As of last week, Arizona was one of eight states without a State Poet Laureate, a position established in states and countries around the world, in which a local established poet educates students and residents about poetry and literature.
For the last 18 months, members of the Arizona Commission on the Arts worked with Senator Al Melvin on SB1348, legislation that develops a position and selection process for an Arizona Poet Laureate, who will serve as a educational liaison between public agencies, private nonprofits and schools.
And now, the community and the Commission just have to wait for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's signature of approval.
State and National Poet Laureates date back to the Romans, and while Arizona's been a little slow to develop the position, Arts Commission members say the lag has actually been an advantage.
"One of the benefits of being one of the last states to name a Poet Laureate is that we've been able to look at what other states' Poet Laureates are doing," says Dempsey. "We were able to consider what will work and what won't work for Arizona -- for example, we didn't want to create a position with a lifetime appointment, but we also wanted to give the person enough time to do some substantive work."
Dempsey says members from the community approached Senator Melvin during the last session and called for a Poet Laureate. Melvin saw the opportunity to connect with the local literary community (and to make his own mark during Arizona's Centennial year). With the help of the Commission, he reintroduced the bill this session, which was approved and now awaits the Governor's approval.
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If all goes as planned, the position will be established and a panel will be formed to look through applications and nominations before a Poet Laureate is named -- potentially within the next year, according to Dempsey.
"We hope the person appointed will able to do substantive education work in our rural communities where there isn't a lot of focus on the arts," she says. "We have some of the top academic writing programs in Arizona and arts organizations that are world renowned... the ideal candidate could connect those entities and create opportunities for partnerships around the state."
The Commission anticipates the Governor will decide whether or not to approve the bill within the next few days.