By Sophia Ricco
Distinguished poet, George Wallace will be the first American citizen to receive the Alexander the Great Gold Medal (Χρυσό Μετάλλιο του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου) in Greece this coming Sunday.
Bestowed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Wallace will be traveling to the island of Salamis along with around 20 others who have made advancements with culture. He was selected by the organization due to his connection to the director, Kafe Idion, who he met at a poetry festival in Macedonia in 2017. After sharing his work with Idion, he was asked if he could be considered for the medal and within a month received a letter saying that he was chosen.
Although, his trip to Greece will be brief, Wallace is hoping to reconnect with poets and musicians he had encountered on his travels to the country before. He is also looking forward to encountering various artists during his time Salamis off the coast of Greece.
“It reminds me of the responsibility I have not just to myself but also to the people I represent, the Walt Whitman Birthplace and The Long Islander, to conduct myself and offer myself in a way that brings honor to the people I represent,” Wallace said.
Wallace has been the writer in residence at the Birthplace since 2011 and helps them organize events. He also spent many years working at the Long Islander newspaper and continues to contribute to the poetry column he brought back. For thirty years, the Long Islander has been sharing poets’ work from across the globe, with over 1,500 poems published.
“Reaching out and exchanging with people from different places I think is a healthy thing,” Wallace said. “It’s part of what it means to be American, to respect and learn from each other and see how we can grow together.”
To Wallace, the key to cultural development is the “meeting of minds,” which he encourages by reaching out to other cultures in the United States and internationally. He works to find commonalities and connections between cultures.
“It’s a cross cultural exchange, the work I do,” Wallace said. “I try to find a way to reach across boundaries and borders to find a dialogue with people from other places and cultures.”
In his travels abroad, Wallace has worked to share poetry from across the world. He also, invites poets from other nations to read their work at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, bringing their culture to Huntington.
“It’s a multi-directional thing,” Wallace said. “It’s not just me going to other places and strutting my stuff, it’s also giving opportunities to people from other places to come here.”
Recently, Wallace traveled to the border between South Texas and Mexico, to speak with individuals on both sides about how they felt about the controversy it has caused. He wanted to gain a sense of what the border meant to either side, as a way to create a dialogue between both sides’ cultures.
“We can either retreat into our caves or we can step out into the sun and greet each other as fellow human beings,” Wallace said.
A native Long Islander, Wallace lived in England for 20 years but eventually came back to his roots in Huntington and began to pursue poetry professionally. He finds that as he has grown and changed in life, what he writes about has evolved as well.
“I’ve always been a person that approached the creation of art as a vehicle to an idea, rather than the opposite of having an idea then creating the art,” Wallace said. “I use poetry to find out what it is I want to talk about.”
He choose poetry as a career because he felt he had a talent with working with words and wanted to grow his potential. While he does write about his own life, he also touches upon issues that face society.
“It’s not about inspiration, it’s about exploration,” Wallace said. “Poetry is a way to explore the things that are meaningful to me.”
His passion for poetry is evident and Wallace is happy with the path he has chosen, as he said, “you only live once.”
“I would hate to reach the end of my life with only consuming,” Wallace said. “Just consuming for all my years is not good enough for me. I want to produce.”