Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Muse: Mississippi's Poet Laureate

These Mississippi beauties I extol. 
Huckleberry bushes with pink rosettes.
Water lilies. An open cotton boll. 
Cows in lush pastures and puppies as pets.
Magnolia blooms and stars in velvet night. . . .
~ Winifred Hamrick Farrar, Excerpt from "Treasures" 

Winifred Hamrick Farrar, appointed  Mississippi's Poet Laureate on July 31, 1978, died on November 6, 2010. 

Farrar was only the third person to hold the lifetime, unpaid position, which at this time is vacant. The first Poet Laureate was Maude Williard Leet Prenshaw, who served from 1963 to 1971. She was succeeded by Louise Moss Montgomery.

The appointee is selected from a candidate list prepared for the governor by the Mississippi Poetry Society. As noted by Farrar, the incumbent is to be available to "judge contests, speak at workshops, give readings and write the occasional poem on request"*; otherwise, the job is undefined. 

While Poet Laureate, Farrar attended many literary festivals, conventions, and conferences; served as a poetry contest judge; and frequently participated in poetry readings. Her published work included Cry Life (1968), The Seeking Spirit (1974), and Behind the Ridge (South and West, 1987), all out of print. In September 2007, at the request of ABC News, Farrar appeared on Good Morning America, reading a commissioned poem, "Treasures", about Mississippi and commemorating the one-year anniversary of Mississippi native Robin Roberts. Other details about Farrar's life and work are found in the obituary notices listed below; I've also listed the various volumes, such as Who's Who in Poetry, in which Farrar received recognition.

Here is the only one of Farrar's poems, "Remember Corn Fields", I found on the Web; it is included in Dorothy Abbott's Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth, Volume III (University Press of Mississippi, 1988)**:

Remember Corn Fields?

Remember corn sprouts silvery green in spring—
Teasing invitations to jays and crows—
And weird concoctions created to ring
Our fields, protect the newly mounded rows
From greedy beaks? Do you remember the stalks
With their blue-green leaves, broad sibilant tongues,
Sighing, whispering, their silky songs on our walks
Down the path while we swore the corn had lungs?
Remember too the raspy sound of dry
Blades rubbing themselves in sorrowing wind
In late September under leadening sky
When we walked at twilight feeling the end
Come on? Remember shivering with the chill,
Dreading something awesome beyond our will?

© Winifred Hamrick Farrar

When a new Poet Laureate is announced, I'll prepare a profile.


* Quoted in Elmo Howell's Mississippi Scenes: Notes on Literature and History (1992; available through re-sellers), on GoogleBooks 

** Abbott's Book Excerpted on GoogleBooks

Death Notice, "Winifred H. Farrar" in The Meridian Star, November 14, 2010 (The preceding day's posting is here.) Also see: "Winifred Farrar Words Touched Many", The Meridian Star, November 14, 2010, and Anne McKee, "The Loss of a Poet — Their Works Shall Not Die", The Meridian Star, November 12, 2010

Obituary at WTOK (NewsCenter11), November 15, 2010

Obituary at James F. Webb Funeral Home, November 6, 2010

Appreciation, "Farewell, Mrs. Farrar" at Wynne Huddleston's Poetry Blog, November 12, 2010

Dictionary of International Biography

International Who's Who in Poetry

"Meridian Resident Featured on Good Morning America", WTOK, September 5, 2007

Mississippi Arts Commission

Mississippi Poetry Society (on FaceBook)

Winifred Hamrick Farrar Page on FaceBook

Mississippi Writers Guild (on FaceBook)

Mississippi Writers & Musicians Page for Mississippi

United Poets Laureate International/World Congress of Poets

Who's Who of American Women

Mississippi Hall of Fame

Wikipedia Entry for Winifred Hamrick Farrar


Louise Gallagher said...

how sad her works are out of print -- how wonderful you have honoured her here.



Kathleen said...

Thanks for another grand entry on a poet laureate!

Laura said...

Ms. Farrar has left an honorable legacy. The knowledge that she was not paid has me wondering about the WV poet laureate...Mississippi and WV are often paired in those unattractive details (obesity, highest teen pregnancy, poverty level, unemployment, etc.). I will have to check into that.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful tribute........

A. Jay Adler said...

The poem is a fine selection, with naturally rhythmic sentences dense with detail and sound.

I wonder what it says that most states so seem to have poet laureates, but most people have never heard of them - or the position.

I wonder, too, about the lifetime appointment: a good way to meet a cultural obligation, and then forget about it?