English professor to help select next Missouri poet laureate

| Staff Reporter

Life is made easier by poetry.

“A good poet makes us see the world a little differently from how we had before,” said Carl Phillips, professor of English and African and African American studies.

It is under this criterion that Phillips will help select the next Missouri state poet laureate.

Phillips is on the Missouri Poet Laureate Advisory Committee, which accepted entries and evaluated the work of poets of who wished to become Missouri’s next state poet laureate.

Although it is the state’s governor, Jay Nixon, who will make the final appointment, the advisory committee sends recommendations to the governor.

This poet laureate will be only the second in Missouri’s history. The first poet laureate, Walter Bergen, finished his term in January 2010. Over his two-year term, Bergen made more than 100 public appearances. The poet laureate position is not funded by taxpayer money. Instead, only a small travel and expense stipend is provided through grants.

The Missouri poet laureate position was first created in October 2007 under Gov. Matt Blunt’s tenure through Executive Order 08-01 as both a way to promote the arts across the state of Missouri and a way to pay tribute to Missouri’s poetry heritage, which features Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and Maya Angelou, all of whom have ties to Missouri.

Nixon established the criteria for selecting Missouri’s state poet laureate through Executive Order 09-28 in December 2009. Under this executive order, the poet laureate must be a resident of Missouri, a published poet, active in the poetry community, and willing and able to promote poetry in the state during his two–year term. The poet will also write a poem in honor of Missouri.

Phillips said that a good poet laureate is one that takes poetry beyond the classroom, to all types of people, and not just professors and students.

“A good poet laureate is a kind of ambassador for poetry—he or she visits schools, nursing homes, libraries, whatever venues are out there where people can develop an appreciation of poetry and how it can help us better understand and live our lives,” Phillips said.

He said that the public duties of the poet laureate position do not always coincide with the private process of poetry writing. But, he added, that doesn’t make the poet laureate any less of a poet. More importantly is how a poet can push people to consider their own life through a different point of view.

“Poetry can be a way for us to examine what it means to be a human being in the world—there’s so much that we can’t fully understand,” Phillips said. “Poems don’t solve the questions of life, but they help us come a little closer to understanding the questions.”