Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Muse: Rhode Island's Poet Laureate

Lisa Starr is Rhode Island's Poet Laureate. She was appointed on April 13, 2007.

The position of Poet Laureate, established in the late 1980s, is codified in state law (R.I. Gen. Laws, Sec. 42-100-1). It calls for a five-year term and an annual salary of $1,000 but requires no specific duties of the appointee. In addition, it entitles the appointee to a certificate bearing the poet's name, the words "State Poet", and the dates of office.

Starr is Rhode Island's fourth Poet Laureate. She succeeds Tom Chandler (September 1, 2000 - April 2007), C.D. Wright (1994 - 1999), and Michael Steven Harper (1988 - 1993).

Typically, the state arts council convenes a panel to review nominations for the position and create a list of recommendations for the governor, who makes the final selection.

* * * * * 
I have always been drawn to and compelled by language, and poetry in particular. When I am teaching, shaping, and sharing it, I feel like I am doing my part to make this world a better place.*
. . . writing for me is the very act of turning the ordinary details into extraordinary moments. . . I believe that every poem, and every poet, deserves a place at the table. . . .**
~ Lisa Starr 

Twice a recipient of the Rhode Island Fellowship for Poetry, Lisa Silverberg Starr has created a poetry "pen pal" system in Rhode Island that partners students with elderly citizens in communities around the state. She also has created "poetry circles" in hospitals, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, state prisons, and agencies serving children with disabilities. In 2009, she brought together more than a dozen state Poets Laureate for "Poetry for Hope", an event that included poetry readings, workshops, and public forums in venues around Rhode Island. Starr also founded and is the director of the Block Island Poetry Project, which is described as a way for Starr "to combine her seemingly disparate vocations as poet and innkeeper with her love for the land and devotion to building community." Poetry is, simply, a necessary part of her exuberant life.***

Starr has published three poetry collections: Mad With Yellow (2008), This Place Here (2001), and Days of Dogs and Driftwood (1993). Her work is featured in The Writers' Circle 2010 Anthology.

Nature and the gifts it offers us are among Starr's favorite themes, as in this excerpt, where Starr writes of finding a baby bird:

. . .
We three took turns holding him.
The complicity of our awe
is what strikes me now
and I hope I'll always remember it:
how we dropped to our knees,
how we took turns cradling him;
how, the moment that he flew
we lost our voices, too.
~ "Prayer in April"

The words, delivered in economical lines, are unadorned, simple, direct, yet highly evocative in setting the scene and the feeling. As Starr has been quoted as saying, language is "a way to continue to live."

Starr's poems pause to celebrate and express thanksgiving for who we are, for our own gifts that we often cannot see:

. . . if, even now, you still question your own belief,
maybe now is the time to take a look at your one, good life—
and the way you, too, sometimes shine and sway
just like those weeds in the meadow, gone mad with yellow.
~ From "Three for September (iii. Blessings)"

In addition, Starr writes of family, friendship, joy, illness, loss, and grief — life's subjects, the things we all experience and somehow learn to get through but never quite let go.

As I lie here
to the waves
into roars
I'm sorry
that you
live in a place
where the ocean
sounds like traffic.
~ "For Mary Kane"

Starr also has a humorous side that leaves you smiling and nodding your head in understanding, as in these lines about her dog:

He leans a little further against me
and together we share a moment
of perfect friendship
while upstairs in a sweet green room
the baby begins to stir.
~ "Since the Baby"

In addition to the poetry fellowships that she received in 2002  and 2004, Starr has been awarded, also two times, the University of Rhode Island Nancy Potter Prize for Fiction. 

Starr's poetry has been published in the Bryant Literary Review, The Providence Journal, Off The Coast, and other literary periodicals, journals, and magazines around the United States. She also is a participant in the innovative Origami Poems Project and has presented the keynote address at state Poetry Out Loud finals. She gives readings of her work and takes part in poetry festivals all over the country.

When she's not writing, teaching, or advocating for poetry, Starr runs The Hygeia House, a Victorian-era inn on Block Island, coaches basketball, teaches, and mothers two children.


Rhode Island State Council on the Arts

There is a wonderful description of Starr in the About section of the Block Island Poetry Project site.

*Quoted in the press release announcing Starr's appointment as State Poet.

** Quoted in press release announcing a 2010 workshop to celebrate National Poetry Month, "The Block Island Poetry Project Visits Key West," with Starr and Coleman Barks.

*** What poetry, language, and writing mean to Starr she explains eloquently here, where you'll also find the text of her moving poem "In the End". (Note: Be sure to allow a minute or two for this pdf to load properly.)

An audio recording for the 2008 Creative Process discussion series at the University of Connecticut, moderated by Davyne Verstandig and including Starr as one of four poets, is here.

State site on

A poetry reading by Starr:


Cassandra Frear said...

Her poetry reminds me of Carl Sandburg.

Billy Coffey said...

I absolutely LOVED "Since the Baby"!

sarah said...

what wonderful poems, she is so gifted!

M.L. Gallagher said...

I love the idea of poetry making the world a better place.

How soothing! And inspirng.