The Portland Public Library introduced Linda Aldrich as the city’s new poet laureate Tuesday night.

Aldrich replaces Gibson Fay-Leblanc, who served three years. Aldrich lives in Portland and has published two collections of poetry, most recently “March and Mad Women” in 2012.

“I read they were asking for nominations. I was thinking about who I would like to nominate, and I thought, ‘I would like to be the next Portland poet laureate,’ ” she said.

Ultimately, three people nominated Aldrich. She was inaugurated during a ceremony in Rines Auditorium at the library that began at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. She is the sixth poet to serve in the honorary, volunteer position, which comes with the responsibilities of being an ambassador for poetry in a city that gave the world one of its most famous poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Aldrich, 69, will help promote poetry and seek new audiences for the art form, as well as opportunities to engage the community with poetry. She is emboldened by a National Endowment for the Arts report this month that says nearly 12 percent of U.S. adults, or 28 million people, read poetry in the last year. That’s 5 percentage points higher than in 2012 and the highest readership share of the total U.S. adult population in the past 15 years.

“This is exciting to think that rather than dying out, poetry is having somewhat of a resurgence. I would like to bring poetry more into the lives of people who live here, no matter who they are,” she said. “It will be a matter of bringing groups together that will collaborate with me.”

The library assumed administration of the laureate program this spring. Previously, it was run by devoted volunteers. Aldrich is pleased the laureate program is operating under the umbrella of the library, which will encourage its sustainability and strength going forward, she said.

Sarah Skawinski, literature and language librarian at the library, said its partnership with the laureate program is a natural way to promote poetry. The Portland library looked to the Library of Congress and its work with the U.S. poet laureate as a model, she said. “Among the library’s longstanding goals is the promotion of poetry and writing through collections and programming,” Skawinski said. “We strive to give local poets and writers a platform within the community, and to give members of the community access to their local poets and writers.”

A committee of seven chose Aldrich. Fay-Leblanc served on the selection committee, and said the competitive process confirmed Portland’s rich legacy as a literary community. The committee received nearly 50 nominations for 13 poets who live and work in Greater Portland, he said.

In addition to Fay-Leblanc and Skawinski, who served as co-chairs, the committee included poet Samaa Abdurraqib; poet and former laureate Marcia Brown; writer and bookstore partner Josh Christie; poet, visual artist and storyteller Mikhu Paul; and visual artist and poet Julie Poitros-Santos.

Committee members were drawn to Aldrich’s poems and to her ideas for bringing “a lot of different kinds of folks into the poetry world” and for “showing the ways that poetry touches everybody, not just a select few,” Fay-Leblanc said. “We appreciated that her ideas were democratic in spirit.”

One of Aldrich’s ideas is to create a series of themed readings in which people submit original poems around a specific subject, for example, borders and boundaries.

“I’d like to hear what that means to people,” she said.

Another idea involves pairing emerging and established poets, who would create work together over weeks and then perform together. If she were able to create enough poetry teams, she would like to stage some kind of performance that could tour to libraries across the region “because I am mindful that I am representing Greater Portland and not just Portland,” she said.

Aldrich and her husband, David Miller, have lived in Portland eight years, moving here from Vermont. She grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and lived in California and Colorado for many years before coming home to New England to be closer to her elderly parents.

In addition to poetry, her academic background includes theater and education. She worked at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco for 10 years and taught English at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado. She has taught at Keene State College in New Hampshire and currently teaches English at Southern Maine Community College.

She earned her undergraduate degree in English and French from the University of New Hampshire and her master’s in theater arts from Florida State University. She picked up poetry when she moved to rural Colorado. “I took classes at the local community college, and I took the same class over and over again so I could keep writing,” she said. Eventually, she enrolled at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, earning a master of fine arts degree in poetry in 2000.

In addition to two books, her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her poem “Woman-without-Arms” won the Emily Dickinson Award 2000 from Universities West Press, and her Mary Dyer poem sequence was a recent finalist for the Dana Award in Poetry.

Coming home to New England completed her circle, she said.

“Portland reminds me a lot of the Manchester I knew growing up, but with a major emphasis on art and of course the beautiful location near the water. I also love the diversity of Portland. I grew up in a neighborhood where people still spoke French and Polish and Greek,” she said. “That doesn’t exist much anymore, but that is how it was and that was an enriching experience as a child.”

But she hears other languages in Portland – at the grocery store, and last winter when she worked in an L.L. Bean warehouse and spoke French with many newcomers from Africa. She sees her role as poet laureate as a way to bring everything that’s in her background and experience together, to create something new and authentic for Portland that speaks to the city’s history and diversity while looking to the future.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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