Dick Allen, who inspired generations of aspiring writers for over 35 tears as a teacher at the University of Bridgeport, has been named Connecticut’s new poet laureate.
The honorary position was established by Connecticut lawmakers in 1985. As the state’s official poet, Allen will serve as an advocate for poetry during his five-year term, which begins July 1 and runs until June 30, 2015. He succeeds poet laureate John Hollander.
“It’s a real honor; there are a lot of real very good poets in Connecticut,” Allen said Tuesday from his home in Trumbull. “I found out last Monday, and I couldn’t tell anyone” until the formal announcement was made by the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.
Prior to retiring, Allen was the Charles A. Dana Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at the University, where taught from 1968 to 2004.
Counted among of America’s leading poets, Allen’s poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Hudson Review, the New Republic and New Criterion, as well as many other anthologies. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Robert Frost Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Ingram Merrill Poetry Foundation. His poetry has been selected six times for The Best American Poetry, an annual volume. His most recent collection, Present Vanishing: Poems, received the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry.
Equally acclaimed as a public speaker, poetry reader, and teacher, Allen’s name still evokes enthusiastic praise from former students.
“The first thing he asked me was, ‘What do you think the most important attribute is that a poet must have?’ I was excited. I said, ‘Passion.’ He said, ‘No. Ego,’ I was so blown away by that because at the time, I had none. What he meant by that was having a belief in oneself,” said Norah Pollard, an award-winning poet who credits Allen for teaching her to write.
Known for his staunch belief in form, Allen has been credited for bringing to poetry an array of subjects other than the topic of “self” that figures prominently in much confessional free verse.
“I do write free verse, but I’m mainly interested in a very loose and formal verse,” Allen said. “I write narrative poetry and formal poetry with rhyme, and poetry in various forms, always with a large amount of theme, and almost never confessional. I’ve waged wars against confessional, narcissistic poetry for years. I try to get former students, some of whom are very good poets, to write more objective poetry.”
Pollard well remembers Allen’s call to respect structure. “He’d tell me, ‘This is what a sonnet is. Now, go write one.’” said Pollard.
Pollard, then an working single mom with a gift for poetry, kept writing. When her first collection of poems was published, Allen graciously wrote a blurb for the back cover, praising Pollard for “translat[ing] a harrowing, yearning lifetime into imagery-rich poems of despair and wild flings.”
When asked how Allen will fare as poet laureate, Pollard was equally effusive: “He’ll be grand!”
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