Gov. Rauner to bestow poetic license — seeking state’s fifth laureate

Roses are red. Violets are blue. If you think this is good poetry, Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t want you.

What the governor does want is a real poet to become the state’s fifth poet laureate. Rauner’s office on Wednesday announced Kevin Stein is stepping away on Dec. 1.

Stein, an English professor at Bradley University in Peoria, was appointed in December 2003 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He was the fourth poet laureate to serve Illinois.

Illinois State Poet Laureate Kevin Stein shares a laugh with Grace Cley during a visit to the Norward Park Home for seniors in 2004. Sun-Times photo by Al Pogorski

In his role, Stein participated in nearly 250 presentations, poetry readings, school visits and judging activities, as well as the Poetry Now project, which he presented in libraries across Illinois, the governor’s office said.  Stein also collaborated with Secretary of State Jesse White for the Gwendolyn Brooks Emerging Poets Contest for 13 years.

Rauner will establish a search committee to initiate the selection process for a new laureate.

Howard B. Austin. Photo from http://www.howard-austin.org/

Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks previously served as the state’s poet laureate, an unpaid position aimed at promoting the art of poetry.

Austin was designated the state’s first Poet Laureate in 1936 and served until his death in 1962. Austin was an accountant and schoolteacher who was known for his speed in composing poetry. He performed with a male quartet called the Pawnee Four.

The singers were invited to events and came up with poetic lyrics “more often than not with amusing content or poking good-natured fun at the speaker or his organization,” according to the state’s official biography of Austin.

Austin wasn’t part of the literary circle, but used his words as a “natural expression of who and where he was.” He largely wrote about politics, patriotism, religion, human issues, current events and family, according to his biography.

Carl Sandburg entertains his wife and grandchildren John, 9, and Karlen Thoman, 7, with his playing and singing of American ballads in 1951. Sun-Times File Photo.

Renowned poet and essayist Carl Sandburg was appointed Poet Laureate for the state in 1962 and served until his death in 1967. The Galesburg native was at times a milkman, harvest hand, brick maker, barbershop porter and sign painter, according to his state biography.

Sandburg was also a war veteran, having served in the Spanish-American War. Sandburg eventually worked for the Chicago Daily News and became an influential part of Chicago’s literary scene, while also winning three Pulitzer prizes. His poems “maintained a qualified dignity in the face of economic exploitation,” his biography said. He was considered a populist poet for the American people.

Gwendolyn Brooks — considered a key figure in 20th century American poetry — was the state’s longest-serving Poet Laureate from 1968 until her death in 2000.

Pictured is a poetry reading by Gwendolyn Brooks in 1991. Sun-Times File Photo.

Born in Kansas, Brooks moved with her family to the South Side of Chicago shortly after her birth. In 1945, she wrote her first book of poetry called “A Street in Bronzeville.” She won a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 for her collection “Annie Allen” — which featured poems about race, class and justice. Brooks was active in communities across the state and helped to develop and organize poetry activities in poor neighborhoods, her biography said.

 

 



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