As Utah's new poet laureate, Katharine Coles hopes to make poetry a part of every citizen's daily life. Standing in the governor's boardroom Friday after Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced her selection, Coles talked of what she hopes to do with her position during the five years of her tenure. She said, "I'm trying to make my ideas not too expensive."
Coles is an associate professor of English at the University of Utah. She has published two novels and three collections of poetry.
In accepting her title, Cole said it is too bad that newspapers no longer publish a poem of the day, or each week. As the state poet laureate, she plans to distribute one-minute poetry readings as public service announcements, hoping they will be televised and broadcast and will bring a poem a day into Utah homes.
Coles also talked of running along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, looking out at the ocean, and then noticing that there were poems inscribed in the pavement under her feet. "Poems reflecting the vistas and views," she said, poems that took on new meanings every time she ran by.
The California poems inspired Coles to want poetry in every TRAX station and at every bus shelter throughout Utah. Public poems would be a little treat for Utahns who have forgotten to bring along a newspaper or novel, she said. And, like the poems on the Embarcadero, their meaning would deepen and change as people spent more time with them. "And they would change the people who spend time with them," she predicted.
Coles is the state's first female poet laureate. She was selected by a nominating committee from the Utah Arts Council.
In 1997, David Lee became Utah's first poet laureate. He was followed in 2003 by Kenneth Brewer, who passed away earlier this year. Coles said Lee's goal was to read his poems in every school in the state and Brewer's was to make videos of local poets reading their own work.
(Coincidentally, a 20-minute documentary about Brewer will be shown four times today at the Salt Lake City Main Library, at no cost, as part of the annual Great Salt Lake Book Festival. The film will show at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5 p.m. on the library's second floor.)
Huntsman urged arts organizations throughout the state to invite Coles to speak. "She will serve as the state's literary ambassador," he said. He also promised to scrutinize his next budget to see if there might be more money for poetry projects.As it is now, the poet laureate has no specific duties except to judge the poetry entries in the Utah Original Writing Competition and no salary. Coles will be given travel expenses. In addition, Utah Arts Council employees are trying to find private sponsors to set up an endowment for the office of poet laureate.