Preston's Margaret Gibson has been named Connecticut poet laureate

Preston poet Margaret Gibson, whose subjects include her late husband's fight against Alzheimer's, has been appointed Connecticut's Official State Poet Laureate, the Connecticut Office of the Arts announced Wednesday.

Gibson becomes the state's seventh poet laureate and succeeds Rennie McQuilkin, who served since 2015. The post is an honorary position, appointed by the Connecticut Office of the Arts, and serves as an advocacy for poetry and the literary arts.

Poets laureate serve three-year terms.

"It's of course an honor and I'm very happy about it," Gibson said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "It's also a position I appreciate very much, and I feel pleased and delighted to have the opportunity. This is not about me as a poet but about coming up with diverse, interdependent and cooperative programs and projects across the state. I look forward to offering solo and group poetry readings, panels and workshops, and using these to build a more clear and vocal sense of community that is engaged and caring."

Gibson is the author of 12 books of poetry, including "Not Hearing the Wood Thrush" and "The Broken Cup," both of which were inspired by her late husband, the writer David McKain, and his fight against Alzheimer's Disease. They are stunning works and certainly indicate why a selection committee would select Gibson for the honor.

Last September, on publication of "Not Hearing the Wood Thrush," Gibson spoke to The Day about that book's connection to "The Broken Cup" — both incandescent, wistful and wise works of yearning and resolve. Of the latter, she said, "I wrote in a very straightforward way on the early to middle years of David's disease. The poems deal with the shock of adjustment, various kinds of loss, and the discovery that in accepting brokenness there emerges a possibility of unconditional love."

The poems in "Thrush," which are about the period after her husband entered residential care, "continued to explore the capacity for enduring love, but they focus more on my interior solitude, the questions that arise in it, and the fears that occur and must be transformed."

A third book, about her husband's death, tentatively is titled "Wing" and is a work in progress.

The state poet laureate is selected by a committee of peers, some from out of state, after a number of poets are nominated. The nominees then fill out an application and finalists are notified before the honoree is announced.

"I've known (about the selection) for a little while but they asked me not to say anything, so I didn't," Gibson said. "Well, I told my dog."

"Connecticut's cultural heritage is part of what makes our state so unique," Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement. "The poet laureate serves as an ambassador to Connecticut's literary world and we are excited to have Margaret at the helm of this position."

Gibson was born in Philadelphia, raised in Virginia and has taught at the University of Connecticut, where she is professor emerita, since 1993.

"Not Hearing the Wood Thrush" was a finalist for the 2019 Poets' Prize, and additional honors include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes, the Connecticut Center for the Book Award in Poetry and the James Boatright III Prize. Gibson also was co-winner of the Melvin Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America, and her collection "Vigil" was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry.

Gibson said she regards the new position as a new and exciting aspect to her long career.

"The work of poetry goes on," she said. "In public, I look forward to involving other Connecticut poets and the town poet laureates; I think it would be really wonderful to have regionally collaborative projects. At the same time, there is my own poetry, where I find the space and solitude to work in that regard."

Christie Max Williams, director of the Arts Cafe Mystic poetry and music series, said, "Connecticut has done itself proud in naming Margaret Gibson its new poet laureate. It is good fortune to live in a state that is home to a great poet, which Gibson most wonderfully is."

Gibson's first public appearance as poet laureate is April 11, when she reads at 7 p.m. in the Guilford Free Library.

In addition to McQuilkin, previous Connecticut Poet Laureates include James Merrill, Leo Connellan, Marilyn Nelson, John Hollander and Dick Allen.

r.koster@theday.com

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