Tammi J. Truax Named Poet Laureate of Portsmouth

In April, the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program announced that PSNH member Tammi J. Truax would serve as their 12th Poet Laureate of Portsmouth. Her term will span 2019-2021. Truax works with young readers and writers at a Portsmouth elementary school and as a Connections program facilitator for the NH Humanities Council teaching new adult readers. She is an MEd candidate in school librarianship. She is also serving as the Maine Beat Poet Laureate for 2018-2020.

Her latest novel in verse, For to See the Elephant (Piscataqua Press, 2019), tells the story of an enslaved boy tasked with caring for the first elephant brought to America. Upon arrival in the city of New York, he and the elephant are sold together and spend decades walking through the country until the day they can be together no longer. The realities of William’s life and the lives of elephants forced to live away from their herd and home are realistically portrayed. The novel, based on real events, is told in a series of poems and incorporates songs, news clippings and diary entries from the period. Much of the story is set in Maine and New Hampshire. A book launch will be held at the Portsmouth Public Library on June 29 at 2 PM.

Open Letter from the NH Poet Laureate Selection Committee

New Hampshire Poet Laureate Selection Background
We on the New Hampshire Poet Laureate Selection Committee would like to clear up some misunderstandings and misinformation circulating around the state regarding the process of choosing the next NH State Poet Laureate.

Role of the Poet Laureate
The Poet Laureate is an ambassador for all poets in New Hampshire and works to heighten the visibility and value of poetry in our state. This person will be the face of NH poetry for the next five years, with local and national visibility. The qualifications for the role of state poet laureate include the following: demonstrated commitment to extended community involvement that has promoted poetry around the state; reputable publication with an established national presence; and a vision for the role that is commensurate with the mission of the role and not self-promotion.

Long Tradition of Strong Poets Laureate
New Hampshire has a long-standing history of strong, qualified New Hampshire Poets Laureate. These include Alice Fogel, Walter Butts, Patricia Fargnoli, Cynthia Huntington, Marie Harris, Maxine Kumin, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, and Richard Eberhart. In fact, five U.S. Poets Laureate hail from New Hampshire (Robert Frost, Richard Eberhart, Maxine Kumin, Donald Hall, Charles Simic). In short, New Hampshire Poets Laureate have contributed greatly to our state’s vibrant culture.

Review Process
The review process was rigorous. The selection committee of nine, headed by statute by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, includes noted professionals in the arts and humanities and former poets laureate who understand the extent of the position. It has been the role of this changing committee to read each nominees’ extensive application materials, books, and letters of recommendation. This year’s committee spent a collective total of over 100 hours thoroughly reviewing all the applications from a very competitive pool of qualified candidates, many of whom were extremely strong on all points. When someone doesn’t make the cut, it is not a criticism of him or her as a person or as a poet. Nor is it political. In a state teeming with exceptionality, it simply means that several people rose to the level of finalist based on their superior qualifications.

Selection Committee Recommendation
The selection committee’s recommendation for the next New Hampshire Poet Laureate is Jennifer Militello, an accomplished poet and educator with a national reputation. Jennifer has an impressive publication history and is founder of the NH Poetry Festival.

This selection cycle, as always, the committee named its choice and, in September of 2018, gave that recommendation to the Governor, for a vote by the Executive Council.

On Wednesday February 20, 2019, breaking with tradition, Governor Sununu nominated his own candidate as the next Poet Laureate, not the recommended poet nor one of the finalists.

The nomination was withdrawn before the Executive Council’s vote. We do not know if there will be any action at upcoming meetings.

There was a meeting scheduled for the governor and the Selection Committee at the end of March, but the governor’s office had a conflict and we’ve been trying to reschedule with them.

Time-honored Process
There has been no precedent in which the state’s governor selected a nominee without the recommendation of the Poet Laureate Selection Committee. In two unusual and extenuating cases, historically, there were apparent exceptions, but in fact these were not exceptions at all; in each case the governor requested and honored the traditional input of the committee’s recommendations.

Mission of the Selection Committee
The only missions of the selection committee, and its supporters, are to keep the process fair, and to choose the very best candidate for the active role of NH Poet Laureate, who represents our state not only at home but in the eyes of the rest of the country.

We hope everyone recognizes the value not only of expertise but of a commitment to a true democratic process. Our aim is to keep this process trustworthy, so that all interested and qualified applicants will feel confident in its complete fairness.

We do urge the Governor to nominate Ms. Militello, whose name emerged after a rigorous and time-honored selection process so that the hills and halls of New Hampshire will continue to be filled with poetry that resounds beyond our borders.