Two Missourians have served as U.S. poets laureate -- Mona Van Duyn from 1992-93 and Howard Nemerov from 1963-64 and 1988-90 -- filling a position that the Library of Congress calls "the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans."
So the show-me state ought to have an official poetry lightning rod, too. "Missouri has such an incredibly lively literary life that it seems kind of a gaping hole not to have a poet laureate," says Bob Stewart, managing editor of UMKC's literary journal New Letters and a poet himself. "Many states have poets laureate and they do a lot of good, actually. They tend to draw some public attention toward poetry, and they can generate public funds for special projects, especially with regard to younger people."
At the urging of the Missouri Center for the Book in Jefferson City, local and statewide literati are lobbying to correct the unseemly omission. Stewart notes that there are "lots of poets around" and mentions Jim Barnes (a comparative-literature professor and writer-in-residence at Kirksville's Truman State University as well as editor of The Chariton Review) and widely published MU English professor Sherod Santos as potential candidates. But he humbly fails to mention himself.
"Bob is the quintessential Missouri poet," says one source close to the action. "He's so active in the literary community and is a fine, fine writer. There are many other fine poets in Missouri -- but Bob's history of involvement is peerless. He absolutely deserves to be the inaugural poet laureate."
We couldn't agree more. And since Eliot was born in St. Louis, and Van Duyn and Nemerov are both associated with St. Louis' Washington University, we say it's time for some west-side representation. But if Bob Stewart doesn't want the job, we nominate Kansas City's hardcore rapper Tech N9ne, whose album Anghellic hit record-store shelves last week.
A sample couplet: People make their jokes and say we off to see the wizard/But me and Dorothy and Toto's on yo' ass when when you visit.