Who: Poet Laureate of South Carolina
What: Featured presenter at Books Alive 2015
When: Feb. 7; two sessions
Where: Florida State University-Panama City, 4750 Collegiate Drive, Panama City
Cost: Free admission
PANAMA CITY — This may have slipped under your radar in recent weeks, but a longstanding tradition that celebrated the arts was dropped from the governor’s inauguration ceremony in South Carolina on Jan. 14, citing a lack of time.
At least South Carolina has a poet laureate. Florida has had three: Franklin N. Wood, appointed by Gov. John W. Martin in 1929; Vivian Laramore Rader, appointed by Gov. Doyle E. Carlton in 1931; and Dr. Edmund Skellings, appointed by Gov. Robert Graham in 1980. Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation establishing a state poet laureate in June 2014, but the nomination process is still in development.
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was sworn in for her second term Jan. 14. When the state’s Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth inquired about the traditional reading of a new poem during the ceremony, the governor’s office informed her there was insufficient time in the ceremony schedule for her two-minute poem to be read.
Four years prior, Wentworth read her poem, “The Weight It Takes,” at Haley’s inauguration. It focused on natural images of rivers, rocks and fish, and it called on the new governor to “be the weight that grounds us through swirling hours of each day.”
Wentworth will be a featured author at Books Alive on Feb. 7 at Florida State University-Panama City. She will have two sessions: The News from Poems, and Creating a Sense of Place in Poetry and Fiction (with Mary Alice Monroe). She also will speak to my Education Encore class Feb. 6.
The same day as Haley’s inauguration, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) addressed the House floor and read Wentworth’s poem into the congressional record.
“We’ve seen many instances of arbitrary actions against the powerless by the powerful when words and actions threaten their comfort levels. Such actions should not be,” Clyburn said. “I applaud Ms. Wentworth for her touching words, and I am reading her poem today in hopes that the people of South Carolina, across the country, and peoples around the world are as touched by her words as I have been.”
In the summer of 2014, Wentworth wrote the New York Times, reacting to a report on the controversy surrounding the choice of North Carolina’s poet laureate, who had almost immediately resigned the position. In her letter, Wentworth noted “poetry is flourishing” in South Carolina, “home of the oldest poetry society in the United States.”
But she also notes that some in seats of power have little regard for the arts. During the previous governor’s term, $1,500 was earmarked to cover travel and accommodations for Wentworth to make appearances at schools and literary events around the state; Haley’s office has set aside nothing for her expenses.
In an NPR interview, Wentworth said she thought the new poem was cut from the schedule because she didn’t stick to “safe” topics, instead mentioning a former slave market at Gadsden’s Wharf, and the execution of a 14-year-old black boy convicted of murdering two white girls, who was exonerated 70 years later.
“I really believe that our history is part of what’s holding us back,” Wentworth told NPR. “It’s kind of an unhealed wound. And we’re all in this together. And I know that sounds a little like John Lennon, but I wanted people to think about some of those things.”