Schenectady County considers naming poet laureate

Like Robert Frost, who once canonized the rolling hills and forests of New England, one local bard may soon pen elegies to Schenectady County, capturing its history and people.

At its monthly committee meeting on Monday, June 30, the Schenectady County Legislature introduced a resolution that would establish an honorary position of a county Poet Laureate.

According to Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chair of the committee on education and libraries, the poet laureate would work with the public to encourage a greater appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry.

The position would be unpaid, and a volunteer committee of community members would choose the county poet.

Hughes said the poet would report to the county manager's office and would likely serve a two-year term, at which point the poet could be reelected.

Several members of the Legislature spoke in favor of the bill including Karen Johnson, D-Schenectady, a longtime advocate for increasing the impact of the arts in the county.

We're looking to unleash some potential in our county, said Johnson. "This is a platform for someone to do some good work."

Five other counties in the state have poet laureates including Delaware, Kings, Queens, Suffolk and Tompkins counties.

Hughes said the county received several letters in support of the resolution from agencies including the Schenectady County Public Library, Niskayuna School District, Schenectady County Community College and Union College.

Esther Swanker, president of the library's board of trustees said that trustees unanimously passed a resolution in March urging the Legislature to appoint a poet.

"As envisioned, this post would be volunteer, no cost to the county and would work with schools, the library and with other community groups," wrote Swanker in a letter of Legislative Chairwoman Susan E. Savage, D-Niskayuna.

Union College English Professor Jim McCord, a teacher of poetry for more than 40 years, said the appointment of a Poet Laureate would "enhance the educational life" of the county.

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