AUGUSTA — Wesley McNair will give one of his first public readings as the Maine’s new poet laureate Saturday at the ninth annual Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival held at the University of Maine at Augusta.

A recipient of numerous national awards including the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, McNair, a professor emeritus and writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Farmington, plans to read selections from his latest book, “Lovers of the Lost.”

“Poetry is a kind of conversation,” McNair said. “I think it’s important for every poet to strike up a conversation with the emotional lives of their readers.”

Ellen Taylor, associate professor of English who helped organize the event, said the festival’s main goal is to make poetry accessible to the public.

“No one has to be an expert to enjoy poetry,” Taylor said. “There will be opportunities to meet people and network with the artistic community.” Approximately 300 people attend the annual two-day festival, which includes readings, a panel discussion, an open mic session and live music.

Featured guests for the 2011 festival include Marta and Maggie Finch, Dennis Camire and Nancy Henry.

Twenty slots will be available to the public for the open mic session. “Every year we have more people who want to read than time (available),” Taylor said. “This year, Wes McNair will draw names for the open mic by lottery.”

As the poet laureate, McNair said he plans to draw more attention to literary endeavors within the state.

“I don’t plan to be a ceremonial poet laureate; I want to be an actively involved one,” he explained.

McNair said he’s been invited to a ceremony at the Blaine House on April 20, where he will share his plan to make poetry and the literary arts more visible in the state.

McNair said most Mainers already understand how significant the art form is.

“Whenever we have a milestone — whether it’s a wedding or a funeral — people turn to poetry. People haven’t forgotten that,” he said. “Poetry is about affirmation and hope. It expresses our values in a compressed, meaningful way.”

The Maine Terry Plunkett Poetry is free and open to the public, Friday 6 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.