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September 15, 2011

Sydney Lea Named VT's New Poet Laureate

Author photo The Vermont Arts Council has been making big announcements right and left lately. One of the biggest: Vermont has a new poet laureate: Newbury resident Sydney Lea. At least, he'll assume that post when Ruth Stone's four-year term ends this November.

Lea, who has lived in Vermont since the early 1990s, has a number of poetry collections to his credit, the most recent being Young of the Year, as well as a novel and two books of essays. His collection I Was Thinking of Beauty is due out in 2013. My favorite description of Lea is "a man in the woods with his head full of books, and a man in books with head full of woods." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it might have something to do with his activity in land conservation.

If that surname sounds familiar to many Burlingtonians, it's probably because you know the poet's son, Creston Lea, a musician, maker of seriously awesome guitars and an all-around good guy. Oh, and Creston is a writer, too; his book of short stories, Wild Punch, came out last year.

The elder Lea has received several fellowships — from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim foundations — and has taught at schools around New England, in Switzerland and Budapest. It's not surprising that he's been a literacy activist, too. Whether poetry, prose, political tracts or People is your thing, reading matters.

Oh, and here's another announcement from the VAC: Novelist Julia Alvarez of Middlebury is the recipient of the 2011 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. She and Lea will be honored in a ceremony November 4 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier.


Poet Laureate

Did the Arts Council hold an election?
What was the basis for this famous selection?
Does talent depend
On a public stipend?
Or does it come from some other direction?

Hi, Tim--Those are good questions and I'm sorry I didn't specify in my post. The VAC put out a call (to the public) for submissions earlier this year. A panel of writers reviews all the submissions, narrows the field down to three or four, and then gets copies of the poets' books for more in-depth reading. They then select one and send their recommendation to the governor. The gov technically names the poet laureate, but I doubt he'd ever reject the panel's choice!
The poet laureate gets a nominal honorarium of $1000, and that's for the entire four-year term. Clearly, being a poet doesn't exactly pay. Unless you're, say, Bob Dylan.

Hey I was just tryin to be clever (I know, first mistake). Poets got bills to pay just like the rest of us. I support the need to help our local artists with recognition and publicity.

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