I have declined my appointment as Belfast Poet Laureate because the continually repeated link in all coverage of my selection to “a questionable selection process” has tainted the meaning of the role. I would only be in a position of having to prove myself when, in fact, the selection was meant to be a recognition of what I’ve already accomplished. It would be a step backward to go over that ground again. Sadly, it turns out that declining the position allows me to move forward.

I’m aware that for many Belfast residents what really occurred behind the provocative coverage, the story inside the story so to speak, is obvious and all too familiar. Many also understand the irony and humor in my selection being construed as a problem. This was never about setting myself apart from, or above, others. I think we all share a common need for basic consideration.

I’ve been so heartened by the public response to this ludicrous event. Scores of people — acquaintances, strangers, neighbors and colleagues all over town — have gone out of their way to shake my hand and express their regret, respect, and anger. These conversations always lead to poetry and the widely enjoyed presence of poetry in Belfast. Recent events have only confirmed for everyone that poetry is alive and well here and nothing will change that.

Poetry is what all this was meant to be about in the first place. So, to express my gratitude to the people who nominated me, and to our community for the acknowledgment and support that all of us poets have received, there will be a Celebration of Poetry for Poets and Poetry Lovers later in January. I’m also planning an event at the library in April called American Working-Class Poets, Past & Present. And, of course, there are many more great poetry events planned by lots of local poets for the coming months.

Thank you.

Barbaria Maria is a poet who lives in Belfast.