Rhyme And Reason: Lawmakers Advocate Creation Of Florida Poet Laureate

Dec 12, 2013

For the second year, a Florida Senate committee has passed a bill creating a state poet laureate.
Credit (file photo)

Florida is one of nine states that don’t currently have a poet laureate. But for the second year in a row the Florida Senate is trying to change that.

State poet laureates have had a checkered history. Former Illinois laureate Gwendolyn Brooks, for instance, embodied her rough-and-tumble Chicago upbringing in her work.

But others have caught flak. New Jersey even went so far as to eliminate the position altogether when poet Amiri Baraka wrote what some saw as an anti-Semitic work in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and then refused to step down from his post.

Speaking in defense of a bill creating a Florida laureate, Tallahassee poet Eileen Sperl-Hawkins says poetry has been an inspiration for her.

“My poetry collection covers many topics: my cats, the crafty squirrels in my backyard, my dog, my daughter, the birds at my feeder,” she says.

She and bill author Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) say the state needs a poet laureate so the state has an official poetry ambassador of sorts. And Hukill’s bill makes that one of the position’s primary responsibilities – taking poetry to the people. She says the state needs someone to minister the arts to the state’s young people, especially.

“There’s some kid out there with a poem that’s going to change the word in their heart," Hukill says. "And we need to show them how important this area of the arts is.”

The Senate Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability passed the bill unanimously Wednesday. The committee passed a similar bill during the 2013 session but it died when the Senate Education Committee didn’t give it a hearing.