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Updated: 5 days ago

The Library of Congress provides an excellent resource for readers wanting detailed information on past and current state laureates—the length of their terms, honoraria, duties, etc.

Bouwsma, Julia

Cane, Tina

Cavalieri, Grace

Harris, Marie

Hart, Henry

William & Mary - Henry Hart (

Igloria, Luisa A.

Jones, Ashley

Kane, Julie

Kestenbaum, Stuart

Kreiter-Foronda, Carolyn

Reckdal, Paisley

Sholl, Betsy

Smith, John Warner

Vaughn, Margaret Britton

Margaret Britton Vaughn - Wikipedia

Wentworth, Marjory

Updated: 5 days ago

“Dragon Run” by Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda
Poet Laureate of Virginia, 2006–2008

Shortly after moving to the Middle Peninsula on the east coast of Virginia, I learned about the Dragon Run, a 40-mile long river that winds through a bald cypress swamp forest. I attended presentations by noted naturalist and wildlife photographer, Teta Kain, and was inspired by her insights about the natural world. I soon joined several energizing kayak trips, led by Teta on the Dragon Run, to learn more about this region. As soon as she became aware that I was Poet Laureate of Virginia, she asked me to write an occasional poem about this pristine area to present to the Friends of the Dragon Run, an organization that promotes preservation of the watershed. Not only did I write one poem, but I wrote several and then joined the effort to preserve this unmarred ecosystem. An excerpt of the following poem was used to introduce a DVD, The Dragon Run: A Step into the Past / A Strategy for the Future, produced by EAF Custom Communication to highlight this area. The poem was reprinted in the Dragon Run Newsletter and in World Poetry Yearbook 2015 and appears in two of my books, River Country and These Flecks of Color: New and Selected Poems.

Dragon Run

Knee-deep in the Dragon, I lean in

to feel the wilderness.

The brisk call of dawn splashes

against ash and gum. Sassy,

this liquid sun pursuing a cypress,

its roots lifted from the swamp

like stubby knees. Stooping, with the bowl

of my hands, I draw from the depths

muddied snails, clams, a leech snaking

palustrine waters and squirming as I fish.

Careful not to tear pickerel weeds

or cattails, I let pliant grasses braid

the pristine path, nibble my manmade boots,

gurgling through this sibilant stream,

swishing like a reptile. The windless

air sliced, I search loblollies,

spy a bald eagle lifting off. Chiseled bones

float by. Opiate: the thrall. I teeter,

fall. Against my jaw a damselfly’s flutter.

Like a stunned doe, I flail. The taste

of sediment numbs my senses. I breathe in

these wetlands like a wild iris.

As my interest in environmental preservation increased, I traveled across Virginia to give presentations in universities, art centers, and museums. I also participated in poets laureate events in Indiana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kansas, where I gave readings emphasizing the need to pay close attention to the environment. During each event I shared “Dragon Run.”

Although I wrote quite a few occasional poems while serving as poet laureate, here are three that have lived beyond the occasion:

*I participated in a tour of William Christenberry’s Exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and wrote an occasional poem about his photograph, Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1983 at the request of Paul Ruther, former manager of Teacher Programs at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The poem was distributed widely to members of the Phillips Collection and was featured at art-inspired poetry events.

*At the 3rd National Gathering of Poets Laureate, organized by Joyce Brinkman and held in Indiana, a CD was created of poems about sports by U.S. State Poets Laureate, international poets, and youth from Sports Poetry Clinics. The poem I wrote for this occasion is “Horseback Riding off Route 33.” The CD was distributed to numerous schools for instructional purposes.

*Another poem that received widespread attention is “The Goodness of the Physician,” written at the request of my family physician, Dr. Sterling N. Ransone, who during my term as poet laureate served in a leadership position for the Virginia Academy of Family Physicians. In 2008 I presented this occasional poem at the Academy’s annual meeting in Virginia Beach. The poem centers on a near-death experience I endured as a teenager. I was saved by our family physician, Dr. Joseph Hoge, who stopped by our home at this critical moment to check on me, called an ambulance, and got me to the hospital in time.

