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Virginia Poet Laureate to Visit Shenandoah Valley

Virginia Poet Laureate Sofia Starnes assigns poetry readers a crucial role, and she will be explaining that role in a visit to Massanutten Regional Main Library Saturday, September 21, 1 PM. 

“After a poem is written,” says Starnes, “the reader will give a poem new life.  Confirming what I have always felt, poetry renews itself with the reader.  As a poet laureate, I wanted to do something for the reader.”    With that theory in mind, Starnes, who has been appointed Virginia’s Poet Laureate for 2012-2014, has come up with a project for Virginians.
Starnes has asked citizens to send their favorite poems along with an essay explaining how the poem affected their lives.  The project has been titled The Nearest Poem Anthology and is aimed at creating a lasting testament to the immediacy of poetry and its relevance to daily life.  Deadline for submission is this month.  With receipt of some 150 submissions, Starnes acknowledges the project is popular.  One of her most interesting entries is from a 12-year old who found a Sara Teasdale poem in a video game.
“My guiding premise is simple,” says Starnes.  “We all have a poem with our name on it—not literally, and not a poem we have written, but a poem that seems addressed to us with unique immediacy, as if the poet had been thinking of us when he or she wrote the poem. When we find such a poem, we enter dialogue that is both intimate and lasting.  We’ve found ‘our poem’, a poem we’d like to keep near us.  Poetry is in our everyday lives.  You can find a poem for any human situation.”

Starnes describes her laureate status as “ambassador for poetry.”  While she is not required to have an overall project such as the book anthology and is not compensated for the appointment, she wanted to give a lasting gift to Virginia.  “I wanted something to remain after my term is over.  I wanted a tangible gift for the reader.”

 A writer of Philippine-Spanish heritage and born in Manila, Starnes began her career as a short story writer.  She became an American citizen in 1989 and currently resides in Williamsburg.   Because she knows the ache of “good-bye,” she turned to poetry.   She was educated at Saint Pedro Poveda College and received an advanced degree in English Philology from the University of Madrid.  In 2013 Starnes received a Doctor of Letters degree from Union College in Kentucky. 

Starnes has published more than 250 poems and five anthologies of poetry.  As the 16th Virginia Poet Laureate, Starnes has also traveled around the state reading her poetry and talking to residents.   She describes this journey as “heartwarming.”

Prior to visiting a Lynchburg  retirement community , Starnes learned that one of the residents was former Virginia Poet Laureate Margaret Morland.  Starnes researched Morland’s work and read it in her program.   “Meeting Margaret Morland is a gift I will always treasure,” she states.    

According to Starnes, she writes from 9-12 midnight.  Everyday life is a recurrent theme.  “What is essential to life?  What would still survive in me if all was destroyed?  What doesn’t change?  As culture changes, what changes in me?  What do we learn from what we see and feel?   I ask myself these questions constantly in writing my poetry. “

Her favorite poets include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, T.S. Eliot.  She credits Emily Dickinson as “giving her permission to be a solitary writer” and defends Dickinson from the stereotypical image of recluse.    

“I am a people person,” admits Starnes, “but I am a solitary writer.  I don’t necessarily prosper in writing groups.  For those who claim Dickinson was estranged from society, I think they don’t recognize the time period.  After all, Dickinson was family-oriented and was known to bake cookies for neighborhood children.  I think she was not a recluse but just a solitary writer.”  

Starnes’ first poetry collection, The Soul’s Landscape, was one of two co-winners of the 2001 Aldrich Poetry Prize.  Her first full-length poetry book, A Commerce of Moments (Pavement Saw Press, August 2003), won the Editor’s Prize in the 2001 Transcontinental Poetry Award Competition and was named Honor Book in the 2004 Virginia Literary Awards competition. 

In 2008, her collection, Corpus Homini:  A Poem for Single Flesh, was awarded the Whitebird Poetry Series Prize and published as a limited-edition, signed, and numbered chapbook by Wings Press.
Her fourth collection, Fully into Ashes, a full-length book, also was published by Wings Press in April 2011.
Her fifth collection, Love and the Afterlife, a limited-edition, is part of the Franciscan University Press chapbook series.

Her latest anthology, Four Virginia Poets Laureate, 2004-2012:  An Anthology and Reader’s Guide, was published in January, 2013. 

One reviewer, Marjorie Maddox of Lock Haven University, describes Starnes’ poetry in A Commerce of Moments as “A collection for clergy and laity, for the lover of words and the Word…”  The reviewer sums up the work by writing…”a liturgy for the living.  Take, read…”

Governor Bob McDonnell appointed Starnes as Virginia’s Poet Laureate for 2012-2014 with no restriction on reappointment.

Starnes’ presentation at Massanutten Regional Main Library is free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be provided by McAlister’s Deli.    

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