Fifteen years ago, Georgia Popoff discovered the Goethe-Schiller monument in Schiller Park in Syracuse and studied its history. The statue of the two famous German poets, dedicated to the park in 1911 and built on an ancient burial ground, honors the German-American population in Syracuse during that time.
Popoff, a life-long community poet and writer herself, saw the monument as inspiration. She became excited about uniting the Syracuse writing community through literary arts. It was something a poet laureate should take on. So when legislation was created to apply for Onondaga County’s poet laureate last year, she saw an opportunity.
On Sept. 29, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon named Popoff the county’s poet laureate during a Central New York Book Awards ceremony. McMahon issued a proclamation outlining many of Popoff’s distinctions and achievements as a poet, author, and educator, and establishing her two-year term for the position. Popoff applied for the position online through CNY Arts, which collaborated with county leaders to establish the poet laureateship. The position comes with a $5,000 stipend from CNY Arts.
“I feel that I have a responsibility to set a precedent for what a poet laureate does for future people who follow me,” Popoff said. “I want to establish that it’s not just a title, that there’s work that gets done with it.”
In New York, only six cities have official poets laureate, including Albany and Buffalo, according to the Academy of American Poets. The current New York state poet laureate is Willie Perdomo, an award-winning Puerto Rican poet and children’s book writer. The last poet from Upstate New York to become state poet laureate was Rochester writer Marie Howe in 2012.