Move over, Grace Paley; it's time for a new state poet in Vermont.
Unlike the U.S. president, state poets cannot seek a second four-year term. That's why the Vermont Arts Council has recently called for nominations to replace the esteemed Thetford resident. The deadline for nominations is February 27; a panel of judges will winnow those suggestions and make a recommendation to Gov. Jim Douglas, who will announce the winner in June.
And just what does a state poet do? According to VAC's website, he or she "serves as Vermont's ambassador for the art of poetry and is called upon to participate in official ceremonies and readings within Vermont and nationally." It's an unpaid position, save for an honorarium of $1000. Essentially, the state poet is in attendance at "auspicious occasions," says VAC spokesperson Jonas Eno-Van Fleet.
Not just any Rhymin' Simon will do for the post originally held by the revered Robert Frost. Though several states claimed him as a resident, he was named poet laureate of Vermont in 1961. Unfortunately, he died two years later, which severely curtailed his appearances. For reasons no one at the arts council can explain, Frost was poet laureate posthumously until 1988, when then-Governor Madeleine Kunin revived the public nomination process and declared the post limited to four years - and to living poets.
Also unexplained is the switch from the rather romantic-sounding "poet laureate" to the utilitarian "state poet." Still, Galway Kinnell brought dignity to the title, as did Louise Glück and Ellen Bryant Voigt after him. Grace Paley, who has written more than 30 books of poetry and fiction and has received an Edith Wharton Citation of Merit, a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellowship, is a hard act to follow. (Nonetheless, confides Eno-Van Fleet, Paley was nearly deemed unacceptable by Republican Gov. Douglas for her plainspoken antiwar views - the beginning of her term coincided with the American invasion of Iraq.) Then again, Vermont is rife with worthy wordsmiths.
The panel that will review nominations includes representatives from VAC's board, the Vermont Poetry Society and the Vermont Humanities Council, along with the current state poet and other writers. VAC Program Director Michele Bailey notes that all three times she oversaw the process, the governor approved the panel's recommendation. Don't be late, nominate: details at http://www.vermontartscouncil.org.