Belfast's newest poet laureate talks life, plans for city

By Ben Holbrook | Jan 04, 2013
Photo by: Ben Holbrook The Belfast City Council has appointed local resident Ellen Sander to be the next poet laureate.

Belfast — Describing being chosen as a “humbling experience,” Belfast’s seventh poet laureate is looking to ignite a passion for poetry in high school students, veterans and many others.

The Belfast City Council appointed Ellen Sander as the next poet laureate during its Dec. 4 meeting. Sander was one of the three local poets nominated for the position and is taking over the role from Jacob Fricke.

“It’s a thrilling and humbling experience,” Sander said of being selected.

Sander said she began writing poetry when she was 9 years old and continued to produce pieces through early adulthood. However, while working for a magazine covering the rock-and-roll music scene in the 1960s, Sander said, her poetry wasn’t as much of a focus. That changed, though, during one of her many trips around the country.

During a trip to California, Sander ended up in the small town of Bolinas, where she met a number of famous poets, including Allen Ginsberg.

“I was inspired to get more serious about my poetry,” Sander said.

She noted that many poets in the '60s and '70s were able to focus exclusively on their poetry because they were receiving National Endowment for the Arts grants that could support them. She said the town was a relatively active poetry center and the poets were even able to purchase their own press to print their work.

“Their work just blossomed,” she said.

Because she enjoyed the people and atmosphere of Bolinas so much, Sander decided to buy a home in the town while continuing to write more and more poetry. Although she didn’t publish much of her work, Sander said, she considers Bolinas the place where her “poetic heart” as an adult developed.

Sander said Bolinas presented a much-needed change of pace in her life, while offering an opportunity to focus on her poetry, which had taken a backseat to her magazine and work on her book about her experience covering the rock-and-roll scene.

Eventually, Sander moved to Los Angeles, where she was seriously injured in a vehicle accident. Her injuries required physical therapy, as she re-learned how to talk and maintain her balance. In order to help facilitate her recovery, Sander said, she studied performing arts and began her transformation into a performance poet. She used her experience with rock-and-roll music as a basis for her work.

Sander made a full recovery and again uprooted herself to move to China, where she published some of her work in Dong Xi, a paper published in English by "expatriates," Sander said. One of the highlights for Sander of living in China was the appreciation the people had for poetry. However, personal reasons eventually led Sander to move back to the States, where she still had a residence in Bolinas.

At about the time she was moving back from China, Sander said, her daughter was expecting her first child and Sander wanted her grandchild to be born on the East Coast. She made her way to Waldo County, and stayed in Northport while waiting for her daughter to give birth. Even though she had her home on the West Coast, Sander said, she didn’t have a strong urge to return.

“California just didn’t feel right to me anymore,” she said.

For that reason, she began searching for homes in Waldo County, and decided to settle down in Belfast. She said she had had the opportunity to visit the city before and really enjoyed the area, as well as the ever-growing poetry community.

Looking back on the journey that brought her to Belfast and to becoming the poet laureate, Sander said she is thrilled to be able to explore new ways to share her passion for poetry with others. She said she plans to focus some of her outreach efforts on getting elderly veterans and other individuals to write poetry.

Personally, she said, she plans to continue writing her own poetry while encouraging other poets to use technology to make their work available to the public. Sander said one of the biggest challenges with poetry is that it is expensive to publish a collection of poems, and sales of the book usually don’t produce enough revenue to justify the cost.

However, with the ability to publish work online as e-books, Sander said, poets can make their work easily accessible to the public.

As she settles into her new position as poet laureate, Sander said she truly appreciates the character of Belfast.

“Poetry is very important to this community,” she said. “Belfast is very, very special to me.”

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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