Literature, Ezra Pound once said, is news that stays news. And for America’s state poets laureate, the news cycle has been churning since earlier this month, when Valerie Macon, North Carolina’s newly appointed laureate, resigned abruptly after an outcry from several of her predecessors.
To the former laureates and other detractors, Gov. Pat McCrory’s choice of Ms. Macon — a state disability examiner with two self-published books to her credit — was an outrageous end run around the selection process, if not a cynical prelude to abolishing the position altogether. To the governor, who chose Ms. Macon without the usual advice from the North Carolina Arts Council, critics of his choice were elitists full of “hostility and condescension.”
For the broader world of people who read poetry — and many who don’t — the brouhaha was a chance to ask a more basic question: Just who are America’s state poets laureate, and what do they do anyway?
States have official birds, rocks and trees. Increasingly, they also have official poets. According to a list maintained by the Library of Congress, 44 states and the District of Columbia have poet laureate or writer in residence positions, with a number dating only from the last two decades or so.