Area lawmaker pushes for state poet

by Courtney Blanchard

;”The ‘Gov’ shall appoint a state poet laureate,/ Who shall serve for a four-year term./ Because this appointment will always be great,/ There’s no need for the Senate to confirm.”

Most bills don’t read like poetry, but lawmakers are proposing to establish a state poet laureate in the most appropriate fashion.

House researcher Mark Shepard wrote the rhyming lines of the bill, but if passed, the poem would probably be taken out of the law and go on the books in standard legalese.

Shepard, a 1978 University Law School graduate, said he doesn’t normally write poetry.

“Only upon request of elected officials,” he said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is sponsoring the bill. She said the state’s poet laureate would read in schools and write about significant milestones in the state, like town anniversaries or the opening of legislative sessions.

“Poetry is great for teaching kids how to read and enhancing literacy,” Kahn said.

The poet laureate wouldn’t be paid, but Kahn said she’s optimistic that arts and humanities groups in the state will raise private money for the position.

According to the Library of Congress, 37 states have poets laureate. There’s also a national poet laureate: Donald Hall. Several Minnesota cities also have poet laureates, including Duluth and St. Paul.

Carol Connelly is St. Paul’s first and only poet laureate. Mayor Chris Coleman created the position in July, and Connelly has since written a poem about Coleman’s budget address as well as toured grade schools to read poetry.

“Children are so open and their poetic souls have not been wrecked,” she said.

Connelly said poetry is often ignored in schools, but she still encounters a lot of artistic opportunity among grade school children.

“So many of them are amazingly talented,” she said.

Connelly, a fourth generation denizen of St. Paul, said she started writing poetry later in life, after writing for newspapers and magazines.

She uses her status as a laureate to hold workshops for other writers and draw attention to the art.

“I think poetry deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance and attention it can get,” Connelly said. “I think it’s the art that makes the reader a wiser and stronger person.”

English major David DiPasquale has been writing poetry for several years. He said one of his poems was just selected for Ivory Tower, the University’s undergraduate art and literary magazine to be released in spring.

DiPasquale said a state poet laureate could help expose people to the art.

“We’re not as comfortable with poetry,” he said.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a state poet laureate – he vetoed a version of the bill last session.

According to a June 2005 Star Tribune article, Pawlenty said approving the bill could lead to “requests for a state mime, interpretive dancer or potter.”

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said he hasn’t had a chance to ask the governor if he will veto the bill this year, if it passes.

“He did it before, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he would do it this year.”