NC gov. says he will review poet laureate process

Associated PressJuly 16, 2014 

Valerie Macon

This photo provided by the Department of Cultural Resources shows Valerie Macon, North Carolina’s new state poet laureate. Gov. Pat McCrory named Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina to a two-year term as North Carolina's next poet laureate. He said he looked forward "to the unique perspective and style she will bring to the office."

DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL RESOURCES — AP Photo

— While promising to review the process he used to name a poet laureate whose selection has been criticized by established writers, North Carolina's governor said Wednesday he also wants to provide opportunities to people who aren't part of "elite groups."

Last week, Gov. Pat McCrory chose Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina to serve a two-year term as poet laureate. Macon is a disability examiner for the state with two self-published books of poetry and a dedication to helping the homeless.

Previous state poets laureate have criticized McCrory for bypassing the traditional process of having the North Carolina Arts Council set up a committee of writers to review applications and recommend poets. However, the governor has the prerogative of choosing the poet laureate on his own.

"We had a staff process to go through poets throughout the state, and I looked at those recommendations and made my decision," McCrory said. "We're going to be reviewing that process. We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place. It wasn't written down anywhere on the walls."

When told the guidelines once were on the Arts Council's website, McCrory replied: "We must have missed that website."

The sections on the selection process have disappeared from the council's website, and Macon's personal website also isn't working. Macon has said the website is down for renovations.

However, the governor's news release about Macon's appointment included some of the same guidelines as those of the council: "Guidelines call for the poet to be a North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state, literary excellence and influence on other writers and appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state ..."

The Arts Council also said the poet laureate should have an appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state; a statewide, national or international reputation; and an ability and willingness to engage in the public duties of the office.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Macon said she does not have a national or international reputation. Asked if she has a statewide reputation, she replied: "I don't know. There have been people who have told me they read my book, and they come from another state. It's hard to judge."

McCrory said Wednesday that one of his objectives is to open appointments to people who aren't part of organized groups. "We've got to open up opportunities for people that aren't always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place a long time," he said. "It's good to welcome new voices and new ideas."

Outgoing poet laureate Joseph Bathanti, who has published eight books of poetry, two novels and other works, has said that he was "terrifically disappointed" that McCrory bypassed the usual process. Both he and previous poet laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer said they weren't criticizing Macon, and Byer has offered to help Macon.

Wayne Martin, executive director of the Arts Council, has said he's excited about Macon's focus on the homeless. "I think she has a lot of potential to do good work," he said.

McCrory's news release also said Macon's books — "Shelf Life" and "Sleeping Rough" — were nominated for Pushcart Prizes, which go to writings from small presses. It also said she was the Gilbert Chapel Distinguished Poet for the Eastern Region in 2010-11.

However, Pushcart Prizes go to individual works, not books. Publisher Tom Davis at Old Mountain Press said he did nominate her books, thinking that they would be republished as award winners if they got the prize.

Macon has confirmed she wasn't the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet but was mentored by a poet who had won that honor.

Follow Martha Waggoner at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service