Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, July 18, 2014

Poet Laureate

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory
     Let me start by saying that I do not mix partisan politics and poetry and that I am not a supporter of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.  Unfortunately, politicos on both sides have made neutrality/apathy itself a political statement, if not a crime.  Take, for instance, Gov. McCrory's selection of Valerie Macon as North Carolina's new Poet Laureate...and her resignation days later.  In the interim, the governor and his pick were besieged with protest, centered around two facts:

1)  that the governor chose to do his job rather than delegate it to the Arts Council; and,

2)  Ms. Macon's status as, essentially, a student of the art form with only two self-published chapbooks on her resumé.

    From the Charlotte Observer web site:  "All I can say is I will definitely do my very best to promote poetry," Macon said in an interview on Sunday after the controversy over her selection became public. "I’ll work hard to be the best Poet Laureate I possibly can for the citizens of North Carolina."

Valerie Macon
    What more would anyone want from a Poet Laureate?  That they be great poets?  This would come as a surprise to anyone familiar with most previous choices in North Carolina and elsewhere.  It's not like Governor McCrory picked a semiliterate antisemitic punk for the job, right?

    To put this in perspective, please bear in mind that Carol Ann Duffy was chosen as her nation's Poet Laureate over Margaret Ann Griffiths.  No matter.  In my experience and opinion, this is an inverse relationship:  the better the poet, the worse the Poet Laureate they become.  As for teachers, most that I know would be the first to admit that they don't make good salespeople or promoters.

    In light of the outrage, I researched the three previous NC Poet Laureates, expecting at the very least an A.E. Stallings, a Browning and a Shakespeare.

     Hey, how far off the mark could I be?

     You be the judge.  Feel free to use light years as your unit of measurement.

Kathryn Stripling Byer (2005-2009; appointed by Mike Easley)
Cathy Smith Bowers (2010-2012; appointed by Bev Perdue)
Joseph Bathanti (2012-2014; appointed by Bev Perdue)

    As you watch "Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from 'Descent'" see if you can distinguish her wordy intros from her elephantine "poems":

     Believe it or not, this is scintillating writing compared to the pallid reportage we hear when "Cathy Smith Bowers reads 'Snow'":

     For self-absorbed journalism, though, it's hard to beat "N.C. Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti Reads 'Knocked'":

     Note the complete absence of comments on these three performances, despite the (51 + 1401 + 248 =) 1700 views (at the time of this writing).

     I did not look at or for any of Ms. Macon's poetry because, as I said, it isn't a significant part of her job.  Still, one has to wonder:  "Could it be any more underwhelming than that of her three predecessors?"

     Regardless of what misstatements may have appeared on Valerie Macon's website, driving her away because she wasn't vetted by academia does no credit to her critics or their [a]vocation.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
       In fact, let's frame it as a game show quiz:

Question #1:  When, exactly, did academia devote itself to the same goal that a Poet Laureate does:  the repopularization [as opposed to the preservation, interpretation and study] of poetry?

     If you answered "Never" then you get to proceed to:

Question #2:  Regardless of the endeavor, should you choose a complete unknown or from a group with a long, unbroken record of abject failure?

     If you went with the latter you should avoid games involving odds, starting with poker, bridge and backgammon.  If you answered "a complete unknown" then you can understand why an Arts Council is the last place anyone should seek recommendations for Poet Laureate.


1. Poet Laureate

2. Poet Laureate - Part II

3. Hurdles Rule - Part I

4. Hurdles Rule - Part II

5. "Vegetarian Meat Lover" from "Shelf Life" (2011) by Valerie Macon, with a 2011 Pushcart nomination

6. "Detour" from "Sleeping Rough" (2014) by Valerie Macon, with a 2013 Pushcart nomination

7. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2005-2009) Kathryn Stripling Byer Reads from "Descent"

8. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2010-2012) Cathy Smith Bowers reads "Snow"

9. North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-2014) Joseph Bathanti Reads "Knocked"

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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