Members of the City Council learned about the potential benefits of appointing a Poet Laureate for the City of Brooksville during a presentation by local poet Larry Jaffe at the panel’s regular meeting on July 17. A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. Poet Laureates have already been appointed in other cities, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Oldsmar, Florida.
Jaffe, who has relocated to Brooksville from Clearwater with his wife, Shelley, has been the Poet In Residence at the Autry Museum in California, Chrysler’s Spirit in the Words Poetry Program, and spearheaded the UN poetry program involving 200 worldwide poetry readings during International Poetry Day.
In Brooksville, Jaffe is a volunteer with the promotion committee for the Brooksville Main Street program. He has been meeting with Allisa Babor, chairperson of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, to find a way to bring poetry and literature to young people and is working with students on the anthology Brooksville: Facing History to Create Tomorrow By the Children of Brooksville which features poems based on Brooksville’s past and its imagined future.
According to Jaffe, his mission as Brooksville’s poet laureate is to boost literacy among the City’s students. “The kids’ poetry project is a good family-oriented project, and my job is to improve literacy, to involve kids, and to inspire them to improve their literacy through writing,” Jaffe told the panel. I have a love affair with words, and if every child could fall in love with words, it lifts the literacy level of the community – it’s empowering if you can read and express yourself through writing.”
In addition to the youth poetry project, Jaffe said that, if appointed the City’s Poet Laureate, he would lead workshops with students and write and read special poems for special civic occasions. Following the presentation, Council member Christa Tanner said that she was concerned about having the Poet Laureate make public statements on behalf of the City and Council. “When it comes to speaking for the City of Brooksville – for speaking for a government body, we need to be careful,” Tanner said. “I think if we’re going to appoint somebody who is potentially going to be a voice of the city, we need to see the parameters around that.”
Mayor Blake Bell agreed. “We always want oversight,” Bell said.
Council member Thomas Bronson said that a storyboard of appropriate poetry options might be one option. “Maybe as he does his writing (we could) have like an inspiration board for him that gives him a direction (of how to) speak on Brooksville’s behalf,” he said.
Finally, Babor said that she and Jaffe would work with the city to develop guidelines that would pertain to a Poet Laureate position. “We could work together as partners to expand on what it (the position) would mean ultimately pertaining to situations such as) holidays and whenever you (the Council members) make your proclamations,” Babor said. “I would work with whomever in getting parameters for what this (appointment) could look like, and we could come back with another presentation.”
Later Jaffe said that work on another presentation is underway. “Next is that we are going to put out a set of guidelines so that the city attorney can look them over,” he said.