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Addy McCulloch offers the conversation on the poet laureate issue
Submitted by Gwenyfar on Thu, 07/31/2014 - 12:24.
So, many of you have been following the poet laureate snafu. Though Ms. Macon has resigned, the discussion of what all this means in our state continues. Our dear friend Addy McCulloch offered this insight. We thought it was a good way to introduce the conversation:
In July, Governor McCrory selected Valerie Macon as the state’s newest poet laureate. He did
so without following a time-honored process that involves the North Carolina Arts Council, a
process which was stated on the council’s website until shortly after Ms. Macon’s appointment
as laureate, when the arts council judiciously removed the process from its website. A strong
reaction to Ms. Macon’s appointment ensued. The former poets laureate as well as many in the
state’s writing community decried the failure to honor the process, but many also questioned
Ms. Macon’s credentials, citing her two self-published volumes and few (if any) publications in
journals of literary merit. McCrory responded to the uproar by stating he had not been aware of
any traditional process and that "We've got to open up opportunities for people that aren't always
a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long timei
The inherent problem in McCrory’s statement is his own ignorance of North Carolina’s poetry
community. First: We’re not an elitist bunch. The North Carolina Poetry Society has an open
membership that costs $25 per year. Unknown poets who have never published a book (self-
poets of recognized merit. Yet we do expect that those who will achieve literary honors such as
induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame or being named as poet laureate will be
poets whose work is widely recognized to be of high caliber, a distinction Ms. Macon’s work
has yet to achieve according to almost every (albeit subjective) measure. Second: Our state
has many gifted, well-respected poets – four of whom will be inducted into the NC Literary
Hall of Fame this fall – whom the governor might have selected. So the poetry community was
more than dismayed to realize that not only did the governor ignore a time-honored process for
selecting the laureate, he and his staff didn’t even care if there was a process, failed to consult
with the outgoing laureate, and subsequently dismissed our concerns as elitist whining despite
leaving us with a laureate whose stature and talent are less than our state deserves. Fortunately,
Ms. Macon chose to resign the position with grace within a week of her appointment. Hopefully,
the Governor (and his staff) will review the process for selecting this position and restore the
involvement of the North Carolina Arts Council and the larger community.
Why does this even matter? Why would such a small community fight for a literary honor when
there are so many other battles to be waged?
Art and prayer – in all their forms – are humanity’s primary means of self-reflection and
communication with the divine. As such, they require two components: effort and truth. In their
highest forms, they also require talent: think DaVinci, Shakespeare, the Psalms.
The poet who holds the state’s laureate position should have a body of work that exemplifies
effort and truth and be sufficiently talented to inspire (and hopefully teach) poets of all ages
and levels in our state. Fortunately, North Carolina has many wonderful poets whose work is
recognized from within and without our state. Most of them are willing to share and collaborate
with both beginning and experienced poets of all ages and levels. That truth we will continue to
honor and recognize, regardless of what the governor does with the laureate position.
* * * * *
A graduate of Duke University, Addy Robinson McCulloch is a freelance editor whose clients
include Pearson Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her own work has appeared in What
Matters, an anthology of poetry from Jacar Press; Get Out of My Crotch, an anthology of writers’
responses to the war on women and women’s reproductive rights; and publications such as 234
journal, Redheaded Stepchild, and Iodine.
(Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/16/5047982/mccrory-poet-
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