Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gurney Norman: New Kentucky Poet Laureate

National Poetry Month seems like the perfect time to formerly induct a new state Poet Laureate, and on Friday (April 24th) Gurney Norman will officially take over from Jane Gentry Vance. After receiving the news, my first thought was Oh! I didn't know Gurney Norman wrote poetry. How wonderful!

Well, he hasn't published any poetry. The official Kentucky website says, "The word 'poet' in the position's title is interpreted in its broadest sense to include persons whose accomplishments are in any literary form." The dictionary allows for this broad use of the word poet. But the U.S. Poet Laureate always falls under the narrower definition and writes poetry, and as far as I can tell, all of Kentucky's past Poet Laureates wrote poetry. This seems a little funny to me.

Part of me is peeved because it's not as if Kentucky's run out of great (poetry-writing) poets on whom the Kentucky Arts Council/governor could bestow this honor. And part me is tickled by imagining the Kentucky Arts Council watching Gurney Norman's long and acclaimed career and waiting and waiting for him to write a volume of poetry until, finally, someone exclaims, "Darn it all! We have to get Gurney Norman for Poet Laureate before the man dies on us."

I've only read Norman's Kinfolks (so far), but his history of prose achievement and promoting literature in Kentucky (and Kentucky in literature) is certainly worth honoring. A major part of the job of Kentucky Poet Laureate is to advance reading and writing in the Commonwealth, and in that sense, Gurney Norman is a perfect fit. I won't be able to attend the ceremony in Frankfort, but I hope our new Poet Laureate makes it down to my end of the state. I also hope that he pays special attention to the important, but much neglected, role of Kentucky poetry.

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