Ridgefield considers poet laureate idea
The master of the heroic couplet, John Dryden, was the first official poet laureate of England, appointed by King Charles II in 1688. William Wordsworth was poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1843 to 1850, and Alfred Lord Tennyson held the honor from 1859 to 1892 — both under Queen Victoria. The United States, too, has had poets laureate — among them Robert Frost, James Dickey, Robert Penn Warren. Billy Collins was U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003. Joy Harjo holds the title today.
Should Ridgefield have a poet laureate?
Bethel has one — it’s Cortney Davis. Middletown’s poet laureate is Cheryl Hale.
Having a Ridgefield poet laureate is a concept put forward by people from the Ridgefield Library, and with a go-ahead from the Board of Selectmen they’re working to make the concept blossom — like a laurel, it might be said, since the title “poet laureate” is believed to have roots in the ancient Greek tradition of honoring accomplishments with crowns of laurel leaves.
“Here at the library, as you know, we have many programs for reading, writing and sharing poetry, which are very popular,” said Lesley Lambton, the library’s program director.
The idea grew out of the library’s planning for a Sept. 27 program: An Evening of Poets Laureate. The program featured readings by four local Connecticut poets laureate: David K. Leff, poet laureate of Canton; Laurel Peterson, former poet laureate of Norwalk, as well as the above-mentioned Cortney Davis, poet laureate of Bethel, and Cheryl Hale, poet laureate of Middletown.
“...Which got us to thinking: Ridgefield should have its own poet laureate!” Lambton said.
The idea prompted questions, when members of the Board of Selectmen briefly discussed it after First Selectman Rudy Marconi mentioned it as part of his “selectmen’s report” at the end of the Sept. 18 meeting.
“Do you have to be a published poet?” asked Selectwoman Barbara Manners.
“Is there a stipend with it?” asked Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.
“It’s an honor,” answered Selectman Bob Hebert.
Would the selectmen be responsible for choosing a town poet laureate?
“No,” said Marconi.
“Thank God,” said Manners.
As envisioned, the selectmen would make the formal appointment, but it would be based on a recommendation from a Poet Laureate Committee — composed, presumably, of sufficiently literary Ridgefielders, and organized by the library.
“They were thinking of a committee of seven,” Marconi said.
Lambton said that folks at the library started thinking about the idea as they were putting together the evening of readings by poets laureate, and people liked the concept so it was eventually put to the selectmen.
“Connecticut has a state poet laureate, and around 30 (I believe) towns in the state also have their own, including Norwalk, Bethel, Newtown and New Milford,” Lambton told The Press.
“This is something that the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate promotes and encourages because, in their words, ‘The arts are essential to the health and vivacity of every community. Poetry, an ancient art which maintains its vitality today, is something people turn to for solace, enlightenment, and delight. A poet laureate can serve as an ambassador representing a locality in the greater arts community.’
“I contacted the head of that organization, Ginny Connors, who gave me information about how other communities appoint the poet, which varies greatly from town to town,” she added.
A small group of people working on the idea have been looking at how other towns choose their poets laureate, thinking about what a poet laureate of Ridgefield should be like.
“The main qualities we would want is for the person to be experienced in the field of poetry and have a strong desire to actively engage people of all ages in the community through poetry,” Lambton said.
“We haven’t fully pinned down all of the details yet,” she said. “...We are thinking this would be a three-year appointment (with the possibility of extension).”
The committee that would recommend poet laureate candidates to the selectmen is envisioned as including people from the Library and the Ridgefield Arts Council, some other poetry advocates from the community, and representatives of the schools, town senior citizens, and possibly from the Compassionate Ridgefield Committee.
The committee would probably solicit applications for the position from poets in the community, Lambton said.
“I’m working on the details of this and we should be able to roll out the application process in the next month or so,” she said.
“...We would like to announce the new poet laureate during April 2020 - National Poetry Month.”