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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Columnists > Library Directors Corner

Sullivan County Poet Laureate

May 11, 2020

By Peggy Johansen - mamakating library director

Mark Blackford is the inaugural, and departing, Sullivan County Poet Laureate.
Feeding the Flame
I do not consider myself a poet, but I have been moved by poetry. Particularly the poetry that paints a picture, tells a story and illuminates my known world in a new way. Some may be surprised to know that directing a public library is much like running a business and does not leave the desired time for reading, or for that matter taking in much poetry. So I feel very fortunate to be involved with the Sullivan County Poet Laureate Project as part of my work as a librarian. I hope that you, reader, can make time to engage with the work of the two artists whose views on serving as Poet Laureate are shared below. Look for announcements of their virtual and, with hope, live events throughout the county.

Mark Blackford is the inaugural, and departing, Sullivan County Poet Laureate. If you were fortunate enough to attend one of Mark's readings over the course of the past year, you know the power of his words and the enthusiasm he brings to an open mic. Lisa Caloro, as the incoming Poet Laureate, brings an extensive experience in writing, teaching and performing poetry. She offers a greeting and a warm poetic embrace in her introduction below.
In Parting, by Mark Blackford
First and foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to the folks at SUPLA [Sullivan Public Library Alliance] and all of their sponsors for not only making the concept of a Poet Laureate in Sullivan County a possibility, but seeing fit to afford me the opportunity to take on that role. Over the course of this past year, this position has awarded me so many memorable experiences and opportunities to meet and engage with a community of writers who -- quite literally -- came out of the woodwork to share with me in the craft of poetry; and for that, I will forever be grateful.
Now, secondly, I would like to extend my congratulations to Lisa Caloro, who now also will hold the title of Poet Laureate of Sullivan County. As one writer steps down and another ascends to this role, some may consider it a metaphorical “passing of the torch,” but that is not how I see it. The community of writers as I have come to know it is one where each supports the other, and where none are left behind. Writers do not “pass the torch;” we feed the flame. I may no longer be the Sullivan County Poet Laureate by title, but I am still a Poet Laureate by craft, and in being that I intend to remain a representative of the craft in our community and as a resource for our new Poet Laureate as we continue in our mission to represent and create a home for poetry in our county. I will see you all again in coming events or as part of the reading series that Ms. Caloro and I intend to work collaboratively on this coming year. Besides, I couldn't ride off into the sunset if I wanted to. Horses terrify me.
Greetings, by Lisa Caloro
I have always been concerned with the accessibility of poetry. There are some beautiful old poems out there that move me, touch me, make me see the world differently, but I yearned for poetry that told parts of my story. It took me years to find poetry that spoke directly to me, which is a shame. Good poems should be easy to find, but there is often sifting to do, and resources are scarce for some communities. As Poet Laureate, I hope to bring people poetry that speaks in their blood language, that becomes part of their music, part of their language, part of their life.
As a poet, I am inspired by those who people my world: their guts, their clear eyes, their failures, their hidden wings, and their messes. I am inspired by how we all walk, saunter, sometimes stumble around this life, and by the secrets that make us human. I am inspired, specifically, by Sullivan County because it renders the “wild of the mountains combined with the diversity of people—the grit mixed with the water colors.” I write because I want to connect with people, especially those who don't know poetry is for them. I hope that somebody will read my words and a truth they have known and avoided, or have forgotten and recovered, slips its arms around them and brings them home.
The Sullivan County Poet Laureate page on Facebook features Lisa's new video series called “Breather.” The idea is that we all need a breather sometimes, and poetry can help.
The Poet Laureate Project is funded in part by the “Arts for Sullivan” Decentralization Program administered by Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Funding is derived from public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with support from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Peggy Johansen is the director of the Mamakating Library in Wurtsboro. She can be reached at

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