Poet Laureates Stuart Kestenbaum and Wesley McNair will offer a shared reading of poems at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Emery Center, on the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington.

The reading is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception and book signing.

McNair served as the state poet laureate from 2011 to 2016, and Kestenbaum is Maine’s new poet laureate, appointed this past April. Though the two are different in their approaches to poetry, they are both known for the accessibility of their poems, and both find inspiration in life experiences common to us all.

McNair has been called by poet Philip Levine “one of the great storytellers of contemporary poetry.” He is the author of 10 volumes of poems and 20 books, including poetry, nonfiction and edited anthologies.

McNair has held grants from the Fulbright and Guggenheim foundations, two Rockefeller grants for study at the Bellagio Center in Italy, two NEA fellowships, and a United States Artist Fellowship as one of America’s “finest living artists.” He has twice been invited to read his poetry by the Library of Congress, and has served four times on the Pulitzer jury for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Other honors include the Robert Frost Award, the Theodore Roethke Prize, an Emmy Award, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal, for his “distinguished contribution to the world of letters.” His poetry has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition and 22 times on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It has also appeared in the Best American Poetry and over sixty anthologies and textbooks. Last year he was named as the recipient of the 2015 PEN New England Award for Literary Excellence for his collection, The Lost Child: Ozark Poems, according to a news release from the university.

Kestenbaum is the author of four collections of poems, Pilgrimage (Coyote Love Press), House of Thanksgiving, Prayers and Run-on Sentences and Only Now (all Deerbrook Editions), and a collection of essays The View From Here (Brynmorgen Press). He was the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts from 1988 until 2015. Before that, he worked at the Maine Arts Commission and the Children’s Museum of Maine. He remains active in the field of craft, as chairman of the American Craft Council and as a strategist for a consortium of crafts schools across the country, including Haystack. He has written and spoken widely on craft making and creativity, and his poems and writings have appeared in numerous small press publications and magazines including Tikkun, the Sun, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.

Kestenbaum is Maine’s fifth poet laureate. In addition to McNair, his predecessors are Kate Barnes, Baron Wormser and Betsy Sholl. The position was established by the Legislature in 1995. The role doesn’t have specific duties beyond broadening understanding and appreciation for poetry. The position is an unpaid, honorary post.

During his term, McNair began a weekly poetry column in Maine newspapers and a poetry tour, the Maine Poetry Express, that traveled to 175 communities statewide. McNair endorsed his successor. “I think he’s an excellent choice, because he will carry on with the tradition of being an active poet laureate instead of a ceremonial one,” McNair said. His advise to Stuart: “Make it your own.”


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