Friday, August 30, 2013

Poet Laureates of Virginia

True beauty is never fleeting, which is why poetry

demands thoughtful reading - as well as the gift of time.[i]

On Saturday, September 21 at 1 pm the Massanutten Regional Library’s Main Branch is offering a public program featuring Sofia Starnes, the current Poet Laureate of Virginia.  Virginians and the Commonwealth, one of a few states to so honor poets, have a long history of providing encouragement, community, and support for poets and for those who enjoy reading poetry.   The umbrella for local poets and poetry readers is the Poetry Society of Virginia, established in 1923 and in its 90th year.  

The Poetry Society of Virginia 

            In 1923 at the suggestion of a College of William and Mary professor, Dr. C.E. Feidelsohn, the Poetry Society of Virginia[ii] was founded.  The Society’s mission is to “encourage excellence in writing, reading, study, and appreciation of poetry.”  With a current membership of more than 400 people, the PSV is one of the largest state poetry societies in the nation.  Over the years the Society has sponsored poetry contests, provided poetry teaching guides, and published anthologies of poetry by Virginians.  Since 1997, the Society participates with the Governor and the Virginia Commission for the Arts in the selection of the Poet Laureate of Virginia.   The 1997 legislation defined that the duties and powers of the Poet Laureate are “to encourage the exchange of arts information and perspectives.  The poet laureate is not obligated to write any verse.”[iii]

Poet Laureates of Virginia

            The position of Poet Laureate was established on December 18, 1936 by the Virginia General Assembly.   The General Assembly appointed the person who would receive the honor.  In 1998, this changed.  The selection of the Poet Laureate is now made from a list submitted by the Poetry Society to the Governor, and the General Assembly confirms the Governor’s selection.  The Poet Laureate serves for a two year term with no restrictions on reappointment.[iv]   The Poetry Society’s criteria for a nominee include:

The poet must be a resident of Virginia and have resided here at least ten years.

 The poet must be published in literary journals and have had at least one book
of poems published. Honors and awards received …should be taken into account.

The poet must be physically able and willing to make at least some requested appearances during the laureateship.

The poet need not be a teacher or a member of the PSV.[v]

Recent Poet Laureates

Sofia Starnes

            Of Philippine-Spanish heritage, the 2012-2014 Poet Laureate, Sofia Starnes is the author of five poetry collections.  Her poetry has also appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.  In 2001 the U.S. Poet Laureate selected Starnes a co-winner of the prestigious Aldrich Poetry Prize.[vi]  She was also twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.[vii]  At the request of the Poetry Society of Virginia, Starnes compiled an anthology of the poetry of the Virginia Laureates between 2004 and 2012.  Often her poetry examines the spiritual comforts in day-to-day events as in the poem All Souls Day in her 2011 anthology Fully Into Ashes.[viii] 

            In an online interview[ix] Starnes spoke of the importance of poetry in the modern culture of instant communication:

"Poetry matters because beauty and intimacy matter – and these are the two things that
are gravely threatened by our modern way of life. First of all, poetry invites us to look for what is beautiful. A poem may and often does deal with “non-pretty” things-grief, pain, loneliness-but if the poem is true, it will leave the reader with a sense of beauty…”

For those who find poetry intimidating, Starnes advises the reader “never to analyze poem! ...a poem is meant to be experienced.”

 Launched at the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Starnes’ Four Virginia Poets Laureate (2004-2012) An Anthology & Reader’s Guide examines the works of the previous four Virginia poet laureates: Rita Dove, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Claudia Emerson, and Kelly Cherry.  In this volume are brief biographical sketches of the poets.   Eight or nine poems are presented and with each poem are several questions about the work for the reader to consider when reading the poem.  A literary commentary on the Laureate’s work is included.

