Sharing Poetry with the Masses Poet Laureate Aims to Bring Works on Air, Online and to Everyone

By Burnett, Sara | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Sharing Poetry with the Masses Poet Laureate Aims to Bring Works on Air, Online and to Everyone


Burnett, Sara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Sara Burnett Daily Herald Staff Writer

DUNLAP, Ill. -The wide window in Kevin Stein's garage office looks out on the family's apple trees, a wooded ravine and the neighbors' bare farm fields.

He has a small wood-burning stove to keep him warm in winter, a "museum" of shelves filled with birds' nests, dead toads and other bits of nature that catch his eye during walks around the family's property. On the walls hang pictures of the Colorado ski town where the poet and college professor spent last year's sabbatical.

It is the definition of peaceful and quiet.

Not that Stein has enjoyed much of either lately.

Since being named Illinois' fourth poet laureate in December, Stein has found himself in the unusual position of being constantly busy.

From public readings to creating a Web site of Illinois poets to organizing a youth poetry contest and a series of compact discs, Stein is determined to leave his mark on a role held previously by such legends as Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks.

"When I'm done, I want people to be able to look at something tangible," Stein says.

Preferably, that would mean he'd won over a whole slew of people who never read poetry before - or who read it and didn't like it.

"That's the goal," Stein says.

The 50-year-old Stein grew up in Indiana. He was the first person in his family to go to college, where he enrolled in pre- law.

Were it not for Watergate, things may have been different. But as Stein says, he started to notice while Richard Nixon's presidency was unraveling that "almost everyone involved was a lawyer."

He made the switch to creative writing, earning a bachelor's and master's degree. It was during his master's program that he fell in love with teaching. When a job opened at Bradley University in Peoria some 20 years ago, he went. And he's stayed since.

Stein and his wife have two children. He has published three books of his own poetry: "A Circus of Want," "Bruised Paradise" and "Chance Ransom." He also authored two books of poetry criticism.

Yet Stein was surprised when Bradley University approached him last year saying they wanted to nominate him to be the state's next poet laureate, a position that sat empty since Brooks' death in 2000.

The poet laureate is appointed by the governor. There is no salary and no real job description other than to promote poetry throughout the state. Up until now, it was an honor held for life. The position is now limited to a renewable four-year term.

Stein wasn't sure if it was his kind of thing. He took a month to decide, almost missing the application deadline.

"I wanted to make sure that I had something to offer," Stein says. "Something that had more to do with poetry than with me."

In his interview with the poet laureate committee - chaired by first lady Patti Blagojevich - Stein shared his thoughts about bringing poetry to the masses. …

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