Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Role of Poet Laureates

Julia Baird opens up the role and responsibilities of Poet Laureates in this article from philly.com

She writes, "Surely poet laureates should be seen as public poets, should be paid more, should live in Washington, and be asked to write poems about our world, now. It might seem whimsical to suggest that poems matter when walls of water drown cities, when gut-wrenching tumult afflicts the Middle East, and when one in four American children depends on food stamps - but isn't the point of poetry to help us make sense of all this upheaval? To take emotions we fumble to describe, and bake them as cakes? To say what we can't or won't, and to force us to remember what matters?"

I'm wondering if this applies to local laureates, too, be they official (Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, etc.) or unofficial. What roles do we, as poets, play in this century? How can we say what others can't or won't that means something to Cleveland, and how can we force the city to remember what matters?


Marcus said...

This seems like a silly idea, that poets laureate must live in a particular place and write poems about particular things or in a particular way -- it makes it seem as if the government is buying the poet, and that the poet is selling out to the government, instead of that long excellence is being rewarded with a sinecure for some length of time. And stop calling me "Shirley".

Rob said...

In my two years as poet laureate in Huron, I never felt that I was an advocate for any part of the government. Rather, I was a voice within the community which could hold up the life of the people. During my tenure, we went through a bicentennial celebration and I wrote poems about our town. Sure, the cynical might say I was being a dupe of the chamber of commerce. I believe that I was helping to give the community a moment of thoughtful reflection on time and place. I am proud of what I wrote, and I hope that it would encourage wider expression of what is real in the life of ordinary people like me.

For what it's worth, there was no pay (surprise!), but that has never been why I write. It is, however, a public recognition by a city council that words matter. That has always been my belief as a writer.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau