Several readers submitted questions to me after my recent blog post on state poets laureate. They were surprised that their own state was one of only six—Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—that does not have a state poet position, and wanted to know how they could help establish one. While I can’t offer any surefire advice, I’m happy to offer a few general suggestions to those of you in a laureate-less state.
First, I should note that while state poets laureate can be chosen unofficially, such as through a literary society or other non-government organization (see Indiana’s unofficial state poet position), most now occupy official positions established through legislative action or gubernatorial appointment (or both). One of your best options for supporting the creation of an official position is to contact your local elected representatives and ask them to sponsor a bill creating such a position. Once passed by the state legislature, the bill would be signed into law by the governor—who, by the way, is also a good person to contact to urge the creation of a position.
Demonstrating to your local lawmakers that there is widespread, statewide interest in the creation of a state poet position may encourage them to sponsor or support a poet laureate bill. As such, you may want to create a petition supporting the establishment of a state poet laureate position. This petition can then be sent, with signatures, to your representatives.
Since you’ll want to raise awareness of your efforts around the state, consider contacting local news media and asking them to run a story on your efforts, or at least a story about residents’ interest in having a state poet laureate. You can also create a website, blog, Facebook profile, and other social media presences to promote your poet laureate initiative.
Rather than figure out how to develop, market, and sustain a poet laureate push yourself, you may want to see if a local literary organization, poetry society, state arts center, or State Center for the Book is willing to take up your cause. Some of them, in fact, may already be undertaking efforts to help create a state poet laureate position, in which case they can tell you how you can assist with their efforts. Linking your efforts to that of a larger group is usually a good course of action since the group will have greater resources to dedicate to a state poet laureate initiative than any one person.
Some of you will be delighted to hear that efforts are already underway in your state to create a state poet laureate position. In Massachusetts, House Bill H.299, currently under consideration, would establish a Massachusetts poet laureate position. In New Mexico, the New Mexico State Poetry Society and the publisher Red Mountain Press are already working together to push for the creation of a position. In Ohio, Senate Bill 84, which would create an Ohio poet laureate position, is being sponsored by State Senator Eric Kearney. For those of you who live in Massachusetts or Ohio, the best way for you to facilitate the creation of the position is to contact your local representatives and urge them to support the proposed legislation. Those of you in New Mexico may wish to contact the New Mexico State Poetry Society directly to inquire how you can best support its ongoing efforts.
If you’ve been involved in a successful effort to establish a poet laureate position in your home state, please share your story in the comments.