McCrory's choice for NC poet laureate irks writers - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

McCrory's choice for NC poet laureate irks writers

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Gov. Pat McCrory (File Photo) Gov. Pat McCrory (File Photo)

North Carolina's established writers are unhappy that the governor chose the next poet laureate - a disability examiner for the state who has self-published two books - on his own instead of receiving the usual recommendations of a committee appointed by a statewide arts agency.

Last week, Gov. Pat McCrory named Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina to a two-year term as North Carolina's next poet laureate. He said he looked forward "to the unique perspective and style she will bring to the office."

The appointment caused an uproar among North Carolina's established writers, who say McCrory should have followed the process used for at least the previous four poets laureate, which involved nominations to a committee of a writers set up through the N.C. Arts Council.

The committee then sent one or several recommendations to the governor.

"I'm terrifically disappointed," said Joseph Bathanti, the previous state poet laureate, who has published eight books of poetry, two novels and other works. "The process was airtight and ensured that whoever took that post was going to be somebody that the citizens of North Carolina and other writers would have confidence in and we would hold up nicely with other states that have poet laureate programs."

He added that he was "terrifically disappointed" that the process was ignored, adding "It was the only thing to ensure that everybody had a crack at it."

Both he and Kathryn Stribling Byer of Cullowhee, another previous state poet laureate, said their criticisms were not directed at Macon but rather at the decision by McCrory to disregard the usual process, even though they agree that's his right. Byer has spoken with Macon and offered to help her.

"I offered my assistance to Valerie Macon in my role as a former poet laureate and just as a decent person," Byer said. "I feel that human decency has a place in all of this discussion."

Still, she said abhors the lack of process.

"I find it insulting to the arts community in our state that the governor circumvented the established process with a unilateral decision," she said. "He's within his rights to do so, but it shows a lack of respect for all of us - not just the arts community, but North Carolina as a whole."

McCrory spokesman Rick Martinez said the governor has the prerogative to name the poet laureate on his own, and that's what he did. The governor's office didn't respond to questions about how he chose Macon, and Macon said she was in the dark as well.

"I really don't know, and I would love to know," said Macon, whose books are titled "Sleeping Rough" and "Shelf Life."

She said she has heard that some people are criticizing her selection, but she is trying to stay above the fray.

"I, more or less, would like to concentrate on the positive that I can do in this capacity," she said. "And I have a lot to offer. I've been writing poetry for a long time. I have a love of poetry."

Typically, the poet laureate receives a stipend of up to $15,000 for a two-year project. Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council, said there are no plans now to award a grant to Macon, although that could change if she develops a project that has public value.

"I have had a chance to meet her, and I'm excited about the focus of her work," Martin said. "She's very interested in shedding light on the issues of people who are homeless, and she's worked very hard on that. I think she has a lot of potential to do good work."

The council's website no longer includes the guidelines its committee used to recommend a poet laureate, which included a statewide, national or international reputation. Cary Cox, spokeswoman for the state Department of Cultural Resources said those were merely guidelines, although the governor's news release naming Macon also listed some of the same criteria.

Meanwhile, Byer said she hopes McCrory will familiarize himself with poetry, particularly the works of North Carolina poet laureates.

"I may forgive him for the way he handled this if he will read a poem every day, a good poem, by our laureates," she said.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press.

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