The search for Somerville’s poet laureate

The United States has one, Great Britain has one, and soon, Somerville will have one, too. Local writers Doug Holder and Harris Gardner, working with the Executive Director of Somerville’s Art Council, Greg Jenkins, have created a poet laureate position for the city. Applications were accepted until Monday, Nov. 17.

One of the responsibilities of Somerville‘s poet laureate will be to promote poetry in places it might otherwise go unappreciated, according to Holder.

“I hope that the poet exposes people who normally wouldn’t listen to poetry, and show that it can be accessible,” Holder said. “That it doesn’t have to be this arcane art.”

According to Jenkins, much of what the poet will do, however, has not yet been decided.

“There is a lot of emphasis on the applicant’s desire to do work in the community, so they have to develop their own proposal,” Jenkins said. “Are they going to work with youth, are they going to work at senior centers or are they going to do a mix of that? Another question will be whether we can form different partnerships and different relationships. The library, for example, has expressed that it wants to work with the poet laureate.”

According to Holder, poet laureate applicants are being examined for more than just artistic merit due to the active community presence he or she will be expected to have.

“The poet laureate should be someone who is a good poet, but more importantly someone who is an activist, someone who is going to impress the flesh,” Holder said. “He or she must be someone who will go out there and motivate people, and is accessible.”

Gloria Mindock, a local artist who applied for the position, has other ideas about what the poet laureate could accomplish.

“The poet should reach out to the community, [and] word of mouth will help discover writers that we don’t know about,” she said. “Closet writers that haven’t quite come out but want the experience … I firmly believe everyone has to start somewhere, and I think the poet laureate should reach out to everybody regardless of where they are in terms of their writing.”

Holder has been pushing for the creation of a poet laureate position in Somerville for some time, but said he is glad that the idea has come to fruition.

“Somewhat recently Cambridge had their first poet laureate, and Boston has had a first poet laureate there,” he said. “So I think the mayor sees that it is a good opportunity for publicity, and we are a very literary town. We have all kinds of writers … I used to run the Somerville News Writers Festival … [and]  we had Pulitzer Prize winners. There are big name writers who live right here in the area, so I think it was a natural thing to come about.”


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