Barbaria Maria named Belfast poet laureate

By Ethan Andrews | Dec 27, 2010
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Barbaria Maria, left, during the annual Waldo County General Hospital Silver Tea, Dec. 8, with Ida Jean Tyre, center, and Puzz Caswell. Maria has been appointed to the honorary position of Belfast Poet Laureate.

Belfast — The Belfast City Council has approved longtime local poet and performer Barbaria Maria as Belfast Poet Laureate.

Maria, who has been active in the Belfast poetry scene for 30 years, is the author of two books of poetry, "Crossing Time" and "Palace Boulevard," as well as a CD with drummer Jeffrey Densmore. She has lead writing workshops and a writing and meditation series, and has recently been collaborating with visual artists.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity,” said Maria after the Council approved her appointment Dec. 21. “I love what a big part of the community [poetry] has been for a long time.”

Asked about her plans, she said, “I like them to be surprises.”

Maria went on to say she hoped to promote performance poetry and slam poetry for both young people and adults, and also large-scale video projections of poems on buildings.

The honorary position was created unofficially in 2001 by Mike Hurley to honor nuclear physicist, mail artist and local eccentric Bern Porter for whom a custom gold cape was created, embroidered with Porter's name. When Hurley later became mayor he made the position official, with a two-year term of office.

Porter died in 2004 and was succeeded by Bob Ryan, then Elizabeth Garber, who each served only one year of their two-year appointments. Belfast’s most recent poet laureates, Karin Spitfire and Buckmaster, each served two-year terms.

For the 2011-13 appointment, Maria's was the only application received by the nominating committee.

"To me that's a failure. No matter who applied,” said Hurley, who now serves as a city councilor. “This should be something spirited and something lively. Instead it's become anything but."

Maria, along with Garber, Spitfire and Buckmaster, have been frequent collaborators — to the extent that they have been dubbed "Belfast’s Fab Four" — and Hurley expressed some skepticism that the selection process may have gone astray.

"I hope it hasn't become an honorarium that a small club passes around. If so, that would be regretful," he said.

Asked about the succession of Fab Four members, outgoing poet laureate Buckmaster said the position was advertised in the same way as past years, but she also said the process might need to be reviewed in the future.

“It’s an open application process,” she said. “You can’t make people apply. If it was an appointment, that would be another kind of thing.”

On the number of applications, Buckmaster speculated that the amount of work might be intimidating to potential applicants. The honorary appointment carries no official duties, but the past three poet laureates have added a public service component that she feels has been valuable but time-consuming.

“There’s no budget," she said. "There’s no salary. It’s all on your shoulders."

She also speculated younger poets balancing family and work schedules might see the job as too much to take on.

Buckmaster said one option would be to expand the catchment area to all of Waldo County to draw in a larger pool of applicants and also reflect some other views from the region.

Reflecting on her own term as Belfast poet laureate, Buckmaster said, “It’s been really gratifying. I’ve been out walking my dog at night and people stop me to talk poetry — people I never imagined were into poetry.  They think you’re a sort of expert in poetry. It’s been fun in that way.”

As has become tradition, Buckmaster is slated to pass the cape to Maria at a ceremony during the annual New Year’s by the Bay festival. The event, which Buckmaster said will feature nine local poets doing a series of fast-paced readings, will be held at the Colonial Theatre, Friday, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m.

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