What Does a Poet Laureate Do?

Antonia Schachter | February 20, 2019

Many states, cities and towns have poet laureates who serve volunteer positions.  The United States has a poet laureate–Tracy K. Smith–and recently I was selected to be the first poet laureate in Bethel, CT.  But what exactly does a “poet laureate” do

I feel strongly that my role as poet laureate isn’t about my poetry but about how I can be instrumental in bringing poetry to my community in new ways–not only through readings and workshops but also through what I call “stealth” sightings and random encounters with poetry.

My first initiative, already underway,  is placing poetry books in the waiting rooms of various business venues in Bethel–doctor’s offices, hair salons, business offices–any place where customers are required to wait.  Who knows where a chance encounter with the poems of Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Dick Allen, Rennie McQuilkin or Emily Dickinson might lead?  A patient in a physician’s office might be intrigued by these lines by James Wright and find some strength there:

                           Suddenly I  realize
                           That if I stepped out of my body
                           I would break into blossom. 

 Students, bored with waiting, might find, in a poem by Denise Levertov, words that excite the heart:

                         Two girls discover
                         the secret of life
                         in a sudden line
                         of poetry.

 And who doesn’t like a love poem, sweet words by Diane DiPrima that might evoke a memory or a desire:

                     My friend wears my scarf at his waist
                     I give him moonstones
                     He gives me shells & seaweeds

 Happily, I have hundreds of donated poetry volumes, good ones, solid ones, that I am wrapping in ribbon and dispensing, little seeds of joy and beauty.  And what’s next?  “Menu poems,” written by citizens about their favorite eateries and slipped into menus.  Poetry as nourishment. Stay tuned.

 -Cortney Davis