Act II of the City of Olympia’s tale of the poet laureate is about to open.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Juliet, Act II, Scene I, “Romeo and Juliet”
As you may recall, the previous act of this drama ended when the city declined to award the distinction to the one poet who applied for the position during the most recent call for entries and declined to respond to calls to reconsider, saying it was unusual to receive just one entry.
The poet, Lene`e Reid, whose application has been retained by the city, was not pleased and she and the 365 people who signed a petition on her behalf accused the city of bias against her. The city has said that’s not the case.
The city’s Arts Commission is planning to meet December 10 at 6 p.m. to discuss the process to be used to select the next poet “with a focus on addressing diversity, inclusion, and community.” It also will make a recommendation to the Council on whether to move forward with a call for applications or to wait until a review of the application process is complete.
An exhaustive two-page staff report recounts interviews with board members of the Olympia Poetry Network who were aware of the opportunity. Some felt the pandemic would hamper the work of the Poet Laureate, others did not, it says.
Of particular note is the Network’s concern about the title of the position and the work that is required. “The poetry community considers the title ‘Poet Laureate’ to be an honorific, bestowed upon a poet of great stature,” the report says. “The work required of the Olympia position, to engage the community in the literary arts, is considered to be more along the lines of a Civic Poet.” The city of Seattle has a civic poet position; the Network thinks Olympia should consider re-titling the program to match the work of the position.
Another theme that emerged from others commenting is the importance of having Black, Indigenous, and People of Color representation in the position of Poet Laureate. The staff report says that goal aligns with the City’s “dedication to equity and inclusion.”
The city recently hired an Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and is developing a community Social Justice and Equity Commission. “Now is an especially pivotal time to utilize the power of poetry and language to contribute insight, understanding, and healing to the community dialogue of current events. Tailoring the Poet Laureate program to respond to issues of the day, such as equity and inclusion, climate change, etc., can also help to underscore the service aspect of the appointment,” the report said.
The Commission has determined that a minimum of four applications will be required.
Maybe we’ll find out the title for the position in Act III.