Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Muse: States Without Poets Laureate

With last week's post on Indiana, I completed my initial series of profiles of state Poets Laureate. As terms of office end and new state poets are appointed, I plan to update the profiles. (Use the search box on the right side of the page to find your state's Poet Laureate in my series. The phrase "Monday Muse" will return all results.)

Mississippi's position has been unfilled since the death of Winifred Farrar last November.

This just in from @GodinePub ~ Maine's new Poet Laureate is Wesley McNair, appointed March 11. Looks like I have my first update already. The announcement on Godine's blog is here.

Arts Being Axed: Updates

I learned from Verse Wisconsin and Split This Rock that the position of Poet Laureate in Wisconsin has been discontinued, effective with the completion in 2012 of the term of the current Poet Laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen. Here is a statement about Governor Walker's action from Verse Wisconsin's FaceBook page. The Poet Laureate Commission is seeking a new umbrella organization.

Another state threatened by cutbacks because of budget problems is Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback issued February 7 an executive reorganization order (No. 39) that abolishes the Kansas Arts Commission. The announcement of the order, which also transfers the KAC's responsibilities to the Kansas Historical Society, is here. The order becomes effective July 1, unless the state legislature acts to overturn it. This article posits that there may be enough votes to overturn. As a result of the governor's order, the KAC announced that it is postponing all fiscal year 2012 programming. For updates on this situation, go here. Ironically, Kansas is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, and Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is selecting and posting 150 Kansas Poems to honor the event.

States With No Poets Laureate

States that have no official state poets: Arizona, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. [Note, Added August 23, 2013: Arizona enacted in 2012 a law establishing a Poet Laureate position. In 2013, Alberto Rios was named the state's first official Poet Laureate. Hawaii named its first official poet laureate in 2012. He is Steven Kealohapau'ole Hong-Ming Wong, known as "Kealoha".] [Note, Added May 9, 2014: A legislative bill to establish a position is under consideration in Massachusetts. The New Mexico State Poetry Society is active in a push for an official position. An Ohio senator has sponsored legislation to create a position also.]

Legislation (Senate Bill 1530) was introduced this year in Arizona to establish an honorary, unpaid, two-year State Poet Laureate position. (I'll let you know if the bill is enacted.) Some cities and towns,  among them Scottsdale, appoint their own talent to a local post. [Note: As indicated above, Arizona enacted a 2012 law, S.B. 1348, establishing a position. See the profile dated August 26, 2013.]

Although Don Blanding (1894-1957) has been called "Vagabond Poet Laureate of Hawaii", the state has no official Poet Laureate. Hawaii-based W.S. Merwin is the 17th Poet Laureate of the United States. [See note above for updated information about Hawaii. A profile was posted July  9, 2012.]

Massachusetts cities and towns, including Gloucester, North Andover, Northampton, West Tisbury, and Worcester, appoint their own poets laureate. Some of the work of the these poets laureate has been compiled in the Collected Poet Series, Massachusetts Poets Laureate Edition.

Michigan's most recent attempts to enact legislation to establish a position have been unsuccessful. From 1952 until his death in 1959, Edgar A. Guest served as the state's only official Poet Laureate, and he was appointed as a result of a state senate resolution, the history of which is detailed here.

New Jersey's last official Poet Laureate was Amiri Baraka; the first was Gerald Stern, who served from 2000 to 2002. Baraka, appointed in July 2002, lost the position after legislation was enacted in 2003 to abolish the title. The legislature took action because Baraka refused to resign following a controversy over his poem "Somebody Blew Up America" and could not otherwise be legally removed. Baraka sued the state and eventually took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear  the appeal

In Ohio, various jurisdictions, including Cuyahoga County, Lucas County, Cleveland Heights, and St. Clair Shores, honor their local talent with a title. Dayton History Books Online carries this interesting article about Dayton-born Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Pennsylvania has had a single state Poet Laureate, Samuel Hazo, who served from 1993 to 2003. He was appointed by governor Bob Casey in May 1993, and relieved of his services by governor Ed Rendell in May 2003. This article, "It's Official: Every Poet Is a State Poet", in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, details Rendell's action. Recently, this piece, "Memo to Corbett: Bring Back State Poet", appeared in the same newspaper. As in some other states, a number of cities and counties, including Erie County, Hazleton, York, Bucks County, Harrisburg, Perry County, and Hanover, have their own official local poets. (See Association of Pennsylvania Poets Laureate.) 


Louise Gallagher said...

Wow, what a sad statement of the times. Cutbacks. Shutdowns. Turn-offs. Closures.

And in reality -- artists create because they must. The challenge is, their art will not be seen or heard or felt or witnessed by those of us who so desperately crave the beauty they create.


Kathleen said...

Oh, boy, this makes me want to nominate Hannah Stephenson as the poet laureate of Ohio and Karen Weyant as the poet laureate of Pennsylvania. Of course, I'd be willing to move to Hawaii to be the poet laureate there!

Joyceann Wycoff said...

Very interesting and sad. But, maybe, the move toward having city-laureates is a positive one.

Thanks for introducing me to Baraka and "Somebody Blew Up America" ... all I can say is "Wow!" Hard words to hear but what a voice.

S. Etole said...

I appreciate all the issues you bring to our attention. said...

So disturbing -- especially Wisconsin, of course, though it's no surprise. We have to trust the pendulum will eventually swing back...