AUGUSTA — Deer Isle poet Stuart Kestenbaum late last week was named the fifth Maine Poet Laureate exactly a week before National Poetry Month kicks off. He succeeds Maine poet Wesley McNair, who created the “Take Heart” column that featured a weekly poem in many Maine newspapers.
Kestenbaum, who directed the Deer Isle’s Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle for 27 years, is the author of four poetry collections, including “Only Now, Prayers and Run-on Sentences,” “House of Thanksgiving” and “Pilgrimage.”
Assuming the unpaid five-year post, the new Maine Poet Laureate says his main goal will be to “convey to people the way poetry can slow time down and make every day special.”
Right now, Kestenbaum says he is pondering what forms his outreach will take. His appointment has been well received.
“Stuart Kestenbaum writes the kind of poems I love to read, heartfelt responses to the privilege of having been given a life,” former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser said. “No hidden agendas here, no theories to espouse, nothing but life, pure life, set down with craft and love.”
Kestenbaum’s poems and writing have appeared in numerous small-press publications and magazines, including Tikkun, The Sun, Beloit Poetry Journal, Northeast Corridor and others, and on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” on National Public Radio.
Kestenbaum follows Wesley McNair, Betsy Sholl, Baron Wormser and Kate Barnes in the role of Maine Poet Laureate.
“Prayer for Joy”
By Stuart Kestenbaum
What was it we wanted
to say anyhow, like today
when there were all the letters
in my alphabet soup and suddenly
the ‘j’ rises to the surface.
The ‘j,’ a letter that might be
great for scrabble, but not really
used for much else, unless
we need to jump for joy,
and then all of a sudden
it’s there and ready to
help us soar and to open up
our hearts at the same time,
this simple line with a curved bottom,
an upside down cane that helps
us walk in a new way into this
forest of language, where all the letters
are beginning to speak,
finding each other in just
the right combination
to be understood.