Friday, July 18, 2014

Poetry and the Possum Queen

A week ago, Gov. Pat McCrory named Valerie Macon, a local poet, to be next Poet Laureate for North Carolina. Yesterday, Ms. Macon resigned from the position. In between, a lot of people have criticized the governor for not following a well-established procedure the choosing a Poet Laureate. Some of those people--and others--have assumed that Ms. Macon is not worthy or qualified. In the INDY WEEK published on July 16, 2014, Lisa Sorg lampooned the whole think with a parody of one of Ms. Macon's poems. And she did it with snark clearly directed at the poet.

I have read the two poems that local papers have chosen to print. How did they choose those two? How many of the people who have seen fit to make Ms. Macon look foolish and lesser-than have read all of her work? Do we actually know if she is able to take poetry to the people in North Carolina? Is she able to talk about her work, her experience, what poetry means to her, and to encourage people who may never have imagined themselves or their lives as being worthy of poetry? We will never know.

Me, I'm a process person. I wish the governor had just stuck with the process. By not doing so, he shows disregard for the arts and artists and people whose lives are made better by them, and he certainly did Ms. Macon no favors. But if conversation and dialog and sharing of ideas is a good thing--he's accidentally done a good thing.

I love the company of other writers. I love the sense of community we find when we get together. I need the shop talk, the commiseration, and the celebration with people who understand what I do as only other writers can. It was the same when I was a stock broker; not even my husband, family, and friends could really get it the way a colleague could. I'll bet it's the same in every profession and on every job-site.

There is a negative side to all that camaraderie, though, and it's the sense that we get to decide who we invite into our circle. It takes an MFA, or a certain body of work, or a prestigious teaching position, or some je ne se quoi but we know it when we see it, and you ain't got it attitude.

I am really sorry to see that side of the writers community exposed in the last week. Anyone who has used the word "elite" with no irony in the discussion needs to have his or her literary mouth washed out with soap. You've played into the anti-arts, anti-science, anti-intelligence administration's hand.

I once worked for a wonderful woman, Lillian Lehman. She hired a secretary, a high school graduate whose main achievement in life to that point had been to serve as Possum Queen in her hometown. Lillian hired her because she lacked qualifications and needed a chance (and because Lillian had a huge heart). What I'd like to see now: the governor goes back to process. The NC Arts Council vets potential laureates, gives all the candidates a thorough review, and nominates a possum queen.


  1. The whole debacle leaves a bad smell, doesn't it. No one behaved very well, except, perhaps, Ms. Macon. Nice post, Nora!

  2. Unfortunately, this elitist attitude has been around for a long time. When I read a poem, it either stirs something in me - or doesn't. I do not stop to think of the credentials of its author, nor do I like it less if I learn it was written by *Goddess forbid* some unknown, self-published person. Yes, Gov. McCrory probably should have stuck with the process, but he did not. Ms. Macon was appointed - I wish she would have stood her ground and let the critics be damned.