During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.
As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.
She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.
But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.
That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.
If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)
The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.
So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?
The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.
Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)
“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”
They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.
“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.
She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.
Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”
But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”
Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art handler, also in Chicago.)
There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”
Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.
“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”
No, not at all.
Not trite; quite right.
(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or email@example.com)