Wednesday, January 11, 2006

City will have own poet laureate
Literary community mounted effort after governor vetoed statewide position
Duluth News Tribune

Denver, San Francisco and Grand Rapids, Mich., have poet laureates. Thirty-seven states also have one.

Minnesota doesn't have any of such prominence, but that will change in April when Duluth names a poet laureate.

"I'm very excited that the city I live in is taking this step,'' said Duluth resident Claire Kirch, who writes about regional works for Publishers Weekly, a publishers' trade journal.

Kirch said Duluth is known nationally as a hub of literary activity, including being home to several nationally known poets.

"It will make Duluth even more celebrated in the national literary community, a place where poetry is not just being written, it's being celebrated,'' she said of the poet laureate program.

Since last June, Kirch has been part of the poet laureate committee of Lake Superior Writers, a nonprofit organization. With program guidelines and initial funding in place, the committee is accepting poets' applications until March 1.

The poet laureate will be announced during a series of local literary events April 19-22 that include a visit by National Public Radio commentator Terry Gross.

The Duluth effort was spurred by Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto last spring of a state poet laureate program.

"While respectful and appreciative of the arts, I do not believe Minnesota needs an official state poet," Pawlenty wrote in his veto message. "We can benefit from the richness and the diversity of all the poets in Minnesota and recognize and embrace their work as merit and circumstances warrant."

Minnesota already has a state folklorist. And Pawlenty expressed concern that "this will lead to calls for similar positions. We could see requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter. So, I draw the line here," he wrote.

The Duluth idea gained momentum when U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser visited Duluth in August.

Jim Perlman, who owns Holy Cow! Press in Duluth, first approached fellow members of the Lake Superior Writers Board last June. Research led to a committee that met monthly and expanded to include members from area colleges, universities, bookstores and arts groups.

The 12-member group will choose a poet laureate to serve a two-year term. The post's mission will be to raise awareness and appreciation of poetry in the community through readings, appearances, workshops and other initiatives.

To qualify, poets must live in the Duluth area, be respected by their peers and have written one to three volumes of published poetry in the last 10 years.

"There's probably less than two dozen poets who would be eligible to apply,'' said Perlman, who has published poetry and other works for 28 years and has excused himself from selection discussions involving poets he has published. "This isn't an honor conferred on a poet. It's one that has to be applied for by the poets themselves.''

Applications rather than nominations are being used to ensure fairness and to make sure a poet really wants the honorary post, Kirch said.

Nationally known poets from Duluth whose names have come up include Barton Sutter, Connie Wanek, Louis Jenkins and Jim Johnson.

Sutter said he might be interested but would like more information.

"Duluth is a highly poetic place and a lot is going on,'' he said. "It makes some sense to me. I'm happy about almost anything that promotes the visibility of poetry.''

Wanek was flattered but said she didn't think she was in the same league as Sutter and Jenkins.

"I would feel very presumptuous applying for a post like that,'' she wrote in an e-mail response to questions. "Not to mention... I'm one of Garrison Keillor's shy people, and not even Powdermilk Biscuits can give me the courage to be comfortable in a very public setting.''

Jenkins said he's not likely to apply.

"I don't think poets belong in official positions,'' he said. "It may compromise your independence as a poet and that's one of the few things you have.''

While he is critical of government-sponsored poet laureate programs, Jenkins felt better about Duluth's.

"It seems to be a grass-roots movement,'' he noted.

For poets, the post could popularize their work and mean greater book sales as well as be an honor, Perlman said. A $2,000 honorarium was raised in part by a grant from the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation.

"It's an honor to be the first poet laureate in a city in Minnesota,'' Perlman said. "It would be quite an accomplishment to be chosen by one's community.''

Duluth poet laureate

Applications for Duluth's first poet laureate will be accepted by Lake Superior Writers until March 1. The poet will be announced during literary events slated for April 19-22. For more information, visit, call 218-722-3094 or write to Lake Superior Writers, Poet Laureate Application, 1301 Rice Lake Road, Suite 132, Duluth, MN 55811.


• Must be a legal resident of Minnesota and have lived in the Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor area for at least five of the past 10 years.

• Within the past 10 years, must have written at least one published volume of poetry of 48 pages or more or published at least three poetry volumes of 16 pages or more. Self-published and vanity publications are not accepted.

• Has been recognized by peers in the literary community as having made a significant contribution.

• Possesses a willingness and ability to fulfill poet laureate duties.

St. Paul Pioneer Press | 01/10/2006 | City will have own poet laureate

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