Sydney Lea,Vermont's 7th Poet Laureate
According to a February 7, 2003 press release from the Vermont Arts Council, "Robert Frost was declared Poet Laureate in 1961 [upon the adoption of Joint House Resolution 54 by the General Assembly]. In 1988 Governor Kunin re-established the position. (Reference: Executive Order No 69, 1988) Galway Kinnell was the first State Poet named for a term of 4 years as a result of this order in 1989." The Arts Council further notes that "the four-year appointment will be made by the Governor based on the recommendation of a distinguished panel. The panel will make its recommendation based upon how well the nominated poet meets the following criteria:
- The Vermont Poet Laureate is a person who is a resident of Vermont; (Vermont being his/her primary residence)
- whose poetry manifests a high degree of excellence;
- who has produced a critically acclaimed body of work;
- who has a long association with Vermont.
"The poet selected shall receive an honorarium of $1000 provided by the Vermont Arts Council."
The position was known under the title of "State Poet" from 1988-2007. The position was redesignated "Poet Laureate" by Gov. Jim Douglas at Ruth Stone’s investiture in 2007.
Chard deNiord, (November 1, 2015 -November 2016)
Sydney Lea (November 4, 2011-November 1, 2015)
Ruth Stone (July 26, 2007-July 2011)
Grace Paley (March 5, 2003-July 25, 2007)
Ellen Bryant Voigt (1999-2002)
Louise Gluck (1994-1998)
Galway Kinnell (1989-1993)
Robert Frost (1961-1963)
Among the number of Syd's poems that have touched me, one, that wonderfully articulates the negative effect of literary theory on the appreciation and emotional response to a poem, is "I Was Thinking of Beauty." With the permission of the poet, I offer the poem in full below.
I Was Thinking of Beauty
_______for Gregory Wolfe
I’ve surrendered myself to Mingus’s Tijuana Moods
on my obsolete record machine, sitting quiet as I sat last night.
I was thinking of beauty then, how it’s faced grief since the day
that somebody named it. Plato; Aquinas; the grim rock tablets
that were handed down to Moses by Yahweh, with His famous stricture
on the graven image. Last evening, I was there when some noted professor
in a campus town to southward addressed what he called, precisely,
The Issue of Beauty. Here was a person who seemed to believe
his learned jargon might help the poor because his lecture
would help put an end to the exploitations of capitalism –
which pays his wage at the ivied college through which he leads
the impressionable young, soon to be managers, brokers, bankers.
He was hard above all on poems, though after a brief appearance
poetry seemed to vanish. It was gone before I knew it.
The professor quoted, Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, then chuckled.
He explained that such a claim led to loathsome politics.
I’m afraid he lost me. Outside, the incandescent snow
of February sifted through the quad’s tall elm trees,
hypnotic. Tonight as I sit alone and listen, the trumpet
on Tijuana Gift Shop lurches my heart with its syncopations.
That’s the rare Clarence Shaw, who vanished one day, though Mingus heard
he was teaching hypnosis somewhere. But back again to last evening:
I got to thinking of Keats composing and coughing, of Abbey Lincoln,
of Lorrain and Petrarch, of Callas and Isaac Stern. I was lost
in memory and delight, terms without doubt nostalgic.
I summoned a dead logger friend’s description of cedar waxwings
on the bright mountain ash outside his door come middle autumn.
I remembered how Earl at ninety had called those verdigris birds
well-groomed little folks. Which wasn’t eloquent, no,
but passion showed in the way Earl waved his work-worn hands
as he thought of beauty, which, according to our guest,
was opiate. Perhaps. And yet I went on for no reason
to consider Maori tattoos: elaborate and splendid,
Jamaicans shaping Big Oil’s rusty abandoned barrels
to play on with makeshift mallets, toxic junk turning tuneful.
The poor you always have with you, said an even more famous speaker,
supreme narcotic dealer no doubt in our speaker’s eyes –
eyes that must never once have paused to behold a bird,
ears that deafened themselves to the song of that bird or any.
Beauty’s a drug, he insisted, from which we must wean the poor,
indeed must wean ourselves. But I was thinking of beauty
as something that will return – here’s Curtis Porter’s sweet horn –
outlasting our disputations. I was thinking it had never gone.
copyright 2013. Sydney Lea. I Was Thinking of Beauty, Four Ways Books, 2013.