Wesley McNair doesn’t need a title to remind him that it’s important to bring poetry to the people.

But McNair, who was appointed by the governor Friday to be Maine’s poet laureate, plans to wear the title with honor and keep doing what he’s always done.

“I’ve been bringing poetry to the people from the start,” said McNair, 69, who lives in Mercer. “My goal is to continue making poets in Maine more visible to their communities and to their regions.”

McNair’s appointment was made in a ceremony at the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston, at the beginning of the Maine State Poetry Out Loud finals. Poetry Out Loud is a national competition for high school students, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

Lulu Hawkes, a junior at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland, won the state finals. Morgan Wiggan, a 10th-grader at Thornton Academy in Saco, was named runner-up.

“It was amazing, because there is so much talent here and so much variety of poetry,” Hawkes said. “I am so surprised. I am out of words.”

She won a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national finals in April.

Lauren LePage, daughter of Gov. Paul LePage and a member of his administrative team, introduced McNair — who spoke out for Maine poets when the governor left poetry off his inauguration program in January, interrupting a tradition.

McNair, who got a standing ovation from a crowd of about 200 people, said he viewed his appointment as a positive sign.

“I look forward to this level of support continuing as I carry the banner for the literary arts up ahead. It’s an opportunity,” he said.

McNair has received many awards and grants, and has read his poems at the Library of Congress. His latest book is “Lovers of the Lost, New & Selected Poems.”

He has lived in Maine since 1987, moving first to Farmington for a job at the University of Maine and later settling in nearby Mercer. He came to Maine for the reason that artists have been coming here for centuries: peace and quiet.

“I’ve sometimes called Maine the Montana of New England,” he said. “Writers being loners, they need to go off and find the isolation necessary to develop their own vision. I think Maine can accommodate that. That’s part of its allure. You can just go off somewhere and test your voice and discover yourself as a writer in a place like this.”

McNair succeeds Betsy Sholl of Portland, who served a five-year term.

The poet laureate appointment was brought into Maine law in 1995. The position has been occupied by Kate Barnes of Appleton, Baron Wormser of Hallowell and Sholl.

An advisory selection committee, assembled by the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine State Library, recommended McNair to LePage.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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