabeth Monaghan
When visitors come to Wheat Ridge, they don’t have to go far to discover public art on display throughout the city. That’s because through its Cultural Commission, the City of Wheat Ridge is committed to promoting the arts and the artists who live in the area. To celebrate Wheat Ridge’s 50th Anniversary in 2019, the City’s Cultural Commission has integrated poetry as part of its program with the recent appointment of its first Poet in Residence.
When Wheat Ridge resident Sharon Heinlen learned about the newly created Poet in Residence program, she recognized an opportunity to merge her love for the community where she’s lived for 18 years, with her passion for poetry.
“I have written poetry all my life, including as a young child,” Heinlen explains. “Poetry was a part of my public-school education, K-12, and it instilled in me the importance of this art form and its contribution to society and communities.”
As a poet, Heinlen, who currently serves as an adjunct professor in humanities and social sciences university graduate programs, communicates with words that read or sound like poetry, even in what would be considered “every day communication.” For example, in an email explaining what poetry means to her, Heinlen writes, “Words, phrases and paragraphs in poetry record, explain, give hope and comfort to that which we live by – the human heart. Poetry reins not just as evidence of a fantasy life on the part of the poet, but quite often as a beacon of reality that inspires those of us who live moment by moment, day by day.”
In her application for the Poet in Residence appointment, Heinlen included a poem she wrote, “Neighborly Inspiration” (see sidebar). She wrote the poem based on her interactions with an elderly neighbor she met just after she moved to Wheat Ridge. Over the years, the gentleman, who became Heinlen’s treasured friend, taught her about the area’s history. He also helped her appreciate the uniqueness of the community. Heinlen says she continues to be inspired by Wheat Ridge’s history and culture, or as what she describes as the city’s “points of light and interest, the progressive commitment to art in public places and especially our easy access to stunningly beautiful natural resources.”
When she found out the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission had selected her to be its first Poet in Residence, Heinlen’s first reaction was surprised, and then she was humbled because she knows of several talented poets who live in Wheat Ridge. Teaching at a variety of colleges and universities since 1973, Heinlen is excited about working with students during the second year of the Poetry in Residence program and considers it an honor.
“Part of this honor, that really inspired me in the first place, was the potential opportunity to work with young people in year two of the appointment,” says Heinlen. “The open-heartedness and often incredible wisdom of youth is a gift to all of us.”
During her first year as Poet in Residence, Heinlen will create original poems, which she will read at public celebrations of Wheat Ridge’s 50th Anniversary, as well as the grand reopening of Anderson Park, Ridgefest and the Wheat Ridge Holiday Lighting. Her poems also will be posted on Wheat Ridge’s social media pages, as well as in city publications.
To learn more about the Poet in Residence program or other activities the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission sponsors, visit www.ci.wheatridge.co.us/100/Cultural-Commission.