Rita Dove

            The first of the Virginia Laureates featured Rita Dove (2004-2006) , who may be the most recognized by Americans.  From 1993-1999, she served two terms as the U.S. Poet Laureate.  Among Dove’s numerous prestigious awards are the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1987, the National Humanities Medal, and the National Medal of Arts.  Dove is described as:

a quiet leader and as an artist who weaves African-American experience into the broader perspective of international culture.  Dove’s lyrical and accessible poetry reflects the author’s interest in music and drama, as well as her commitment to social justice and her sensitivity to women’s issues.[x]

Rita Dove teaches at the University of Virginia where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.

Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

            Named Virginia Poet Laureate in July 2006, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda suceeded Rita Dove.  She is a native of central Virginia and is a life-long educator often leading service-oriented projects for the Commonwealth.  Kreiter-Foronda developed a state-wide poetry-in-the-schools program and co-edited an instructional guide for poetry.  Some of her poetic themes can be attributed to her interest in art.  One book of poems features Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.   She frequently combines her poetry with illustrations of her abstract art.  She worked with another poet laureate, Claudia Emerson, on the Metro Public Art Project for the Tysons Corner metro stations that will highlight the poetry of eight Virginia Poet Laureates.  Kreiter-Foronda was a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee.  As with some of other poet laureates, she has an association with University of Mary Washington where she graduated.
Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Claudia Emerson, and Kelly Cherry.

Claudia Emerson

            Claudia Emerson, a Virginia native, was the Poet Laureate from 2008-2010.  Her early poetry often features growing-up in a small Virginia town.  In 2006 she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Late Wife that tells of the experiences of divorce, a new love, and a new marriage.  Her work with Kreiter-Foronda is mentioned above.  She is a professor of English and holds the Arrington Distinguished Chair of Poetry at the University of Mary Washington.

Kelly Cherry

            Kelly Cherry, Poet Laureate 2010-2012, spent most of her working life teaching at University of Wisconsin-Madison but now resides in central Virginia.  She often teams with Claudia Emerson and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda to give poetry readings.  Cherry graduated from the University of Mary Washington.  She has published fourteen books of poetry and nine works of non-fiction.  In 1977, she won the Pushcart Prize.  In graduate school she studied philosophy, thus philosophical musings are often the subject of her poems, in particular in the 2009 collection The Retreat of Thought.[xi]  The last poem in this volume, Postscript, reflects on the process of leaving philosophical studies to write poetry.

            We encourage you to come on September 21 to hear Poet Laureate Sofia Starnes.  If you cannot attend but want to read these poets’ works or other poetry, they are available at your Library.

[i] Starnes, Sofia M. Editor.  Four Virginia Poet Laureates (2004-2012).  Cedar Creek Publishing.  Bremo Bluff, VA. 2013. 6.
[iii] Starnes. 11.
[iv]  The Poet Laureates uncludes
                Charles W. Wormeley: life time appointment  (December 18, 1936 – August 24, 1938)
                No appointments 1938-1942
                Charles Day: 1 year appointments March 14, 1942 – 1948
                Thomas Lomax Hunter: 1948
                Leigh Buckner Hanes: 1949
                Ruby Altizer Robert: 1950
                No appointments 1950-1970
                Guy Carleton Drewry: 1970-1991
                Ruby Altizer Roberts: Poet Laureate Emeritus 1992
                Kathryn Forrester Thro: July 1, 1994 – June 30, 1996
                Margaret Ward Morland: 1996-1998
                Joseph Awad: 1998-2000
                Grace Simpson:  2000 – 2002
                George Garrett: July 9, 2002 – 2004
                Rita Dove: Sept 20, 2004 – June 25, 2006
                Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda:  June 26, 2006 – June 2008
                Claudia Emerson: August 26, 2008 – July 28, 2010
                Kelly Cherry July 29, 2010 – June30, 2012
                Sofia Starnes current
[v] www.poetrysocietyof
[vi] New Englander Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907) was an influential poet, novelist, travel, writer, and editor        from the 1850s to the end of the century.
[vii] The Pushcart Prize honors the best poetry and short stories of the previous year published by small presses.
[viii] Wing Press. San Antonio, TX.
[xi] Louisiana State University Press.  Baton Rouge.

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