Writing emotionally charged poems at the request of others is inspirational. Although the occasional poems cited here were well-received, “Dragon Run” rose to the top as an attention getter. Kayaking on creeks and in wetlands introduced my husband and me to ospreys, eagles, herons, and egrets. The environment inspired us to establish a certified Backyard Wildlife Retreat. Twenty-two years after moving to this pristine area, we still devote hours to feeding and caring for birds, monarch butterflies, and other creatures – all while observing their habits and features. Silence rules on our wooded lot. It is the ideal location for a writer who strives in poem after poem to preserve the beauty of nature.


Updated: 5 days ago

Betsy Sholl
Poet Laureate of Maine, 2006-2011

When it comes to occasional poems, Terrence Des Pres in his book Praises and

Dispraises distinguishes between tactical and strategic poetry. Tactical poems respond to some immediate thing or event. These poems may live and die with the event considered, having done their work in the moment, and so pass on. Strategic poems are less keyed to a specific event and are written with an eye to existing beyond the initiating occasion. These poems in my experience come from a deeper place where the initiating occasion and something personal in the poet work together, so the external occasion and some inner response dialogue with each other, making a creative tension that inspires fresh and urgent language, perhaps complicating things beyond the initial trigger.

When asked to respond to a specific occasion, I fear I end up on the more tactical end of the spectrum—not from lack of trying to write a more lasting poem, but because too much of the writing is coming from my head, trying to fulfill an external assignment, sort of like painting by numbers. Only once, I think, have I responded to an assignment and ended up with a poem that came from a deeper place where external occasion and inner response fed each other and at least aspired to real art. But that took months of revising after the initiating occasion was long past.

How I admire those poets who can respond to an assignment with inner depth and linguistic originality. But to start with the external and find an inner language that allows the linguistic work of art to occur is harder for me, especially when a deadline is involved. The one time I got close to it, I wrote in response to two professors who were teaching a class on poetry and photography and asked me to write in response to a photograph and then discuss the process involved. When I said that I really didn’t work that way, they responded, “It doesn’t have to be a good poem.” Well, I thought, I can write a bad poem and discuss the process if it would be useful to students. So I wrote my bad poem. But then something in it wouldn’t let me go and over the next year and a half, that poem woke me in the night, popped into my head in the middle of a class, in church, in the grocery store, pushing me through countless drafts. That poem made it into a book.

But the rest of the poems I wrote in response to various occasions lived with their events and passed away.

However, that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth writing. One set of poems was the product of a collaboration between the Portland Police Department and several poets and photographers. Each artist got a police officer to ride along with, get to know, and then help compose a poem (or take a series of photographs). Marty Pottenger, a genius at drawing artists and community members together through her organization, Art at Work, created the program and the end result included two calendars sold to raise money for the families of fallen officers. We all learned from each other. Originally just the officers were to have poems in the calendar, but they insisted that we poets should have our feet held to the fire as well. (“More embarrassing for you,” they argued, because you’re supposed to be good at this.”) The project occurred in 2008 and 2009, when I was still Poet Laureate of Maine. My two poems belong to that time, that context, those amazing months working together. They existed, they did their work. Beyond that, they don’t need to be memorialized. There’s nothing wrong with tactical poems, and I have been happy to compose them. But for me they don’t fulfill the further criteria of work that deserves to be given a second life in books.

Some people might even argue that such poems don’t need to be written, but I disagree. Especially in collaborative projects the community formed around that making, the lessons learned in the process, the joy people discover in the act of creating—those are significant values to share in our world of increasing partisanship and isolation. I still remember sitting in the assistant chief’s office when another officer came in at the end of his shift. He was putting his gun in a locker, taking off the cuffs and nightstick and other equipment. As he did so, he looked at me and said, “You want to have peace in your life? You want to sleep at night? Don’t write poems.” Sometime later, that officer, in response to a heartbreaking case of child abuse, reached for a pen and wrote a poem.


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