The Vermont Arts Council announced Sept. 9 that Gov. Peter Shumlin has appointed Sydney Lea of Newbury as Vermont’s next Poet Laureate to succeed Ruth Stone, whose four-year term ends in 2011.
A public ceremony honoring Mr. Lea will be held on Nov. 4 at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Montpelier. The ceremony will be attended by Gov. Shumlin as part of an evening celebrating the arts in Vermont.
Sydney Lea lives in Newbury and has been a Vermont resident since the early 1990s. He is the prolific author of a number of collections of poetry, including “Young of the Year” (Four Way Books, 2011); “Ghost Pain” (Sarabande Books, 2005); “Pursuit of a Wound” (University of Illinois Press, 2000); “To the Bone: New and Selected Poems” (University of Illinois Press, 1996); “Prayer for the Little City” (Scribner’s, 1989); “No Sign” (University of Georgia Press, 1987); “The Floating Candles” (University of Illinois Press, 1982), and “Searching the Drowned Man” (University of Illinois Press, 1980).
Lea has been described as “a man in the woods with his head full of books, and a man in books with his head full of woods.”
Renowned as a prose writer as well as poet, he has also published a novel and two books of essays that combine the precision of an active naturalist and ecologist with the erudition of a multilingual professor of literature. His stories, poems, essays and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and many other periodicals, as well as in more than forty anthologies.
Lea co-founded the literary quarterly New England Review in 1977, oversaw its move to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College, and edited this esteemed journal until 1989. His poetry collections have earned special critical acclaim, with “Pursuit of a Wound” (2000) named one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. His preceding volume, “To the Bone: New and Selected Poems,” was co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize, one of the nation’s highest honors for a single collection of poems.
Lea has received fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Foundations, and has taught at Dartmouth, Yale, Wesleyan, Vermont and Middlebury Colleges as well as at Franklin College in Switzerland and the National Hungarian University in Budapest. Lea has also been very active for the past quarter century in land conservation and the promotion of literacy. (www.sydneylea.net)
The Advisory Committee found Sydney Lea’s poetry to be virtuosic in texture and form, yet likely to be engaging to a diversity of readers and listeners because of the work’s dramatic intensity, narrative momentum, and musicality, and because of this poet’s extraordinarily evocative descriptions of northern New England’s landscapes, animal and plant life, and the seasonal panorama. Through all of his books, Lea has paid particular attention to the stories of generations living alongside one another in north-country villages, including the interactions of “old-timers” and relative newcomers. He continues the tradition of Vermont poets who are both singular — one of a kind — and broadly accessible.
The Vermont Poet Laureate is a person who is a resident of Vermont; whose poetry manifests a high degree of excellence; who has produced a critically acclaimed body of work; and who has a long association with Vermont.
The poet being nominated must agree to participate from time to time in official ceremonies and readings at the Vermont State House and other locations. The poet selected receives an honorarium of $1,000 provided by the Vermont Arts Council.