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Who Will Be The Next Poet Laureate of N.H. Amid Nomination Controversy?

Peter Biello / NHPR

Selecting the next Poet Laureate of New Hampshire usually comes with little controversy. But that is not the case this year. The selection committee, which traditionally recommends the next poet laureate, recently nominated poet Jennifer Militello. For the first time, the governor has disregarded the committee's suggestion, and nominated another poet, Daniel Thomas Moran.

The Executive Council is scheduled to vote next week on Moran's nomination, but the choice has ruffled feathers among some in the state's poet community. For more on this, NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with Alice Fogel, the current Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. She serves on the selection committee.

What does the job of the New Hampshire Poet Laureate entail?


The vision that we look for in candidates is all centered around bringing more poetry from the state out into broader audiences, both in the state and beyond. It also includes working with populations in the state: children, prisoners, artists, the elderly, and other writers to give opportunities to people to connect with poetry and each other around poetry. There isn't a specific instruction that the poet laureate gets, but it's those kinds of things.


And how does the selection committee go about coming up with a choice for poet laureate?


We had, in this particular case, we had 12 applicants. We evaluated them all the same way and the competition was very strong. The basic criteria are that they have demonstrated community involvement and teaching, and spreading poetry around the state already. They have quality national publication and reputation and their vision for what they would like to do in the role fits with the mission that we have, and it's not a self-promotion.


And so how did the committee decide on poet Jennifer Militello?


We read everybody's application materials, which includes their vision statement, their resumes, all of their letters of recommendations, their books -- you know, we spent more than 100 hours in total, evaluating all of these things -- and then we came down to four finalists and these four rose to the top based on all of those criteria I was just talking about. And Jennifer rose to the very top. She's already done so much around the state bringing poetry to so many people.  She organizes the state poetry festival. It's an annual festival. And so we just thought she would be a great person for everybody in the state to work with, and to represent us both in the state and beyond.


And so, traditionally, the process from here is, you would give the name of the person the committee has selected to the Executive Council and the governor, and the governor would put it before the Executive Council and vote, right?


Right. This has been in place since 1968, and the committee makes its recommendation, and we submit one name. There has never been a situation when the governor and the Executive Council did not get guidance from us. So then what happens is the Executive Council votes and in most cases, you know, historically, most of the winners have just said, 'Fine, we respect your expertise.' When I was appointed by Maggie Hassan, she wanted to find out more about me. She got some of my books, she distributed them to the Executive Councilors, and they read them and talked about them, and then she appointed me. So this is the first time that a governor has completely dismissed our recommendations and nominated somebody on his own.


Why do you think it's important to follow the traditional process?


The whole thing is designed to avoid favoritism or anything that's political or personal. When somebody applies, we want to be able to say to them, 'Yes, it's a completely fair process. It's not rigged.' You should send in your applications and let us, or whoever is on the committee at the time, judge you completely equally with everybody else.


The Governor nominated Daniel Thomas Moran. Did he apply?


He did apply, and he had good materials, and they were many people that rose above him because of those criteria that I just outlined.


Meaning, you know, teaching, or community service, or quality of publication?


Yes, yes, and the vision. All of those pieces, and he was not the finalist.


What do you think should happen next?


What we would like to see happen is that the governor and his team meet with Jennifer Militello, if they'd like to, or read up on her, or respect the process that she was chosen through and bring her to a vote at the Executive Council meeting at the end of the month.


In a statement response to NHPR, a spokesman for the governor's office said that Sununu nominated Moran due to his extensive experience and impressive credentials. Moran, who served as poet laureate of Suffolk County in New York from 2005-2007, has published 11 books.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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