State Poets Laureate Deliver Brightness After Invitation From New York Times

State Poets Laureate Deliver Brightness After Invitation From New York Times

In their Times pieces, the writers gave thanks for some phenomena specific to their states — “proximity to water, August at Narragansett Beach, / and lobster,” in Rhode Island, for instance. But there were also many common threads: gratitude for natural wonders, for neighbors, family and health care workers, for health itself.

Pulling the project together was not without drama, though.

Illinois, for instance, had been without a poet laureate since 2017. We received quite a good submission from the former laureate, but then came an urgent call from Chicago. Gov. J.B. Pritzker would be naming a new poet laureate on Monday, Nov. 23, an aide assured me — ample time to include her in our story on Thanksgiving Day. But Monday came and went with no announcement. Tuesday, too. Finally Wednesday arrived and with it a new bard for Illinois: Angela Jackson, just in the nick of time.

Some poets were tricky to track down. The writer from Vermont has no email address. But her friend, the poet laureate of Rhode Island, knew her phone number and sent her a text message to make sure she had received our query.

The poet from Oregon, much like every never-satisfied reporter in the world, kept finessing his poem, even as our deadline crept closer. One poet worried she might have contracted the coronavirus, but she still managed to send a submission.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish submitted a poem in plenty of time, but something about her ode to Oklahoma set off the suspicion of the Times email system and it landed in my spam folder, hidden from view. “This message seems dangerous,” my computer warned, when I finally tracked it down. We quickly added her piece — not scary at all — to our collection after its initial publication.

Shawn Hubler, a national correspondent based in California, artfully wove together a story about the three dozen submissions we collected, highlighting some of the most evocative language and ideas, like the one from Beth Ann Fennelly of Mississippi, who was “grateful to be counted on: One Mississippi, Two. Grateful for the word y’all. Grateful for the emphatic all y’all.”

Clinton Cargill, another assistant editor on the National desk, commissioned several lovely illustrations to accompany the story. And Carrie Mifsud, a designer, created a graceful two-page spread for the Thanksgiving Day newspaper.