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THE LAST WORD: Graham is Indiana’s new poet laureate

Kerry Hubartt

A small news item out of Evansville recently announced the naming of the new Indiana state poet laureate. When I think of the term “poet laureate,” I think of Robert Frost, who had the title of United States Poet Laureate in 1958 and 1959, when I was a young boy and had already become familiar with his poetry.

Matthew Graham, recently retired University of Southern Indiana professor, took over the position as state poet laureate as of Jan. 1, succeeding Indiana University professor Adrian Matejka.

Graham will continue in the position of poet laureate through Dec. 31, 2021. Laureates serve two-year terms. His duties include making public appearances at poetry readings or literary events and promoting poetry.

Graham is now in a position created by Senate Enrolled Act No. 433 and made effective July 1, 2005, although Indiana has had a well-established unofficial position of state poet laureate since 1929. He was selected by the Indiana Arts Commission executive director and seven committee members chosen by the commission who are representatives of some of Indiana’s major institutions of higher education.

Graham joins a long list of Indiana poet laureates, including George Kalamaras of Fort Wayne in 2014 and 2015, who is a professor at Purdue Fort Wayne. He has taught in Fort Wayne since 1990 and has published 15 collections of poetry.

“Reaching out to poetry lovers throughout the state allowed me to cultivate a community,” Kalamaras said in a 2015 article in Indiana Monthly magazine. “That was my focus as laureate.”

Shari Wagner (2016 and 2017) was named Indiana poet laureate following Kalamaras and prior to Matejka. Now it’s Graham, who is described as a respected and recognized writer, teacher and advocate for poetry and the arts. He has taught all levels of creative writing and contemporary literature and has worked with multicultural and international students in freshman composition as well as with high school and community writing groups, according to the IAC news release.

Graham is the author of four books of poetry, including “The Geography of Home,” released in 2018. He’s received several national, regional and local awards including a Pushcart Prize and an Academy of American Poets Award.

He is co-founder and co-director of “The Ropewalk Writers’ Retreat,” a summer program that has brought national and international writers to New Harmony for 22 years.

Several other states, but not all, have established the poet laureate position, and many countries all over the world have national poet laureates as well.

The position of U.S. poet laureate was begun in 1937 as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and modeled on the poet laureate of the United Kingdom. The current title was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1985.

Joy Harjo is the current U.S. poet laureate, appointed to begin her term in 2019. Among other renowned members of that fraternity are Robert Penn Warren (1944-1945 and 1986-1987), Louise Bogan (1945-1946, the first woman to hold the title), Robert Lowell (1947-1948), William Carlos Williams (1952) and Howard Nemerov (1963-1964 and 1988-1990).

While I don’t claim to be a student of Graham’s poetry, in looking over his resume I found a poem that touched me personally. It’s titled “The Sadness of Summer” and it is from the book, “A World Without End,” River City Poetry Series, Volume Six, River City Publishing, Montgomery, Alabama, 2005.

The Sadness of Summer

Another summer gone,

The clapboard cottage swept clean.

Dust rises and falls along the back roads

Of September. Remember

The bouquets of Queen Anne’s lace gracing the breakfast table

Beneath the sheer curtains of June?

There are no boats on the water today.

And as I looked at you in the yard

From the upstairs window, as I saw you bend

And clip the last of the wild daisies

And saw my own reflection,

I thought of all the years quietly gone

That we have touched together

And of the life that we have made

And worn

And have become together.

– Matthew Gaham, poet laureate of Indiana

— Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.