New New Hampshire state poet laureate wants to be ambassador for the art form
Alice Fogel, the state’s new poet laureate, says she wants to “help other people overcome their ‘trauma by poetry.’”
Too many people were intimidated by poetry in school, she said. “They feel that there’s hidden meaning, that it’s obscuring something, it’s making them feel stupid, so they avoid it, thinking it’s not for them.”
Fogel, 59, who lives in Acworth, plans to be “an ambassador for poetry” during her five-year tenure as poet laureate.
One of her first ideas is to bring her book, “Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader,” into libraries, schools and reading groups around the state. “Because that book is about how to feel more comfortable with poetry without necessarily getting it.”
She also hopes to create an “interactive poetry map,” showing where New Hampshire’s many poets live. The idea is to connect schools and community groups with their local poets.
A native of the Hudson Valley region of New York, Fogel moved to New Hampshire about 30 years ago to take a job as head of costuming for what was then Theater by the Sea in Portsmouth.
She was attracted to the state’s support for the arts, landscape and wealth of outdoor activities, she said.
Soon after, she enrolled in a graduate program in poetry at the University of New Hampshire and began to focus on her writing.
Her influences include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Creeley and Sylvia Plath. More recently, she’s been reading the contemporary works of Brian Teare, Mary Ruefle and Brenda Hillman.
In this era of Facebook and Twitter, reading poetry is even more important than ever, Fogel said.
“I think that poetry slows us down, and helps us reflect on our lives. Most of our lives are activity: what are we doing and how can we do more. And we’re so stressed because we’re doing so much already.
“And poetry is a chance for us to slow down and just be reminded of what it means to be a human and connect with each other and connect with our inner lives...”
Technology has contributed to a loss of appreciation for the crafting of words, she said. “Texting and emailing and all that, it’s a great quick communication and it connects people, but it doesn’t have that human element,” she said.
“Really thinking, and formulating beautiful sentences, that doesn’t seem to be very much of a priority anymore.”
That’s part of her mission as poet laureate, she said. “I guess I would hope that by bringing poetry to people, we could have that conversation, that poetry is a craft. It’s not just ‘let me tell you what happened today.’”
Asked where she finds poetic inspiration, Fogel said, “It can come from almost anywhere. It can take me by surprise.”
Nature, music, a turn of phrase, even some tidbit of science can trigger her to explore something in poetry.
So is there such a thing as bad poetry? “Oh sure,” she said at once. “Hallmark cards.”
“I think if everybody wanted to write poems, I’d be perfectly happy, but there has to be some criteria for what a poem is made up of, and it’s not just self-expression. It’s more than what you would write in your diary or say to your best friend over tea. It’s an art.”
Fogel still designs and creates fanciful apparel out of recycled clothes (lyriccouture.com). She won the grand prize in a “refashioning” contest in 2006 for a wedding dress she created from men’s tailored dress shirts.
“The thing that’s really fun about it is that you can have these ‘closet parties’ where you and your friends take the stuff you don’t use in your closet and just swap them and reconstruct them right on the spot.”
Fogel previously taught at UNH and now teaches writing at Keene State College. She and her husband Mark Edson, a builder — “with a master’s degree in literature,” she pointed out — have three grown children and a dog named Hazel.
Her new book, “Interval: Poems Based upon Bach’s Goldberg Variations,” won the Nicholas Schaffner Award for Music in Literature, and is forthcoming from Schaffner Press.
For the first time, the poet laureate post comes with an honorarium of $500 a year to help fulfill her mission. Funding comes from the Walter Butts’ New Hampshire Poet Laureate Fund, created in memory of the late poet laureate who died earlier this year, and coordinated through the Poetry Society of New Hampshire.
Fogel said the funding is nice “because I do think that people who do things in the arts ought to get some kind of remuneration.”
“But you don’t become a poet if you want to get rich,” she said.
To read some of her poetry, visit: alicebfogel.com.