N.C. Poet Laureate Cronyism Enrages Baristas With MFAs Everywhere

Last week, Valerie Macon became the poet laureate of North Carolina. Valerie Macon is a disability claims processor with no major publications who was picked singlehandedly by the governor. And you still can't get the slush-pile intern at Copper Canyon Press to answer your goddamn emails.

(Update: A sample poem of Macon's, "Vegetarian Meat Lover," has been added at the bottom of the post. Do enjoy.)

Macon, a lyrical dabbler whose appointment embarrassed Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and outraged published poets everywhere, stepped down from the state-funded post today, but not before she and the governor took shots at those nasty elitist writers and professors with their "literary standards" and financially debilitating lifelong commitments to underfunded arts programs. Via the New York Times:

Ms. Macon, a state disability examiner who has self-published two volumes of poetry, also took aim at members of the literary community for being elitist. "I would like to encourage everyone to read and write poetry," she said. "They do not need prestigious publishing credits or a collection of accolades from impressive organizations — just the joy of words and appreciation of self-expression."

The governor released a statement saying that he understood Ms. Macon's reasons for resigning and accepted her departure reluctantly, but he lashed out at her critics for their "hostility and condescension" toward Ms. Macon.

Both Macon and McCrory neglected to mention how the governor cut the North Carolina Arts Council out of the selection process, of which it had previously been an integral part; that Macon's website, which disappeared from the web over the weekend, had misrepresented her as a Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet, which she was not; and how many starving (and well-fed) qualified artists were overlooked to appoint her.

On a serious tip: Not all MFA grads or instructors are equally brilliant, to be sure. But one of the advantages to formal training, or real publishing experience, is the recognition that poetry, like other writing, is cultural and benefits from cooperation and dialogue with other artists. Not a bad lesson for a state evangelist of the literary arts to have internalized.

But I'm sure Macon's self-published chapbooks were good, too.

One of Macon's eminently qualified predecessors offered perhaps the kindest and simultaneously most biting comment on the affair, which makes sense since, you know, she's a longtime poet:

Kathryn Stripling Byer, who served as poet laureate from 2005 to 2009, took issue with McCrory's attack on the state's poetry community.

"I was surprised Valerie had to resign, but I can't say I blame her," Byer said. "I just wish she'd withdrawn her name before it got so contentious and vitriolic. I'm sorry McCrory put her through this. I hope people place the blame where it belongs, not on the literary community but on a governor who took matters into his own hands and chose a good person who just was not yet ready for this post. It's sad."

In the meantime, recent graduates, send your CVs and links to your published work in Pank to the Office of the Governor, 20301 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-0301. Just in case that 4/4 benefitless adjuncting composition gig at Dixie Applied Technical College doesn't pan out.

Update: A sample of Macon's oeuvre, via commenter toadelevatinguhr:

Vegetarian Meat Lover

Clicking into Vinny's Pizza
in Jimmy Choo platform pumps,
a woman, six feet tall
and straight as a sunflower,
in high-waisted jeggings
and gold cropped tee.
Her boyfriend,
a weed sprout beside her,
ambles in Old Navy flip-flops.

She holds her yellow head high
like a flower tilted towards sun,
scans the chalked daily specials,
tapping Black Truffle acrylics
in the rhythm of a gentle spring rain.

She orders vegetarian pizza.
The boyfriend, arms coiled around her,
orders the meat lover's special.

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]