They came north, to this
kingdom of stone and frost,
Felling trees the size of ships
to make splinters for shelter.
CONCORD — That reflection on the state’s early settlers comes from the first stanza of the poem “New Hampshire” by poet Daniel Thomas Moran of Webster.
His reading of the poem brought a literary touch to Gov. Chris Sununu’s second inauguration on Jan. 3, and the governor later nominated Moran to become New Hampshire’s next poet laureate.
This would all be business as usual at the State House, if not for the fact that Moran was not the nominee recommended by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, nor was he on the society’s short list.
Members of the society and their sympathizers in the broader literary community have rallied their forces to oppose Moran’s nomination in favor of the Poetry Society’s choice — Jennifer Militello of Goffstown.
Poetry Society President Don Kimball says the controversy is not about the person; it’s about the process that’s been in place since the honorary position was created 50 years ago.
“There has been no precedent in which the governor selected a nominee without the recommendation of the Poet Laureate Selection Committee,” according to Kimball. “In two unusual and extenuating cases, historically, there were apparent exceptions, but in fact these were not exceptions at all; in each case the governor requested and honored the traditional input of the committee’s recommendations.”
The official state web page for the N.H. Council on the Arts acknowledges the role of the Poetry Society: “Established by the state legislature in 1967, New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate is an honorary five-year position held by an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the field of poetry.
“The poet is appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, from a list submitted by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire.”
Sununu was planning to present Moran’s nomination to the five-member Executive Council on Wednesday. Moran’s name was on the list of nominees routinely provided at the council meetings. But in reading his nominees into the record, Sununu skipped over poet laureate.
“Some of the councilors had questions about him, but he’s still on the agenda, and we’ll bring him forward,” said Sununu afterward.
“Dan Moran is great. I only met him very recently, but he’s an accomplished poet who has written many, many books on poetry. He’s a young, engaging guy who really has done a lot. I’m not a poetry expert, but I’m a big fan and think he would do the state an immense service being the poet laureate.”
While acknowledging the role of the Poetry Society, Sununu said the selection is ultimately up to him.
“Nominees come to the governor’s office for a variety of different boards or commissions,” he said.
“It’s always the governor’s prerogative, and the governors will take those recommendations but sometimes make their own nominations. In this instance, I was taken with an amazingly accomplished poet. This is not a reflection on who they recommended.”
The Poetry Society is not giving up the fight. After the Executive Council meeting, members of the group offered to meet face to face with the governor “to discuss our recommendation and our process, and we hope they take us up on it,” Kimball said.
The five-year term of the incumbent, Alice B. Fogel of Acworth, expires March 23. The Poetry Society nomination of Militello has been sitting on Sununu’s desk since Sept. 24.
According to the Council on the Arts, there are no specified duties associated with being the poet laureate, other than to serve as “an ambassador for all poets in New Hampshire and heighten the visibility and value of poetry in our state.”
In 2013, the Walter Butts’ New Hampshire Poet Laureate Fund was created in memory of the former poet laureate to provide a small annual honorarium.
Both are acclaimed
Both Moran and Militello have been widely published and acclaimed for their work.
In his Sept. 24 nomination letter, based on the work of a nine-member selection committee, Kimball writes, “Jennifer, a 22-year New Hampshire resident, is an accomplished poet with a national reputation. A noted educator, she has an impressive publication history, is founder of the New Hampshire Poetry Festival, now in its fourth year, and is highly respected by the New Hampshire poetry community.”
Moran was poet laureate of Suffolk County, N.Y., from 2005 to 2007 and is the author of seven collections of poetry. He has read his poetry internationally, at the United Nations and the Library of Congress. He retired in 2013 from his position as clinical assistant professor of general dentistry at Boston University’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine.
For now, Sununu is expected to bring Moran’s name forward at the Executive Council meeting on March 27. Chip Noon, a Durham communications consultant who nominated Moran, says he’ll try to be there as a show of support.
“I’ve known him for a few years and have been impressed with his work,” Noon said. “I nominated him through the Poetry Society, and thought he was going to be a no-brainer.”