Poet Laureate of Virginia Helps Younger Poets
January 20, 2003
George Garrett, poet laureate of Virginia, has written more than 30 books and edited more than 20 others; yet he has always believed in helping younger writers get started. Richard HW Dillard, a pretty fair writer himself, says in a recent article that Garrett has been responsible for "probably ninety percent of the jobs, both teaching and writing" that Dillard has had over the years. "He (Garrett) would deny this, but it's the simple truth."
Nothing has changed in that regard since Gov. Mark Warner appointed Garrett poet laureate last summer. Whenever he is invited -- and that is quite frequently -- to give talks around the commonwealth, he always takes a couple of beginning poets with him to share his speaking and reading platform.
Garrett says that since he has no job description as poet laureate, he is doing what he enjoys doing, writing books, giving speeches and readings and promoting the work of others. Besides readings at Virginia libraries, he also is teaching a class at the Jefferson Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of Virginia, where he is Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing, Emeritus. "It's the retired emeritus professor teaching retired people," he said in a recent interview.
As poet laureate, he doesn't get paid, which "suits me fine," he laughs. Unlike some other contemporary poet laureates, he avoids politics, which "really shouldn't enter" into being a poet laureate. He also is not required, as England's poet laureates were, "to be at court on certain occasions, to grace households, palaces and chateaus, to brighten things up on a winter's day," he says.
Although he has lived in Virginia for more than 30 years, he actually was born in Orlando, "a very different place then" than it is now. "World War II, air conditioning and mosquito control" changed it forever.
When Garrett came to teach creative writing at the University of Virginia in 1962, poetry was sort of a "good hobby." That's all changed now, he says, and Virginia boasts an incredible number of good poets, many of whom teach at the state's outstanding universities.
What Garrett would like to do as poet laureate is encourage greater interaction between the academic poets and the poets associated with the Poetry Society of Virginia. "It would be nice to bring them together," he said.
His advice to fledgling poets? "Read more poetry and listen to more poets." For a young poet, "reading and listening may be more important than writing the poem."
Garrett is also a novelist, best known for his "Elizabethan Trilogy": "Death of the Fox," "The Succession: A Novel of Elizabeth and James" and "Entered from the Sun." He will talk about Elizabeth I when he delivers the annual Peple Lecture at the University of Richmond at 8 p.m. on Feb. 10 in the Jepson Alumni Center. His speech title is "The Glory of My Crown: How Elizabeth I Helped Shape America."
"The more I look," Garrett said, "the more I see how much influence Queen Elizabeth I had on the shaping of America, both positively and negatively." A number of our democratic ideals flow from her, often inadvertently, Garrett believes.
"The whole country at one time was called Virginia (except the Spanish part) in honor of her. She accepted the homage but not the responsibility."
But influence us she did. Ironically, she "hated the whole idea of Parliament, but in order to achieve her goal of low taxes, she had to cozy up to them, whenever she infrequently called them." So at the end of her 45-year reign, Parliament had acquired all kinds of powers.
She couldn't afford to have a standing army, so she created the concept of a citizen army, mustering them for such engagements as the one with the Spanish Armada. After the battle, however, "she would give them a speech and send them home. She was very tight with them to save thousands of pounds."
To come together quickly, the militia had to keep arms at home. Garrett believes America's military draft and second amendment to the Constitution came out of Elizabeth's policies.
Another neat thing about Elizabeth I, he says, is that she probably invented public relations. "She was very conscious of her image. Henry VIII could have cared less, but Elizabeth did."
The only pictures you could have of her in your home, for example, were ones she approved. "To this day historians say her era was one of peace and prosperity," but according to Garrett, it was neither. Elizabeth was like many modern-day leaders: a great communicator and image maker.