The Poet Laureate’s Corner – What exactly does a poet laureate do?

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Marilyn Lerch

What do poet laureates do? Howard Nemerov, one of those odd creatures himself, quipped that the poet laureate is a very busy man, because he spends so much time talking with people who want to know what the poet laureate does.

That was my first question when the Town of Sackville conferred the title on me in January 2014.

Beyond the rather suspect suggestion that I push poetry, no one had a clue. So I did a little research.

Sometimes a poet laureate is sent off to a cabin in the woods to simply write, write, write. I do admit this was quite appealing, but I have no cabin in the woods or anywhere else, and Mayor Bob has not offered one.

I found that a poet laureate of an entire nation can hatch major projects. For example, Billy Collins introduced high school students to poetry by presenting them with a new poem online for each of the 180 days of the school year. Just contemplating that idea almost sent me to the emergency room.  Another poet laureate got poetry into airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Well, that wouldn’t work here since Tantramar doesn’t have an airport or giant supermarkets and no hotel that I know of.

I looked closer to home, Halifax. The current poet laureate, El Jones, takes poetry into prisons and works with organizations performing and presenting on issues of social change. That seems right up my alley.  Former poet laureate and friend, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, started a youth writing collective. Given the undeniable talent of our local youth, that is certainly do-able.

In sum, what my cursory research showed was that poet laureates can do pretty much anything their stamina and enthusiasm dictate: writing poetry for commemorative events goes without saying, giving workshops, organizing readings by local poets, getting poetry on library shelves, sponsoring literary contests, kayaking on the Swan Pond while reciting loudly “The Wild Swans at Coole”– sorry, don’t know how that slipped in – and above all, inspiring young and old to love what only poetry can do.

After a rather slow start, I am beginning to get a feel for what can be done. I spent a day with three adult writers and we have decided to continue this exchange two or three times a year, and I gave a reading at Black Duck recently. This fall, I will have an opportunity to work with fourth graders at Salem Elementary School and hope to be part of the Heritage Trust July Evenings Under the Stars. And from time to time, this column may appear with thoughts about literacy, creativity, literary arts and how desperate is our need, not for imitation, but for imagination.

How greatly I would appreciate other ideas from you who happen upon this column.

Please send them, no matter how impossible or eccentric they might seem, to    




Organizations: Salem Elementary School, Heritage Trust July Evenings Under

Geographic location: Sackville, Swan Pond, Black Duck

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