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Uproar: Self-published poet laureate in NC resigns

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(AP Photo/Department of Cultural Resources). This photo provided by the Department of Cultural Resources shows Valerie Macon, North Carolina’s new state poet laureate. (AP Photo/Department of Cultural Resources). This photo provided by the Department of Cultural Resources shows Valerie Macon, North Carolina’s new state poet laureate.
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By MARTHA WAGGONER
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina's poet laureate resigned Thursday, less than a week after her appointment as criticism of the governor for choosing a writer with just two self-published books of poems continued.

Valerie Macon, a disability examiner for the state, said in a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory that she was resigning because she didn't want the negative attention surrounding her appointment to distract from the position.

"I remain passionate about the mission of poetry to touch all people regardless of age, education or social status," she wrote. "I would like to encourage everyone to read and write poetry. They do not need prestigious publishing credits or a collection of accolades from impressive organizations - just the joy of words and appreciation of self-expression."

While saying he reluctantly accepted Macon's resignation, McCrory also got in a dig at North Carolina's established writers, some of whom had criticized the governor for bypassing the traditional method of selecting a poet laureate.

"I'm also disappointed by the way some in the poetry community have expressed such hostility and condescension toward an individual who has great passion for poetry and our state," McCrory said in a statement.

It said he would continue to review the selection process, adding "we will ask for recommendations from the public and hope that those candidates represent talented poets from both traditional and non-traditional organizations."

McCrory had named Macon on Friday to the prominent post. But within days, he was being criticized for the way he chose the next poet laureate.

The traditional process involved a committee of writers, appointed by the North Carolina Arts Council, which recommended poets to the governor for his ultimate selection.

However, McCrory wasn't required to use that process. Instead, he said he chose Macon from among poets his staff recommended.

By Wednesday, the governor was saying that he would review the process used to select Macon. On Thursday, North Carolina's four previous poets laureate issued a statement criticizing McCrory for that process, saying the method that the governor used "has resulted in disaster."

Outgoing poet laureate Joseph Bathanti said the four would like to meet with McCrory so they could talk about their work. "And we would welcome an opportunity to sit and talk about what poets laureate have done historically in this state for its citizens, not just for other poets," he said.

A spokesman for McCrory said a meeting with the four could be part of the review if requested formally.

Macon has self-published two books, "Shelf Life and Sleeping Rough."

Critics had questioned the resume quoted in the governor's news release about her appointment. The release said she had won an honor as a distinguished regional poet, when in fact, Macon later said she had only been mentored by such an award-winning poet.

Wayne Martin, the Arts Council's executive director, had said earlier this week that he was excited about working with Macon because of her focus on the homeless. "She's very interested in shedding light on the issues of people who are homeless, and she's worked very hard on that," he said.

The Arts Council's selection process for the poet laureate was deleted from its website, and the governor said he was unaware of the agency's guidelines for choosing a poet laureate.

But McCrory's news release about her appointment included some of the same guidelines as the council once used: "Guidelines call for the poet to be a North Carolinian with deep connections to the cultural life of this state, literary excellence and influence on other writers and appreciation of literature in its diversity throughout the state ..."

In addition, the Arts Council also said the poet laureate should have a statewide, national or international reputation and a willingness to engage in public duties of the post.

Interviewed earlier this week by The Associated Press, Macon said she does not have a national or international reputation. Asked if she has a statewide reputation, she replied: "I don't know. There have been people who have told me they read my book, and they come from another state. It's hard to judge."

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Follow Martha Waggoner at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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