April 6, 1989 |
Strange thing, being the nation's poet laureate in an unpoetic time. What does one do? Write an elegy about the Tower nomination? A sonnet to first dog Millie? "When anyone asks what it is that I do," says Howard Nemerov, the third and current poet laureate, "I say, 'What does Oz do?' Just keep those emerald spectacles on and we'll do fine. " He is talking, between gin martinis and unfiltered cigarettes, in the spectacularly unspectacular Adam's Mark Hotel, in front of the salad bar, immersed in Muzak, waiting to address the local chapter of St. Louis' Washington University alumni association.
March 11, 1996 |
"It's just an awful emptiness without him," confided dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, somber in gray suit and black turtleneck, gazing up like a chastened choirboy toward the vast nave of Manhattan's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He was talking Friday evening about the loss felt by many friends of Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet who came to America at age 32 after years of hardship at home. Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, served as poet laureate of the United States from 1991 to 1992, then died suddenly of a heart attack on Jan. 28 at age 55. "It feels like a giant hole," Baryshnikov continued of his countryman and fellow emigre, with whom he'd bonded during their years in New York.
November 16, 1995 |
The county's new poet laureate was invited to the courthouse yesterday, but was asked to leave some words at home. Especially a four-letter word that refers rather explicitly to sex. Such was the case when River Huston performed her first official duty as laureate, reading a selection of her work at a public meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Huston, a New Hope resident, AIDS activist and lecturer, chose "Death Is for the Dead," a funky, personal discourse on living life with a death sentence handed down by the HIV virus.
November 1, 1992 |
Poetry came late but with honors to Charles Munoz. The 66-year-old retiree was an aerial gunner, a novelist, a technical writer and a marketing vice president before he began putting his lyricism on paper a couple of years ago. Last month he was named Bucks County poet laureate. If poetry is new to Munoz, writing in general is not. Now a part-time English teacher at Bucks County Community College, Munoz has written a novel (and has two more underway) and TV scripts, as well as science fiction and technical articles.
May 21, 2006 |
What does it mean to be a poet laureate? Elkins Park resident Deborah Fries was thinking about that recently after being named the 2006 poet laureate of Montgomery County. Already, Fries has fulfilled some of her duties. She accepted her award at Arcadia University, thanked the panel of judges headed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Galway Kinnell, and did an inaugural reading. Now it is on to other things, she said: workshops, a few readings, and "representing the poetry community in a place where I live and work and where so many good writers find space and inspiration.
May 7, 2000 |
A poet's pen is really a pickax, chip, chip, chipping away at some hidden mine of memory or intellect or experience, digging out the precious nugget that will gleam with truth. Lansdale poet Margaret Almon's mine is marbled with rich veins of her girlhood in Alberta, Canada. From it emerge poignant observations on stifled dreams, family mythology and what it means to grow up as a woman, with occasional forays into history and the natural world. Recently, Almon's verse earned her the title of Montgomery County poet laureate.
June 2, 1996 |
Before appearing on a local TV show recently, River Huston, Bucks County's poet laureate, asked the host to - please - not introduce her as the woman some New Jersey parents have called obscene. Huston is trying to get past the high-publicity incident that involved parents' harsh reaction after she graphically demonstrated how to use a condom at a high school assembly. The event landed her on national TV programs such as Day and Date and Good Morning America. It was memorialized on the cover of a Trenton tabloid newspaper, laminated and hung on her kitchen wall: RAUNCHY DEMOS AT SAFE SEX TALK, the headline screams in bold red. But Huston, 36, a Bucks County native, doesn't want that image to define her. Nor would she introduce herself as the woman reproached last year by Bucks County commissioners.
October 5, 2002 |
Right about now, the folks who govern Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington must feel pretty darn smart. They never got around to naming a poet laureate, unlike 40 other states and the District of Columbia. "There just isn't any compelling reason to have one," said Michigan Gov. John Engler, refusing to establish an official poet for the Great Lakes State. And so, while New Jersey Gov. McGreevey untangles a bureaucratic knot caused by a poem, laureate-free governors are free to concentrate on less-complicated matters, such as port strikes and highway repair.
December 28, 2002
The New Jersey Legislature seems hell-bent on abolishing the post of state poet laureate only two years after it was created. This is overkill. It is a kneejerk reaction to controversy. Yet a bill to eliminate the post has sailed through committee and awaits full Senate action following the holiday recess. The lawmakers have reason to be upset with current poet laureate Amiri Baraka, whose controversial poem, "Somebody Blew Up America," included a reprehensible suggestion that Jews were responsible for the World Trade Center attack.
July 2, 1992 |
I'm often asked if I can imagine a bigger scam than being a movie critic, and until now, I've always said no. Until now, I didn't know that the part-time job of poet laureate of the United States paid $35,000 a year. I'd always assumed that the title was an honorary one, and that no money changed hands. Prosaic sap! Poet laureates are named by the Library of Congress. That means the federal government is involved. Given that, I'm surprised that Congress hasn't authorized several billion for a poet laureate bailout, or a stealth poet.