Wyoming Arts Council

Idaho Center for the Book newsletter rounds up poets laureate of the West

Tom Trusky at the Idaho Center for the Book in Boise has assembled another great issue of the ICB newsletter. The October 2008 issue, “Gem State Laurels,” is devoted to profiles of the state’s poet laureate program which, in the early 1980s, morphed into the position of writer-in-residence. Idaho’s first poet laureate was Irene Grissom, appointed to the honorary lifetime position in 1923 and Sudie Stuart Hager, who served from 1949-1982.

In 1982, then-Governor John Evans appointed a panel to select a new laureate. The panel instead advised the Governor to select a writer-in-residence. The WIR, according to the newsletter story by Chris Lewis, “would be appointed for a term of only two years but would be paid $5,000 annually [$10,000 total] and would be required to give 12 public readings.” He or she could be a writer of poetry, fiction of non-fiction, and must live in the state but didn’t have to be Idaho born-and-bred. In 1998, budget cuts caused the WIR term to be increased to three years with a stipend of $8,000.

So, since 1984, Idaho’s had a great line-up in this position: Ron McFarland, Robert Wrigley, Eberle Umbach, Neidy Messer, Daryl Jones, Clay Morgan, Lance Olsen, Bill Johnson, Jim Irons, Kim Barnes and Anthony Doerr. That’s a lot of talent.

The October ICB newsletter also arrived with an insert, “Neighboring Laurels,” that explores poet laureate-style positions in Idaho’s neighboring states. Washington has the newest program, appointing Samuel Greene its first poet laureate in 2007. He’ll serve a two-year term and receive a $10,000 stipend. Montana started its program in 2005 under Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Sandra Alcosser served the first two-year (unpaid) term and Greg Pape will serve until 2009. Oldest poet laureate position in the region? A tie between Idaho and Oregon with beginnings that go back to 1923. Oregon’s 2006-2008 poet laureate is Lawson Fusao Inada.

Wyoming’s on the list, too (last, as always). Our poet laureate position goes back to 1981 when Gov. Ed Herschler appointed Peggy Simson Curry. In Wyoming, the poets are unpaid and serve “at the pleasure of the Governor,” which usually means eight years. Poet laureate under Gov Dave is Poet Dave — David Romtvedt of Buffalo — who is the first in this honorary position to have a budget. The 2008 state legislature approved a $5,000 annual project budget, which means it goes to fund travel, readings, workshops, etc., conducted by David R. It’s not a salary. This fall, David spent some of the funding on touring high schools for readings and talks to promote Wyoming Poetry Out Loud.

Chris Lewis compiled all this useful info for the Idaho Center for the Book newsletter. He contacted wyomingarts for the background info on Wyoming. If appears to be accurate, but if you find any errors, blame Idaho.

Meanwhile, you might want to snag a copy of the publication. It’s chock full of information and pleasant to look at. You also might want to take a gander at the October 2007 issue with its all-calligraphy layout. For more info, go to the ICB web site at http://www.lili.org/icb.

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