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Carrboro's well-versed poet sticks to his rhythm



The Herald-Sun/Christine T. Nguyen


Carrboro Poet Laureate Patrick Herron poses with his newborn daughter, Sofia, at his Carrboro home on Thursday, August 19. Herron has been Carrboro's poet laureate for over a year.

By Susan Broili : The Herald-Sun
Aug 20, 2004 : 7:09 pm ET

CARRBORO -- The reign of Carrboro's poet laureate, Patrick Herron, will last for at least one more year.

The town's arts committee voted to extend Herron's term and made the announcement earlier this week.

Herron's predecessor, Kate Lovelady, was the town's first bard and served only a one-year term.

But after Herron almost solely assembled the town's first poetry festival, which occurred in June, he learned that the laureate could use some more time to do that project. In May, he suggested to the town's arts committee that the post last for more than a year, said Jackie Helvey-Hayes, arts committee member.

Extending the length of the term to at least two years, but ideally up to four years, would also help ensure worthy replacements, Herron said via e-mail earlier this week.

"In a town so small, there simply aren't that many poets who are producing, publishing and willing to work hard as an ambassador of poetry," Herron said. "Part of the role of the laureate is to encourage people to take poetry seriously."

Having a poet laureate who's active in the greater poetry community, and publishes beyond the local community, would help foster this appreciation, he added.

"I wouldn't say that a laureate would need to be a great poet, however. There aren't many great poets on the entire planet, and even those poets haven't written many great poems. A very good poet, however, would be nice. I do think the ideal person for the role is one for whom poetry is an integral part of life," Herron said.

The poetry festival demonstrated both Herron's ties to the greater poetry community as well as his willingness to work hard to promote the art form.

"He really all by himself put on that poetry festival. He had this vision and he followed through. I'm really impressed with his energy and his tenacity," Helvey-Hayes said, adding that the festival was "a huge success."

Approximately 800 people attended the two-day event, which featured 15 hours of readings by 40 poets from here and elsewhere in the United States. There was standing room only for several of the readings.

The festival "is definitely something we want to keep going. It's is a great fit for Carrboro ... and it brought out such a diverse crowd," Helvey-Hayes said. "Carrboro is known for the arts and is a haven for writers and creative types."

The free event, held at the Century Center, included North Carolina poets Jaki Shelton Green, Judy Hogan, Lou Lipsitz, John Balaban and Paul Jones. Poets from other states included Lee Ann Brown, Linh Dinh and K. Silem Mohammed.

Herron referred to the event as a "cultural cross-pollination" with a range of ages, aesthetics, world views and writing styles that he hoped would spark more interest in a broader range of poetry.

"The poets who traveled here from around the country all contemplated aloud that they'd like to move here," Herron said. "They couldn't believe so many people would stay indoors on a beautiful June weekend to listen to poetry."

Herron said his main goal for the coming year is to have another poetry festival next summer. This would involve a bigger effort to find more funding, another long search for the perfect mix of poets and more help, including people to keep up the festival Web site, http://carrboropoetryfestival.org,.

The arts committee, which now has eight members, will also help seek funding for the event, Helvey-Hayes said.

Future poet laureates will not necessarily be expected to organize a festival but may be involved in some way, she added.

"It may be two different animals," she said of the festival and laureateship.

Carrboro is the only municipality in the state to have a poet laureate. Former Carrboro Alderman Jay Bryan, who writes poetry, suggested in 2002 that the town's Art Committee conduct a search for a poet laureate for the town.

Catherine DeVine coordinated the effort and enlisted the help of Chapel Hill poet Michael Chitwood to choose the laureate. He chose Lovelady, who served for a year and chose Herron as her successor.

In each case, poets submitted applications, including a poem, and these applications were reviewed without their names attached.

"When Patrick submitted his application for Carrboro poet laureate, it was clear he had a vision. He wanted more than just a title. He wanted to make Carrboro a Mecca for poetry and planned to accomplish this in part with a huge poetry festival," Helvey-Hayes said.

She also noted that Herron became the father of more than the Carrboro Poetry Festival this year. He and his wife, Janet, became parents of a daughter, Sofia, on July 31.

Herron said that he would not encourage his daughter to be a writer.

"I will tell her instead to resist poetry with all of her might. I never chose to be a poet and poetry for me came without will," he said. "It popped out of me without effort, desire or invitation through times of abject horror I can't possibly wish upon another soul. Illness and the deaths of my three best friends brought a gift of poetry, a gift that gives and takes. And, then takes some more."

He's not writing as much poetry these days, perhaps due to the "profound joy" he has experienced with the birth of his daughter.

"Her very presence makes it possible to endure through the worst life can give and enjoy its best. In this great mystery we call life there is light [and] hope -- futile hope, perhaps, but still, joyous, loving hope," Herron said.

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