Kessler introduces bill to create 'state poet laureate'

REBECCA COOK; The Associated Press
News Tribune


Olympia, WA - What Washington state needs is an official poet.

That's what some lawmakers think, and they want you to know it.

A bill to create a state poet laureate is being sponsored by Rep. Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam). If any legislators think she's kidding about this, the joke's on them.

"Arts are my passion," said Kessler.

"I'm always looking for opportunities to expand exposure of arts in society," said the poetry defender.

The poet laureate wouldn't just sit around during the two-year term and think of clever rhymes. The bill says he or she would give readings, workshops and lectures around the state - at least 20 times.

Lawmakers heard about House Bill 1570 at Friday's State Government Committee hearing, and most appeared swayed. Rep. Jan Shabro (R-Bonney Lake) had just one important question: Is this position paid?

An expensive price tag would be a bad idea, with the state facing a $2.4 billion budget hole. The last thing Washington needs, lawmakers might say, is a poet on the dole.

But this poet laureate would not be paid, at least not with taxpayer money. Kessler said private donations should cover the cost, making the bill's prospects more sunny.

The state Humanities Commission would choose the lucky person. Without a poet laureate, some lawmakers say our culture will surely worsen.

"We live in a society that's dominated by PlayStation 2 and video games," said Cle Elum Republican Rep. Bill Hinkle.

He added that the poet laureate could also champion homegrown cowboy poetry from Washington state, adding a new wrinkle.

Forty other states already have a poet laureate. Some, such as New Jersey, may be sorry for it.

New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka's poem about the Sept. 11 attacks was labeled anti-Semitic. That state's lawmakers are now trying to oust Baraka from the position.

U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins has publicly spoken against the possibility of war in Iraq. Luckily for Collins, his appointment isn't one the president can take back.

Washington state poet and editor Sam Hamill led a campaign to send antiwar poems and statements to the White House. That prompted the cancellation of a poetry forum hosted by First Lady Laura Bush.

It's true, Kessler said, that poetry can be controversial.

"That's always a risk with an artist," Kessler said.

Asked if she was tempted to write her bill in verse, Kessler laughed: "Oh no, I'm not a poet."


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