Illinois Poet Laureate Advises Writers to Read, Revise, Risk

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A quick chat with an area newsmaker

Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein will read from his works, including his book "American Ghost Roses," during An Evening with Illinois' Poet Laureate at 7:30 p.m. today at Naperville's North Central College. Stein has written six poetry collections and three scholarly books, and is professor of English and creative writing at Bradley University.

What does the position of poet laureate entail?

Each laureate makes of the job what he or she chooses. Minimally, the laureate is expected to read in the four corners of the state at least once during the term. Each laureate fashions projects to promote poetry.

What projects are you hoping to undertake?

My first project was to establish a laureate's Web page, www.poetlaureate.il.gov, to focus on Illinois poetry and poets. It presents not only text samples but also audio and video clips.

I also have initiated an ambitious program of readings across the state. I hope to put poetry in places it's not usually found, such as a corporate board room, nursing home and radio station.

In addition, I've begun the Poetry Now project that takes me to rural and urban libraries. I talk about poetry, read mine and the work of others, and then donate some of my own funds so the library can purchase the work of contemporary Illinois poets. In this way, I hope to seed a broader audience for poets writing of this moment, poets writing of our shared "now."

Lastly, I plan is to help promote and extend the Illinois Association of Teachers of English poetry and prose contest in our state's schools.

How does Illinois choose its poet laureate?

The selection process entailed nominations reviewed by a committee headed by first lady Patti Blagojevich. The first lady and members of the committee interviewed the two finalists.

Do you hope to serve for as long as Gwendolyn Brooks?

Ms. Brooks was a rare gem, both as a poet and a person. Following her is a privilege. When Ms. Brooks served as laureate, the term was for life. Now the laureate term is a four-year renewable position. My plans are to do my best in these first four years and see how I feel about things when the time comes.

Carl Sandburg seemed to think a variety of jobs provided life- learning experiences to a poet; what varied jobs have you held? …