A Poet Laureate For Missouri

November 2, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More

The state of Missouri has never had an official poet laureate.  Like many people, I didn’t know that, although unlike many of those many people, I should have.  One of the hats I wear (besides the one in the cool profile photo above) is the president of the Missouri Center for the Book.

What, you may ask, is the Missouri Center for the Book and what, furthermore, does it have to do with state poets laureate?

I’m so glad you asked.  The Missouri Center for the Book (hereafter known as MCB) is the state affiliate to the Library of Congress Center for the Book.  All 50 states have such an institution now, and we are all as different in our structure and specific goals as those states.  The common thread is that we are all dedicated to promoting what we call the Culture of the Book.  This includes authors, certainly, but also publishers, editors, reviewers, literature teachers, schools.  We see all these things as inextricably part and parcel of that culture, though obviously authors are the most visible part.

We do not do remedial reading work.  There are other agencies that do that and do it far better than we could.  That’s not our mandate.

In our heyday, the first several years after our founding in 1993, we did all sorts of things to promote the idea of books and reading, mostly through the mechanism of conferences which addressed certain themes.  We had notable guests, lots of writers and publishers, an open forum.

And then, as happens in such things, funding slipped away and we did smaller and smaller programs.

Among the things we do is administer the state Letters About Literature contest, which is a very cool program for three levels of students, primary to secondary, in which a student writes a letter to the author of a book that has had a significant impact on that student.  We select the best, the winners go on to a national contest.  Some of these letters, even from very young students, are tremendous.  They give me hope for the future.  Quiet hope, a confidence that we have a chance, that the young are not dumber than their parents or grandparents, but are generally smarter.

As president for the past three years, I’ve been reorganizing and rebuilding the MCB.  We have plans to relaunch the conferences.  We intend to rebuild our website, which contains an author database which was, when it was instituted, the first of its kind in the nation.  We intend that it be made interactive.  That’s going to be a bit pricey, but once done it will be a great tool.

There are other programs we’d like to do.

But one thing we’ve been working at for the last eight years, doggedly and consistently, is the creation of a state poet laureate.  I won’t go into the details of that effort, they would bore you.  Mostly the work consisted of letter writing, long conversations with “influential” people, planning the structure of the post, often just being a pest.  MCB itself could not do this—for it to be “official” it must come from either the governor or the legislature.  Most states, it is an appointment of the governor.  It boils down to convincing the governor to do it.

Governor Blunt has decided to do it.  Last month we received word that the position would be created and the first poet laureate will be named in mid-December.  MCB has been named the agency which will administer the post and work on selection.

Warning:  what follows is an unapologetic promotional request for financial support.

I canvassed a number of states about their poet laureate programs.  There are about 8 or 9 states that do not have the position.  Among the others, the post is largely honorary, with no funding.  From the beginning, we thought the post should have some money behind.  It is incredibly difficult to make a living as a writer, triply so as a writer of poetry.  Besides, we intend for our laureates to travel the state, speaking on the matter of the literary arts.  That shouldn’t come out of the laureate’s own pocket.  But we’ve already learned that Missouri’s laureate post will also, as far as the state government is concerned, be honorary.

So I am asking for donations.  MCB’s future programming efforts will be built around the poet laureate–not specifically so much as thematically.  Missouri is stepping up to the plate, symbolically, to declare that literature, that reading, that authors are actually important.  In order to move forward and take advantage of the very public opportunity this is giving the Culture of the Book, we want to put some teeth behind it.

You can go to our website– books.missouri.org –and read a bit more about us.  Mind you, the site as it stands is going to be changed in a year or so, but there’s still worthwhile content.  If given the chance and the support, we intend doing a job of elevating the stature of the written word in Missouri.  So if you are so inclined, please send your tax deductible donations to:

Missouri Center for the Book
600 West Main,
P.O. Box 2075
Jefferson City, MO 65102-2075,

or call 573-751-1821

Before you ask, I cleared this with Erich.  MCB is a 501c3 nonprofit organization (which receives no money from state or federal sources).

As I said, I am unapologetically, unabashedly, unashamedly asking for money.  We want to pay our poets laureate a reasonable honorarium and we want to fund programs that will do for books what PBS does for documentary film or NPR does for radio broadcasting.  Granted, on a more modest scale, but still.

The governor has decided to announce this before Christmas.  Seems like a good time to give a present to the state and to make a stab at doing better for one of the things we all love and need so much—good books.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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Category: American Culture, Art, Communication, Culture, Current Events, Education, Language, Media, Noteworthy, Reading - Books and Magazines, Writing

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

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  1. Vicki Baker says:

    Mark, bravo for you. Simply asking people for money is the most efficient way to raise funds for any cause. Speaking of books, a great one about grassroots fundraising is Kim Klein's "Fundraising for Social Change."

    I know you said you are re-doing the web site, but maybe in the meantime maybe you could have a button for donations on the home page? It could just be a link to a printable form for folks to mail a check for the time being. There are also some online donation services that do all the credit card gateway processing for you, networkforgood.org/npo used to be a good one but I see they have gone to a monthly fee structure. Still, you could sign up for the 60 day trial and that might get you started with the poet laureate project.

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