Nebraska Looking for Next State Poet

Current Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen. (Photo by Ray Meints, NET Television)
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July 12, 2018 - 6:45am

For the first time in five years, Nebraska is looking for its next State Poet. Current state poet Twyla Hansen’s service to the state is winding down this year and a selection committee is asking for the public’s help in nominating a new one. NET News’ Jack Williams spoke with Erika Hamilton from Humanities Nebraska about the process and what they’re looking for.

NET News: Let’s get a short primer on the history on the Nebraska state poet. How did this position come about?

Erika Hamilton: Well, Nebraska was one of the first states to have a state poet, or poet laureate when the Nebraska Legislature appointed John Neihardt as poet laureate in 1921 and that is a position in perpetuity, so even though he passed away in 1973, he is still our Nebraska poet laureate. In 1982, Humanities Nebraska partnered with the Nebraska Arts Council and the governor to appoint Bill Kloefkorn as our Nebraska state poet, and that was a lifetime, and so when he passed away in 2011 we needed to go through another process to find a new state poet. And so in late 2013, Twyla Hansen was selected as our state poet, but now instead of having a lifetime term, it’s a five year term.

NET News: And her term is coming to an end now and you’re looking for the next state poet. How does this process work?

Hamilton: The first step in the process is to contact Humanities Nebraska at and just let us know who you want to nominate. If that poet has not yet been nominated, we will send you information on how to nominate them, and if that poet has already been nominated, you’ll be asked to give a letter of support. The other step is that the poet who has been nominated has to consent to it first. So, we want the state poet to be active in the state, we want them to travel around, we want them to do workshops and do readings and be active in the state, and so that person needs to consent. They need to want to do it before we will approve them as state poet.

Erika Hamilton with Humanities Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Humanities Nebraska)  

NET News: Serving as state poet is more than just about poetry, it’s also about literacy and education and many other things. What kinds of skills should the ideal candidate have?

Hamilton: We’re looking for a candidate, number one, who has a lot of professional experience with publications and awards. We’re also looking for someone who is already skilled in making poetry accessible to the public, either in their own community or throughout Nebraska, because we want them to travel the state and give talks or give workshops or be vocal in different activities. The third thing we’re looking at is we’re making sure that they are pretty good at working with an audience and their presentation skills.

NET News: Who makes the final decision on the next Nebraska state poet and when do you expect that to happen?

Hamilton: We expect Governor Pete Ricketts to make the final decision. The selection committee forwards three candidates and the governor gets to select which one will be the next Nebraska state poet and that process, we hope to have an announcement by November.

NET News: Why is it so important that we have a state poet in 2018?

Hamilton: I think it’s important to note that when we had that break between 2011 and 2013, it was when Bill Kloefkorn passed away and before Twyla Hansen was appointed, we heard this a lot at Humanities Nebraska, we heard it a lot at Nebraska Arts Council. People were saying we need another state poet. One of the roles the state poet plays is going into the schools and talking with the kids and getting the kids excited about not just poetry, but Nebraska and talking about different aspects that are brought up in poetry.

NET News: We live in a very face-paced, instant gratification world. How do you keep a position like this relevant when you’re competing against the digital age and technology, the kinds of things that challenge the appreciation of poetry, which requires more than just a few seconds of attention?

Hamilton: I think that’s why it’s important for the Nebraska state poet to make poetry accessible and relevant to the public, because not only is poetry something you’ve taken, but it’s also something you can create. So one of the roles of the Nebraska state poet is to show people, kids, teenagers, adults, how to process what you’re experiencing and make it into a poem. You don’t have to be a professional poet to write poetry and I think that’s why it becomes relevant in this digital age. In this digital age, people are creating poetry online. They’re creating poetry in social media and it’s all about taking your experience and putting it into words in a way that really captures attention and captures people saying I feel like that too, I’ve experienced that too.

Editor's Note: By way of full disclosure, NET Radio receives funding from Humanities Nebraska for humanities reporting. 



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