Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Kentucky installs poet laureate

UK teachers' mandate: Promote state's writers

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — James Baker Hall, poet and teacher of creative writing, was installed Tuesday as Kentucky poet laureate.

        He got a two-year appointment with a broad mandate: promote and encourage participation in the literary arts across the state.

        Mr. Hall, who lives at Sadieville in Scott County, said his plans for the job include advocating a greater presence of artists in schools and a greater awareness of Kentucky's literary heritage.

[photo] James Baker Hall bows to the audience after reading one of his poems during Tuesday's induction ceremony in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort.
(Associated Press photo)
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        “The fact is that, outside the state, all around, it's noticed there are a significant number of writers with national reputations working in Kentucky, and most of them Kentuckians,” Mr. Hall said in an interview.

        Some have international reputations, such as Wendell Berry and Bobbie Ann Mason, who were among Mr. Hall's schoolmates at the University of Kentucky in the late 1950s.

        Kentucky State University professor Richard Taylor, Mr. Hall's longtime friend and predecessor as poet laureate, said Mr. Hall was well-suited for his new post.

        “He possesses the ability, somehow, to extract from his students wonderfully creative projects and poems,” Mr. Taylor said.

        Mr. Hall has taught creative writing at UK since 1973. Two of his former students, Maurice Manning of Danville and Tony Crunk of Hopkinsville, were Yale Series of Younger Poets winners — one of the nation's premier poetry competitions.

        Mr. Hall is the author of five volumes of poetry, two novels and texts for two photography books. His most recent work was a collection of poems, The Mother on the Other Side of the World, in 1999.

        A Spring-Fed Pond, due to be released in October, features his photos of Kentucky writers, including his wife, Mary Ann Taylor Hall. It also includes photos of Mr. Hall's old UK contemporaries: Mr. Berry, Ms. Mason, Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman. As a group, they represented a literary golden era at the university.

        All but Ms. Mason went from UK to Stanford University on Wallace Stegner fellowships for emerging writers.

        “There never had been four Stegners coming from the same school,” Mr. Hall said. “The assumption was that there was an incredible writing program at UK, which there wasn't. There was just a teacher.”

        The teacher, Robert Hazel, encouraged his students “to think of ourselves as serious writers, and he was impatient with the lack of seriousness.”

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