Addy McCulloch offers the conversation on the poet laureate issue

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-
published or otherwise) can go to the quarterly meetings and hang out with well-published

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?

Here’s why:

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:


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