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Poet laureate pick nixed

  • In this Jan. 3, 2019 photo, Daniel Thomas Moran, right, stands with others in the audience during the second inauguration of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu at the State House in Concord, N.H. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is abandoning his pick for the state’s poet laureate amid growing criticism of the poet’s work and how he was chosen. Though he never formally nominated him, Sununu earlier this year chose Daniel Thomas Moran. Some say Moran is not qualified. The surfacing this week of a sexually suggestive poem Moran wrote about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only intensified criticism. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • In this Jan. 3, 2019 photo, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu speaks during his second inauguration at the State House in Concord, N.H. Sununu is abandoning his pick for the state’s poet laureate amid growing criticism of the poet’s work and how he was chosen. Though he never formally nominated him, Sununu earlier this year chose Daniel Thomas Moran. Some say Moran is not qualified. The surfacing this week of a sexually suggestive poem Moran wrote about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only intensified criticism. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)



Associated Press
Friday, July 19, 2019

CONCORD — There are poetry slams, and then there are slammed poets.

Gov. Chris Sununu abandoned his pick for poet laureate on Friday amid growing criticism of the man’s work and how he was selected.

Though he never formally nominated him, Sununu, a Republican, had chosen Daniel Thomas Moran, a retired dentist and former poet laureate of Suffolk County, N.Y., whom some say is not qualified.

And the surfacing of a sexually suggestive poem Moran wrote about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice only intensified the criticism. A spokesman for the governor said Friday he will put a new name up for a vote soon.

State law requires the Poetry Society of New Hampshire’s board of directors to submit “the name or names of persons whom they deem to be worthy” to the governor, but the governor isn’t required to follow recommendations. Moran, who read a poem titled “New Hampshire” at Sununu’s second inauguration in January, was one of 12 poets whose names were given to the committee by the poets themselves or supporters. Phone and email messages left for Moran were not returned on Friday.

The society’s selection committee recommended Jennifer Militello, of Goffstown, N.H., an award-winning poet and founder of the New Hampshire Poetry Festival.

Sununu put Moran’s name on a list of upcoming nominations in March but held off on asking for a vote by the Executive Council, which approves state contracts and nominations.

In June, amid growing concerns, he met with members of the Poetry Society and asked for additional material on alternative candidates.

Then on Thursday, an excerpt of the poem referencing Rice was published in a Slate.com article. Sununu’s spokesman said Friday the governor was only recently made aware of the poem and “finds it offensive,” but chose Moran based on the entirety of his work.

“Governor Sununu nominated Daniel Thomas Moran, who has published 11 books, due to his extensive experience and impressive credentials, as well as to bring a fresh perspective to the role of Poet Laureate,” spokesman Ben Vihstadt said in an email.

Hours later, Vihstadt said Sununu would be nominating someone else soon.

Don Kimball, president of the poetry group, said the members urged Sununu to make a different choice during the June meeting.

“We said, ‘We understand that you’re the governor and you have the right, but is it the right thing to do?’ ” Kimball said in an interview Friday.

Like Sununu, the committee wasn’t aware of Moran’s poem when it vetted candidates, so that wasn’t a factor in its decision, Kimball said.

But Moran failed to rise into even the top half of the field considered based on his work, vision, connection to the poetry community and ability to serve as its ambassador, said Marie Harris, a former poet laureate who served on the committee.

Harris, who called the Rice poem and several others “a travesty, really, of what poetry is meant to be,” said the controversy goes beyond who will be the next poet laureate. She noted New Hampshire has produced five U.S. poet laureates.

“We have a national reputation of being a fine place for poetry, and this makes a mockery of that,” she said. “And it also taints the process going forward because why would anyone put up a nominee if all the qualifications in the world didn’t count?”

Both Harris and Kimball said their chief complaint isn’t with Moran, it’s with Sununu’s decision to circumvent a well-established process.