A laureate for NC without laurels

July 15, 2014 

No, it’s not exactly secretary of state or a Cabinet chair or a Highway Patrol commander, and it’s true North Carolina’s official poet laureate receives only a relatively small stipend (between $5,000 and $15,000) for promoting poetry and the state.

But Gov. Pat McCrory appears to have made his appointment of Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina without so much as a nod to the state Arts Council, which traditionally has made recommendations to the governor. Why McCrory would act precipitously seems curious indeed.

Macon is an enthusiastic and compassionate person who serves as a state worker with the Department of Health and Human Services and volunteers to help the homeless. But her resume as a poet is thin, with two self-published books. And it’s unfortunate that Macon’s website, which disappeared over the weekend, listed her as a Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet, when she in fact was actually a student in that program.

One critic of the appointment called Macon a “beginner” in poetry and noted that the title of “laureate” carries with it a signal that the poet has stature, statewide or nationwide, and the expectation that the person has a number of published works.

Past poet laureates all had those qualifications, from James Larkin Pearson, who served nearly 30 years in the post, to Sam Ragan to Fred Chappell, a laureate with a truly national reputation.

The state has on its college campuses a number of professional poets and teachers who would easily fit the bill as the position is described to demonstrate literary excellence and inspire it in others.

Whether McCrory intended it or not, his attitude toward this appointment raises suspicions that he’s just sort of thumbing his nose at the state’s literary community (liberals, maybe?). And he certainly was not well-served by staff members who should have known more and taken this appointment more seriously.

Macon may become a well-known and widely published poet in time. But this is not that time.

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