A conversation with Jacksonville’s first Poet Laureate

by Anna Ferraro

A lifelong lover of poetry and literature, Dr. Joseph Kozma has been writing ever since his early days as a medical student in Germany. After retiring in 2015 from his 60-year career as a doctor here in Jacksonville, he has more time now than ever before to devote to his greatest love – poetry.

His propagation of his writings and their reception led Mayor Andy Ezard to appoint him the Poet Laureate of Jacksonville in April 2016. Kozma shares, “The idea of poet laureate is to provide a basis extension of the awareness of the usefulness and importance of poetry in everyday life.”

Since his appointment this spring, Kozma has been working on connecting with people and organizations in the community who share his passion. With each meeting he says, “I’m establishing contact among people – talking about poetry, loving poetry, reading poetry, making it a part of life. Instead of people being on Facebook all the time, maybe we could have something more interesting, more provocative.” Something like poetry.

Kozma’s credentials as a poet and writer are impressive, including the publication of four full-size poetry volumes available locally, nationwide and internationally; two novels; four smaller chapter books of poems; numerous essays and columns; the production of a yearly Poetry Variety Show (now in its 8th year); participation in numerous contests and performances of poetry readings. Even with that impressive legacy, he stays in intimate contact with his art, saying, “I write at least one poem a day.”

His vision is to see poetry infiltrate and influence all aspects of community life – from private interactions between friends, to large public celebrations and ceremonies saying, “The world of poetry is immense. It is artistic, linguistic, social, scientific and most importantly it provides personal enrichment and satisfaction.”

Also according to Kozma, poetry is not just for adults. He says, “I have talked to others about exposing kindergartners to poetry. In kindergarten, they have no idea what poetry is all about, but they remember it, and they wonder about it.”

Why? Because in his mind, poetry supersedes other forms of communication occurring these days. He said, “Facebook and the media isolate people. Poetry connects people. It connects people with the past and with art – because poetry is a linguistic art.”

In addition to speaking German and English, and being able to read comfortably in Spanish and French, he’s currently studying Italian so that he can read poems in their original forms, saying, “The best entertainment for me is learning something.”

And so each day, he is learning for himself, then working to share that learning with his community. In closing, Kozma stated with feeling, “I am very serious and devoted about [working as Poet Laureate]. It is wonderful to see that the City of Jacksonville is committed. I will do what I can and is possible to intensify that commitment.”

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