Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Muse: Florida's Poet Laureate

Note [Added September 14, 2012]: Edmund Skellings died August 19, 2012. The state poet position currently is vacant. See "Florida Poet Laureate Skellings, 80, Dies", Florida Today, August 21, 2012. An obituary is here.

Edmund Skellings is Florida's third Poet Laureate, a position he assumed in 1980. He was among 400 Florida poets considered and selected by an anonymous panel for nomination by the governor.

In Florida, the position of Poet Laureate, which was established by proclamation in 1928, is a life-time appointment that is not compensated. Franklin L. Wood was the state's first Poet Laureate; he was succeeded by Vivian Laramore Rader, who served from 1931 to 1975. She has been called the "Forgotten Poet Laureate".

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Poet Edmund Skellings, who first experimented with poetry on magnetic tape and video while at the University of Iowa, has published more than a half-dozen collections, his most recent the Collected Poems 1958-1998 (University Press of Florida/Gainesville, 1998); it is a compilation of four earlier published books and Skellings' Personal Effects, plus a CD of Skellings reading 50 poems, including two experimental "sound poems" (Florida International University Press, c. 1985). Skellings' other work includes  Living Proof (University Press of Florida, ), Nearing the Millennium, comprising the trilogy Heart Attacks (University Presses of Florida, 1976), Face Value (University Presses of Florida, 1977), and Showing My Age (University Presses of Florida, 1978); In This Tone of Voice (Hillside Press [Cornell College], 1961), an illustrated children's book of verse; and Duels and Duets: Poems with the World (Qara Press [Iowa City], c. 1960), his first book, which won the Chicago Midwest Award for Book Design. 

Skellings also is the author of the 25-page chapbook Alaska Poetry 1964 (University of Alaska), a collection gathered from work of 50 members of the Alaska Writers Workshop.

Hundreds of examples of Skellings' poetry are readily available via the Edmund Skellings Collection at the Florida Institute of Technology and well worth your time. Below are several excerpts, with links to the complete poems, to give an idea of Skellings' voice, his lyricism, the diversity of his subjects (science, politics, visual artists and poets, blues songs, social commentary, and more), his readability, and his wholly accessible imagery. His style ranges from the formal to the more colloquial or slangy, from the humorous to the serious and formal. I found his work deeply interesting.

Moving is a kind of dying. One binds fast
As many ends and odds out of the past
As a sense of the ridiculous allows,
Some awkward items are too large, have lost
The magic of compelling an attachment.
The least important things are left for last....
~ From "A Writer's Attic" in Face Value and Collected Poems

When the good Contessa, his father's daughter,
Imagined she saw the music of the spheres
Strewn in the woven hair of the heavens,
Gossamer star notes of mathematic creation,
Her mind tasted the universe first hand, felt all,
Knew all, thought the great wordless poem of night,
Luminous dusts of golds and silvers in blowing tresses.

Her hands became combs of grace in the air thereafter.

The bones of her body were like bird bones then, like
Ballet bones, like flying dancers....
~ From "Ada" in Personal Effects in Collected Poems

I suppose it was the picture of Frenchie,
Toothless grin leaning on the big radial
Engine of the Cessna with the broken prop,
Broken ski, shack in the background,
Rusted oil drums scattered everywhere,
I suppose it was the picture of Frenchie,

But I have tossed aside the book on politics
And I am flying once more in the Bush
Past that huge white rock of the sky
That the Eskimo call The Great One,
And I skid down again at Talkeetna
To drink hot coffee in the one cafe....
~ From "Alaska" in Face Value and Collected Poems

Euclid rolled over in his bones
When Newell & Simon instructed
Their machine to look for new proof
For bisecting the ordinary triangle.

No one at all expected
Except perhaps Newell & Simon
The machine to say something unheard of.
~ From "Artificial Intelligence" in Living Proof and Collected Poems

I am sure those near heard your pen shriek,
All that woe from the black ink well.
Jesus. Each joy of the earth
Gold as a Christmas toy. Faith
For the falcon's life. Despair
On the nun's death. Every thing
Spur for a passion without tether,
Each Easter sheet a wafer without measure.
~ "Eucharist" in Personal Effects in Collected Poems

Skellings Website includes examples of his animated poetry and audio recordings, as well as a descriptive list of his poetry collections.

Skellings is currently University Professor of Humanities at Florida Institute of Technnology/Melbourne. He has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, founded the Alaska Writers Workshop in 1963 and the Alaska Flying Poets in 1964 and, many years later, the Florida Writers Network, which electronically linked creative writing programs at three universities. He joined the faculty of Florida Atlantic University in 1967, where he continued with audiotape and electronic "augmentation" experiments (video poems with quadraphonic sound). In 1973, he became director of the International Institute for Creative Communication at Florida International University; as a result of his work there, Skellings received a Governor's Award for community service in the arts.

In the 1980s, the poet's long-standing interest in the application of electronic technology in the arts, humanities, and education led to patents for his computer teaching system, which made functional use of color on a CRT (cathode ray  tube); his pioneering creation of a computer program, Electric Poet, with an Apple microcomputer with an e-mail capability — used by universities in the state's higher education system; the founding of ARTNET, the first arts and humanities microcomputer network in the United States; and continuing color research and computer-assisted teaching (CAT) programs. While serving as chair of the Florida Speaker's Advisory Panel for Computers and Telecommunication (1978-1990), Skellings implemented a statewide computer network for the Florida House of Representatives. In 1990, he became founding director of the Florida Center for Electronic Communication at FAU, establishing a supercomputer multimedia studio laboratory for state-of-the-art educational technologies. 

Nationally recognized for his innovations, Skellings devised in 1992 a way to teach poetry using a network of supercomputers and advanced imaging software that generated moving images representing the ideas expressed in lines of poems. His "animated poetry" has won awards at film and poetry festivals worldwide. 

The Florida Center for Electronic Communication produced a video biography of Skellings, Nearing the Millennium, in 1995. In addition to leading poets' commentaries about Skellings, the film contains historical documentation and 15 of Skellings' animated poems. In 1998, Skellings instituted at the center a graduate degree program in computer arts, at the time the only such program at a public university in the southeastern United States. Skellings also created the first collection of 3-D animated poetry, Word Songs, "interpreted" with computer graphics and special effects and recorded in Dolby sound. He retired from the center in 2006.


Edmund Skellings Electronic Collection at Florida Tech

Edmund Skellings Published Works in Library of Congress Collection

Florida and Edmund Skellings Page at

Florida Atlantic University Faculty Bio for Edmund Skellings

Transformations: A Collaboration of Art and Poetry (For this multimedia collaboration, chaired by Skellings, 12 established artists were paired with 12 published poets. The work created as a result of the artist-poet pairings was presented in April 2010 and is documented in a book, which according to the Transformations site is available through Brevard Art Museum, in Melbourne, Florida. The purpose of the collaboration was to broaden and enhance appreciation of one field of art by involving it with another and then sharing the efforts widely; it also sought to challenge writers and artists to think outside their respective fields. Progress was documented on an interactive blog.)

The Florida Book Review

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs

Linked In Page

1 comment:

Louise Gallagher said...

Love the idea of 'animated poetry'!

His voice is quite compelling.

I just can't figure out the time to read everything I find here! :)

You are a treasure trove of wonder.