Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Muse: Texas' Poet Laureate

The Poet Laureate of Texas is native Texan Karla K. Morton—the first woman in at least 15 years to be appointed to the position. She succeeded Paul Ruffin, who served from May 2009 to May 2010. 

The position originally came about through the state legislature's passage in 1933 of Resolution No. 82, which authorized a committee jointly appointed by the lieutenant governor and house speaker to "designate an outstanding and recognized poet", a state resident, to be Texas' Poet Laureate. Years later, the legislature enacted a state law (Senate Bill 1043, effective September 1, 2001) making the position a one-year appointment.

The appointment is honorary and has no obligations or requirements; nor does it provide pay or any funding. Morton, however, continues her Little Town, Texas Tour, which she began before officially taking office, to read and advocate for poetry. She makes a point of involving teens wherever she stops and writes a poem about each place in Texas she visits.

Some 46 poets have occupied the position (a complete list is here), although none was named in 1981-1982, 1983-1987, 1989-1993, 1995-1999, and 2002.

* * * * *
My childhood dream was to someday become
a Texas State Poet Laureate. . . I'm so honored
. . . to serve as an ambassador of poetry. . . .
~ Karla K. Morton*

Karla K. Morton is the author of a book and CD titled Wee Cowrin' Timorous Beastie, described as a Scottish romantic epic (think poet Robert Burns) that mixes poetry, story, and original Celtic music by Canadian composer Howard Baer; and Redefining Beauty (Dos Gatos Press, September 2009), an accounting of Morton's cancer diagnosis in 2008 and her subsequent treatment and recovery. Of the latter, which includes black-and-white photography by Walter Eagleton, Morton avers that she stayed alive by writing her way through her diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, hair loss, and incredible pain; words, she's been quoted as saying, were the "grit" that kept her going. The book has been awarded a 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award from the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group.

Morton's other books include Stirring Goldfish (May 2010), described as an "original Sufi poetry collection"; Becoming Superman, and the forthcoming Names We've Never Known (Texas Review Press), as well as a collection, Karla K. Morton: New and Selected Poems, to be published in October by Texas Christian University Press as part of its Poet Laureate series.

Like many poets, Morton did not find publishing an easy go. She told interviewer Lindsay Kalter of The Dallas Morning News, "I have enough rejection letters to wallpaper my entire house. I'm either too stubborn or too stupid to take 'no' for an answer." It took 20 years, she said, before her poetry found its way into print.**

Texas as place and landscape figure in a number of Morton's poems, as in the following excerpt from "When Texas No Longer Fits in the Glove Box", which underscores how irresistible that state's pull is for her:

Once you unfold a road map of Texas, your world is changed.
Towns like Falfurrias, Cathage, and Madill suddenly become
part of your life and once you see them, you can't go back to
not knowing them. You have to go there, even if it's just
with your eyes—or your finger—tracing those
crow's feet county roads into unexplored territory. . . .

Once you discover Texas, Morton says, "There's no refolding the map." She continues:

It's like meeting an alarmingly charming man—
discovering his dangerous detours and thrilling new paths,
finding unforeseen forks and magnificent natural beauty. . . .

Read the rest of this memorable poem, included in Texas Poetry Calendar 2008, here.

Once you've overcome that fear, you're empowered.
 ~ Karla K. Morton

Morton ranges over many subjects, In Becoming Superman, for example, she writes about a son's first date, mother-daughter relationships, death, the sense of her own mortality. In Redefining Beauty, she explores the deep feelings caused by cancer's wounds and scars, and of fears of the disease's recurrence; she uses the image of the sun as a metaphor both for the burning experienced during radiation treatments and for healing; she employs humor, writes of hope; and she doesn't shy from including "some kickass", the kind of raging against the disease that is familiar to many who've suffered cancer or been part of the lives of those living with it. She's matter-of-fact:

You say your prayers
and shave your head.
You pull on your boots,
and you kick ass.
~ "No Postcards" in Redefining Beauty

But Morton isn't all Texas bravado; she also has a lyrical spiritual side that betrays a sense of what can be lost, as here:

I gathered the seeds of all things beautiful, and
cast them out into the universe, like dandelions.
A deep breath in. . . then blown out.

See how my womb waits for these seeds to
return, with a tiny bed of white down, and a red
lamp, to warm the darkness.

Let us never waste a wish. Let us lie, skin to
skin, beneath the jeweled stars, mouths open,
to swallow their falling magic. . .

The breath of our love never ceasing, my Beloved;
fists full of thin, headless stems, tossed down—
withering gently at our feet.
~ "Wishes"  in Stirring Goldfish

Morton's poems "Superman's Birthday", "Irish Royalty", "Angelic Fervor", and "Death on Dainty Pink Toes" can be found here.

Morton has published poems in numerous literary magazines, periodicals, and journals, including AmarilloBay, Concho River Review, Southwestern American Literature, Austin International Poetry AnthologyWichita Falls Literary and Art Review, Texas Poetry Calendar, right hand pointingThe Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, descant, and ARDENT. Morton's poem "Charmer", published in descant, won the Betsy Colquitt Award.

A resident of Denton, Texas, Morton travels the state giving readings and promoting poetry at schools, universities, bookstores, VA centers, libraries, arts festivals, book stores, and other venues, including cancer-support and fundraising groups.


All poetry excerpts © Karla K. Morton

*Karla Morton, Quoted in Little Town, Texas Tour Kick-off Press Release

**Karla Morton, Quoted in "Denton Woman Selected as 2010 Texas Poet Laureate" (June 30, 2009)

Redefining Beauty on Amazon

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Texas Commission on the Arts

Poetry Society of Texas

Writers' League of Texas

Morton on FaceBook

Morton on Twitter

Below, Angelyna Martinez, host of Momz in the Mix, talks with Morton, who also reads from her poetry, showing us what a born storyteller she is.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Let us never waste a wish. Let us lie, skin to
skin, beneath the jeweled stars, mouths open,
to swallow their falling magic. . .

How beautiful is that?



M.L. Gallagher said...

Powerful voice!

Her words sing to my spirit.

Kathleen Overby said...

Love how she is trying to light teenager's fire. Her animation is contagious. :) Felt like I was there. True Grit. :) Thanks. I'm passing this on.

Julie Evans said...


katdish said...

You say your prayers
and shave your head.
You pull on your boots,
and you kick ass

HECK Yeah! She's a Texan alright. She's right about Texas. It grabs your heart and never lets go.

n. davis rosback said...

i like the part when she told the interviewer
that the dog got up in her lap, that i could
hear the dog make a sound in the background
then. as if saying, yep, that's how it went.

Ami Mattison said...

Thanks for introducing us to Morton, Maureen. I was struck by the same lines as M.L. Just lovely.

S. Etole said...

"Wishes" ... how beautiful and longing.

jenne said...

As ever, a terrific, detailed interview, an invaluable resource. Her story and her work are intensely beautiful and moving: I love the image of the dandelions and the womb with the heat lamp in it.... xj

karla said...

Oh Maureen!

Thank you so much for not only your wonderful blog and great use of resources, but for lifting up poetry -- bringing it to the rest of the world!

Thank you for what you do!
Feel a Hug,

karla k. morton
2010 Texas Poet Laureate