It's official: Every poet is a state poet
Sunday, October 10, 2004

Let's keep this short and sweet: There is no such thing as the Pennsylvania state poet. It's gone, kaput, killed by Gov. Ed Rendell last year.

As reported here last week, Samuel Hazo, appointed to the then-new position by Gov. Bob Casey May 24, 1993, and installed in ceremonies in Harrisburg Oct. 18 of that year, was notified May 1, 2003, by Rendell aide Penny Lee that his "services were no longer needed."

There was no comment or explanation from the guv's office at that time.

Now, at last, Rendell has acknowledged the deed. Press aide Nina Tinari explained last week that since the poet's job fell under the now-defunct office of cultural adviser to the governor, it vanished with the cultural adviser.

She had no idea when the cultural adviser was dumped, however.

"Gov. Rendell believes that all Pennsylvania poets should share the title of state poet," Tinari said.

She also said the state had no records that Hazo's tenure continued under Casey's successor, Tom Ridge, suggesting that Sam was acting under false pretenses when he wrote a poem that Ridge requested for dedication ceremonies of Memorial Park in Harrisburg in 1995.

The park honors the state's Medal of Honor winners, and Hazo's poem, "At The Site of the Memorial," is engraved in stone at the park entrance.

In essence, Hazo has been an unwitting impostor all these years, attending conferences at his own expense pretending to be Pennsylvania's poet. He's also founder and director of the International Poetry Forum, which opened its 38th season of readings last week.

Lee, now head of the governor's press office and author of the original dismissal letter, refused comment.

Regardless, the position's gone and will require a new resolution from Rendell, which sounds highly unlikely, or legislative action to bring it back.

Thanks to those who wrote to me last week suggesting poets for the job.

Bits and pieces

Help from sponsors will allow $25 weekend tickets for "412: The Pittsburgh Creative Nonfiction Literary Festival" that runs Nov. 8-14.

Initially, the tickets were $100 for a kickoff party and series of seminars, readings and talks.

Starbucks and Barnes & Noble Booksellers came to the rescue, said Carole King, spokeswoman for the festival, and the price was trimmed.

Lee Gutkind, who heads the Creative Nonfiction Foundation, and John Edgar Wideman, Pittsburgh novelist and essayist, are the keynote speakers Nov. 13.

For a complete schedule, check or call 412-688-0304.

Novelist and essayist Hilary Masters, who teaches English at Carnegie Mellon, reports that his memoir, "Last Stands: Notes From Memory," will be republished next month by Southern Methodist University Press.

Phillip Lopate has written the introduction.

"Last Stands" was first published in 1982 by David Godine to solid reviews in The New Yorker, Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times.

The National Book Foundation, sponsors of the National Book Awards, stirred up the dust last year when Stephen King received its medal for distinguished contributions to American literature, then twisted the cat's tail this year by giving it to children's author Judy Blume.

Blume confessed that she'd never heard of the prize when her selection was announced last month.

She's best known for her tales of angst-ridden youngsters dealing with the onset of puberty, among several issues.

Among her best-selling books are "Tales of A Fourth-Grade Nothing" and "Blubber," something I predict Blume will do when she accepts the prize in ceremonies Nov. 17 in New York.

Every time I've heard her speak, she's broken down in tears.

Once viewed as the purview of the literary set, the awards have been "democratized" in a move to make them better known. At least they got Blume's attention.

The other awards go to fiction, nonfiction, poetry and kids' books. The five finalists in each category will be announced Wednesday in, of all places, St. Paul, Minn.

That's the headquarters of humorist Garrison Keillor, who will be the emcee of the awards ceremony in New York. He'll hold a press conference to reveal the candidates.

First published on October 10, 2004 at 12:00 am
Post-Gazette Book Editor Bob Hoover can be reached at or 412-263-1634.
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