Photo by Liz deNiord
says that one of his goals, as the soon-to-be-appointed Vermont poet laureate, is to break down the walls of fear and intimidation many people feel toward poetry. Instead, he wants to help Vermonters, especially young people, to hear and appreciate poetry as "essential language" that need not be reserved for weddings, funerals and other special occasions.
A longtime poet, writer and educator, DeNiord, 62, says he was first asked to become Vermont's next poet laureate a few weeks ago in a phone call from Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council
. An official letter from Gov. Peter Shumlin arrived August 10.
“I was stunned and humbled by this. I didn’t expect it at all,” says deNiord, a Westminster West resident who currently teaches English and creative writing at Providence College in Providence, R.I. DeNiord will replace Syndey Lea
, who was appointed Vermont poet laureate in 2011 and retires this year.
DeNiord, a native of New Haven, Conn., grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The son of a doctor, he initially expected he'd become a physician himself, but instead earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from Lynchburg College, and later, a master's of divinity from Yale Divinity School and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. For five years, deNiord worked as a mental health therapist in New Haven, Conn. before pursuing his current teaching and writing career.
A cofounder of the New England College MFA program in poetry, deNiord is the author of the poetry collections Asleep in the Fire
(1990), Sharp Golden Thorn
(2003), Night Mowing
(2005), and The Double Truth
(2011). His book, Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs
(2011) is a collection of interviews with various American poets, including Robert Bly, Lucille Clifton, Jack Gilbert, Donald Hall, Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin and Ruth Stone. His latest poetry collection, Interstate
, is due out next month.
Though deNiord has considered himself a poet and writer since high school, he admits he never dreamed it would become "a vocation and an avocation — and an obsession." He spent nine years as an instructor of English, comparative religion and philosophy at the Putney School before joining the faculty at Providence College.
DeNiord joins an exclusive club of official Green Mountain bards. Vermont's first poet laureate, Robert Frost, was appointed in 1961 and served until 1963. He was followed many years later by Kinnell (1989-93), Louise Glück (1994-98),
Ellen Bryant Voigt (1999-2002) Grace Paley (2003-07), Ruth Stone (2007-11) and Lea (2011-15).
DeNiord's installation as state poet will occur in a ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse on November 2 when, he jokes, he presumes he'll receive his official laurel of maples. Assuming he performs all the duties and responsibilities requisite of the post — they include speaking or reading in an official capacity at the Statehouse and other ceremonial events as well as “ encouraging and promoting poetry, both within the state and beyond its borders” — deNiord will hold that title for four years.
Do those duties also require that his poems actually rhyme?
“No. I do rhyme occasionally and I do love to rhyme,” he says with a laugh. “For poets who rhyme well, who rhyme subtly, who hide the rhymes, who create wonderful off-rhymes, there’s really nothing better in terms of the music of the language.”