Don’t choose on me

Apparently the criteria for selecting a poet laureate in North Carolina have changed.

The North Carolina Arts Council’s traditional criteria, which are no longer on their website, are below.

  • A North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state
  • Literary excellence of the writer’s work
  • Influence on other writers
  • An appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state.
  • Statewide, national or international reputation
  • Ability and willingness to conduct the public engagement duties of the office

But Pat McCrory, Governor of NC, recently appointed someone who arguably does not meet these criteria, and he did so without consulting any of the literary or arts institutions of the state. A North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources spokesperson explained to the News and Observer that the criteria above “are not a requirement. (Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz)’s position is that the poet laureate is appointed by the Governor and it is his prerogative on whom to choose.”

Ed Southern, Executive Director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, explains why it matters that the Governor ignored input from the people of the state, ignored the traditional criteria for the office, and ignored the general principle that appointments of this nature should be made in a transparent and open way. Since McCrory has offered no reason why he appointed Valerie Macon, then he may just as well have had no criteria at all. By selecting a poet laureate in this opaque way, the Governor diminishes the respectability of the office and hinders the new office holder from accomplishing the work with which she is charged.

Rob Schofield of NC Policy Watch likens the Governor’s actions to

those of a distracted, partially-engaged college boy rather than a committed politician with any kind of coherent ideology or agenda. Seen in this light, the fact that McCrory opted to select an anonymous state employee who has self-published some poetry as a kind of hobby as North Carolina’s poet laureate makes more sense. By selecting such a person the Guv has opted for someone like himself — a person who doesn’t fully comprehend his job or the fact that he doesn’t comprehend it.

Even for North Carolina, BBQ pork capital of the world, this is an awfully hamfisted way of generating a public discussion of poetry.

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