Know any good poets? The City of Bainbridge Island and Arts & Humanities Bainbridge (AHB) are teaming up to hire and support a Poet Laureate – the first position of its kind ever established on the island. So what is a Poet Laureate? According to local city and arts officials, it’s a community member who serves in an honorary role to support and advocate for the art of poetry.
The position of Poet Laureate isn’t new. There is a national one – Ada Limón – who serves as the official poet of the United States. During their term, the poet laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. According to Wikipedia, the position was modeled on the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. It began in 1937, and is formerly known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the present title was devised and authorized by an Act of Congress in 1985. Appointed by the Librarian of Congress, the poet laureate’s office is administered by the Center for the Book. For children’s poets, the Poetry Foundation awards the Young People’s Poet Laureate.
However, you may be more familiar with Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, who famously recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January of 2021. For more background on Gorman, visit: https://www.theamandagorman.com/ or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_Gorman
Ok, so back to Bainbridge: Some cities and communities around the country have designated a Poet Laureate to enrich City events and special occasions. A group of Bainbridge residents have been lobbying over the past year or so to start a Poet Laureate program on Bainbridge Island. At a recent City Council meeting, councilor Leslie Schneider read a motion into the record directing City Manager Blair King to establish a poet laureate honorarium at an annual payment amount of $2,500.
“The Poet Laureate will be nominated by Arts & Humanities Bainbridge for approval and (later) appointment by the City Council,” the motion reads. “The City will contract with the Poet Laureate to provide poetry-related services to the City…(with the) understanding that the Poet Laureate may choose to additionally engage with other non-City poet laureate activities.” The motion was approved by Schneider’s fellow City Councilors at their August 9th meeting.
According to the AHB’s web site (https://ahbainbridge.org/), “a Poet Laureate is a writer, teacher, host, and communicator who can connect with individuals and community groups to promote the writing and enjoyment of poetry on Bainbridge Island. Our Bainbridge Island Poet Laureate will host readings, offer classes and workshops, liaise with other poets in the Puget Sound region, and encourage Bainbridge Island poets of all ages,” the description reads. “The Poet Laureate will receive a modest honorarium and will be supported by a team of volunteers. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, reside on Bainbridge Island, and be comfortable with public speaking.”
Schneider says the Poet Laureate program aligns well with the recent launch of the City’s new Creative District. The latter is an area that encompasses most of the Downtown Winslow core, including it’s art galleries, museums (such as the the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and the Historical Museum), the Farmer’s Market, First Friday Art Walks, sculptures, public art and its many arts-related events and activities.
“The Creative District designation reinforces and boosts our mission of connecting arts & humanities to our community, creating a vibrant place to live, work, and visit – and puts Bainbridge Island on the map as an arts & cultural destination,” says AHB’s web site. It also gives the non-profit organization access to additional grants provided through the Washington State Arts Commission.
The Poet Laureate, adds Schneider, will likely be involved in a number of ceremonial events held by the City during the year, such as the swearing in of new City Councilors or other city officials, and the celebration of holidays like Martin Luther King Day, and so on. “What the Poet Laureate is going to do outside the City will be up to Arts & Humanities Bainbridge,” she says, noting that the Laureate could take “poetry into schools” and provide “educational advocacy” around the subject. Who knows, Schneider says with a laugh, they could even institute a “naked poetry slam event
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