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  • January 2019
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POW: Natasha Trethewey is poet laureate!

Image credit: Associated Press

What’s the Poet Laureate?

“The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” – loc.gov

How much does he or she make per year?


What does the position entail?

Each Poet Laureate makes the position their own, according to their particular interests–as long as they’re promoting poetry, it’s cool.

What other people have had the position?

See the list here.

What’s good to know about Natasha Trethewey?

She’s one of the younger people to be appointed Laureate. She grew up in Mississippi in a bi-racial family and much of that experience, along with a fascination with history, informs her poetry.  Her New York Times profile notes that she is “the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993. ”  Check out “Flounder” at the Poetry Foundation site to get a taste of what she writes. On the surface, it’s the story of a girl fishing with her grandmother, and just below the surface, a reflection on one family’s attitudes to daily navigation between the worlds of black and white.  It’s filled with vivid images and a rhyme scheme that sneaks up on you:

“Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down

around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,
circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.”

flounder photo by TenSafeFrogs on flickr

Where can I read more about Natasha Trethewey?

The Library of Congress has an online web guide here, with a very complete bibliography.

And our own library system has books for you to check out:

Bellocq’s Ophelia

Domestic Work

Native Guard

Is there a Pennsylvania Poet Laureate?

There was–from 1993-2003, Samuel Hazo was the Poet Laureate of Pennsylvania, until he was told that Pennsylvania did not need that position anymore.

Which means you could crown yourself Pennsylvania’s Poet Laureate today!  Or compete in the Young Steel Poetry Slam for similar glory.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

POW: Censorship Poetry

Welcome to Poetry On Wednesday!

Today I’m going to be self-promoting and share a poem I made by censoring the work of another author — okay, it’s not really censorship, but that sounds more fun than “Selectively-Editing-With-Sharpie Poetry”

I took a page from a withdrawn library book, in this case Dragon’s Egg, by Robert L. Forward, and I selectively edited it using a Sharpie, until it became my own work. Here’s a picture of what it looks like with the text following:


he had been


abandoning the sleds.


he has no idea

The people are behind him,

underleaders, understand

tending crops like laborers.

The astrologer sticks are right

in some way. Disrupting,

hungry, swift, has

this rabble-rouser spell

the powerful east Priest of any blessing.

A sharp ripple, pale, turns, passed

less than half a Temple. As

Empire thronged, finally God held

an eastern orifice

once again.

This is a fun writing exercise because it lends the flavor of the original text to the finished poem. I’d never normally write such a sci-fi piece, but Robert Forward allowed me to go beyond my boundaries and think about the exciting possibilities of the genre. And I really do think it’s a writing exercise, not just an erasing exercise – to make a poem out of a page definitely requires creative thinking as well as grammatical maneuvering.

There’s a whole literature of erasure out there, conveniently profiled in this article, “Absent Things As If They Were Present” from the January 2012 issue of The Believer (and unconveniently not available in full online, but check out the library for a copy).  Jonathan Safran Foer, famous for writing Everything is Illuminated & Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, just made a whole new book out of one of his favorite books, and had it published in an amazing edition where all the words he didn’t use were cut out of the original work.  Thus, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz becomes Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Want to try your hand at this stuff?  It’s one of the activities available at tonight’s Teen Open Mic Poetry Slam at The Zone in Lawrenceville. Join us from 4-6 pm to read work, hear others read, and hang out.  More info is at the  previous link, or read about the Zone here.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

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