Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Muse: Tennessee's Poet Laureate

Margaret Britton Vaughn has been Poet Laureate of Tennessee since 1995. Her term is a life-time appointment, although the state senate has to vote for reappointment every five years; it did so most recently, in March 2010, extending her term to April 1, 2015.

Since the position's establishment by resolution during the 1971-1972 legislative session, there has been only one other state poet: Richard M. "Pek" Gunn, who served until 1994. 

In her official capacity as Poet Laureate, Vaughn has penned "Who Are We", for Tennessee's bicentennial (the legislation officially designating the poem is here), and the official poem, "Mr. Tennessee Music Man", for events associated with the 2002 release of Tennessee's state quarter by the U.S. Mint as part of its "50 State Quarters® Program". She also has written inaugural poems for several governors, as well as a poem marking the United States Air Force's 50th anniversary. In addition, Vaughn has represented Tennessee at the National Poet Laureates Conference (first held in New Hampshire in 2003). She regularly gives poetry readings around the state and country, participates in a variety of literary festivals (she was a guest poet, for example, at this year's Limestone Dust Poetry Festival), teaches poetry-writing to students, and conducts in-service teacher training in the literary arts.

* * * * * 
I always tell up-and-coming young writers
not to get discouraged, to study the craft of poetry
as much as they can, and to believe in themselves.
Since poetry is often difficult to get published,
I encourage people to publish their own work and to read
poetry at civic organizations, clubs, schools
and churches in their own communities.
~Margaret Britton Vaughn*

Margaret Britton "Maggi" Vaughn has published more than a half-dozen poetry collections, including Foretasting Heaven: Talking to Twain at Quarry Farm (Bell Buckle Press, 2001), America Showing Her Colors in Black and White (Bell Buckle Press, 2002), and Acres That Grow Stones (Bell Buckle/Iris Press, 1996). Vaughn also is the author of Bell Buckle Biscuits: Stories (Bell Buckle Press, 1999) and the children's book The Birthday Dolly (Bell Buckle Press, 2000), written with Carole Brown Knuth. Her collection of poems titled 50 Years of Saturday Nights (Magluce Publishing Company, 1975) was reissued as Grand Ole Saturday Nights (Bell Buckle Press, 1992). 

In addition, with Suellen Alfred, Vaughn edited the 1996 Southern Voices in Every Direction (Bell Buckle/Iris Press in collaboration with Bedford County Art Commission). She has written plays that have been performed in Nashville and elsewhere, and, with country artist Andy Landis, a musical based on the life of Minnie Pearl. She also has written many songs for country music stars, including Loretta Lynn.

Here's a short poem by Vaughn, "Worlds Apart"** from her collection Kin:

I stood in the large Metropolitan Museum
and stared at the sunflowers by Van Gogh.
I thought of the black-eyed susans that grew
in the fence row near the milk barn of my kin.
Two worlds apart, the beauty of art:
one by man, one by nature.
My kin may never view the sunflowers,
and the spectators would not see
the black-eyed susans.
Both worlds missed something.

Vaughn has received an "Outstanding Tennessean Award" (2003) and a Mark Twain Fellowship from Elmira College's Center for Mark Twain Studies. She was the first poet in the latter capacity to be so honored. In 2007 she was named a Literary Arts Medalist by the Germantown Arts Alliance, Germantown, Tennessee, which also has inducted her into its Writers Hall of Fame.


Poetry Excerpt © Margaret Britton Vaughn

* Quoted in "Margaret Britton Vaughn, TN",  Education Update Online, April 2005

** Included in "Poems from Featured Poet Laureates", Education Update Online, April 2005

None of Vaughn's work is available new from Amazon or Barnes & Noble; some books can be found via resellers, such as Alibris and AbeBooks. Vaughn owns and operates Bell Buckle Press, in the town of Bell Buckle, which each June holds the RC and Moon Pie Festival; she self-publishes via Iris Press.

Vaugh's Poetry Online: "Invitations" from The Light in the Kitchen Window; "Porch Pickers" (found on Randy Elrod's blog, Ethos, where he also describes having lunch with the poet)

Brian Mosely, "Bell Buckle Garden Honors Maggi Vaughn", Shelbyville Times-Gazette, May 2, 2007 (This profile includes interesting information about Vaughn, including the facts that she was "the first women in an outside sales position" at a newspaper in Mississippi, where she grew up, and wrote music for Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, and other well-known country music stars.)

Profile of Margaret Britton Vaughn at Shiny Penny Productions, which is Andy Landis' music production company. Landis produced a two-CD set of historic recordings by Vaughn. More on Landis is here.

Profile of Margaret Britton Vaughn at Examiner, September 24, 2009

Profile of Margaret Britton Vaughn at suite101, July 15, 2004; also see this page at suite101.

Profile of Margaret Britton Vaughn for 2009 Alumni Hall of Fame Honorees of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston Campus

Tennessee Writers (Tennessee Writers Project Sponsored by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga)

Tony Galloway's Tennessee Bicentennial Collection

The video below features Vaughn describing her fascination with and visits to the graves of Thoreau, Twain, and other American authors and the creation of her "Poets Garden". (She is quoted here on her documentation of poets' graves.) She has put quotes from her books on the walls of her home, as she notes in welcoming her interviewer to her living room.

Maggi Vaughn : The Joy of Visiting Poets Graves from ChiefFallingLeaf on Vimeo.


Louise Gallagher said...

I like her perspective.

And once again -- another treasure revealed on Mondays.


Anonymous said...

it was good to meet miss maggie!

A. Jay Adler said...

I don't want to give you work to do, Maureen - like you don't do enough - but the National Poet Laureates Conference seems like something you should write about whenever it next occurs. That's something to publicize.

Michael Vaughn said...

My name is Michael Vaughn and Maggie is a cousin of mine. I've never had the pleasure of meeting her and hope to do so one day. My father, Joe Vaughn had paid a visit to her a while back and he brought back several of her books and a recording of her reading several of her works. I wanted to thank you for this wonderful tribute, if you will to her. As a performer in the arts, it is difficult to find the drive inside at times. Seeing the video clip of her interview is just what I needed today. I can only pray that I can live up to the name we share. Again, thank you.