April 12, 2016

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NPM 50 State Tour: Arkansas

Arkansas is the 25th state (June 18, 1836). "The Natural State" has had a poet laureate since 1923!

The current state poet laureate is Peggy Vining. There's a bio of Vining here. Eighty-year-old Vining is working on her first collection of poetry, Tethered to the Moment, according to the blog Writing Without Paper.

Which brings me to an interesting point.

Some state poets laureate are Pulitzer Prize winners, respected literary critics, professors of English. Others are known only within their state's literary community.

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas website says, "In Arkansas, as elsewhere, the title of poet laureate is generally awarded on grounds not restricted to fame or literary eminence. None of the best-known or most distinguished Arkansas poets has received the title.

"The term 'laureate' refers to the ancient custom of crowning a person with a wreath made from leaves of the laurel tree. In antiquity, military heroes, athletic champions, and winners in singing, music, and poetry contests typically received this honor.

"In modern times, monarchs, governing bodies, or other organizations have named poets laureate, often in recognition of a significant talent but sometimes for political or other reasons."

What do you think? Is it better to have a poet laureate who is nationally known with several books and awards to her name, or is a locally active author -- maybe one whose poetry reflects the region -- what you'd prefer? I'd love to hear comments on this!

Here is the beginning of Vining's long poem about the history and landscape of her home state.

Arkansas, The Natural State

I stood today on top of Petit Jean

And felt a kindredship to all I found,

And I, intrigued by such a lovely scene,

Was grateful for the beauties that abound.

The spirit of a mountain miss was host,

Her phantom figure hovered, light as wind,

And I became enchanted by her ghost,

As we stood on the ledge at river’s bend.

I asked her of her legend and its truth;

Of how she stowed away to sail from France,

Of how she cropped her hair; became uncouth,

To give her love and lover one more chance.

            “It is all truth; the future will proclaim

            My spirit guards this mount which bears my name.”


Then, as we talked, my personage subdued,

And I became, as Petit Jean, a ghost,

And with uncanny knowledge I reviewed

Historic deeds of others who could boast,

Of coming to this great green state to live;

To homestead and to plow their plots of land;

To mine the hills; to hunt the woods and give

Their very lives to make it far more grand.

I spoke to men who also came to look

For ways of life upon the river’s road;

They pushed their crafts to every shallow nook

And rounded bends of hardship with each load.

            The Indians told me their tales of woe,

            Of how they battled as both friend and foe.


They told me how De Soto searched for gold

And, trudging through the swamps to look for it,

As upward, through the mountains and the cold,

He traded with the natives, matching wit.

La Salle then came to claim the Arkansas

But left to join another group of men,

De Tonty came to start, as did John Law,

A river post where trading could begin.

These men with whom I talked could really boast

Of being first to settle on this land,

Of fighting long and hard to save the Post

Where then was housed the laws and all command.

            My spirit saw the past and lived it through,

            A vision of the old when it was new.


As history passes, the seasons came in view,

And time and space and beauty knew no date.

I saw each month in its most brilliant hue

And gazed at it as if I tempted fate.

 I looked at Spring and thought it surely best,

For everywhere the land was newly green...


You can find the rest of the poem here


Sorry no pix today -- trying to figure out the new Blogger dashboard. Grr.


Mary Lee said...

In answer to your question...

At first, I was flabbergasted that the Arkansas' poet laureate IS WORKING ON her first collection of poetry. WHAT??? Not even published???

And yet, I MUST love the idea of an unpublished 80 year-old becoming poet laureate if I want to have hope that *I* might ever be chose... (lol)

Author Amok said...

I'm surprised at how varied the poets laureate are as far as name recognition is concerned.

It seems the states that have PLs have different agendas. Some go for big names, some for regional voices, others look for how involved the person is in the literary scene.

It is inspiring to know we will be writing into our 80s. Do you know about Passager books? They specialize in first-time poets in their 50s and up.