Murfreesboro’s poet laureate is far from resting on her new national laurel.
Instead, MTSU English professor Amie Whittemore is busy using the $50,000 grant from the coveted fellowship to guide a new civic poetry program for young people and help boost a popular existing community poetry-reading series.
The Academy of American Poets award requires its 23 Poet Laureate Fellows to help their community learn more about, enjoy and potentially create their own poems. Whittemore has already found local partnerships to fuel her aims.
“I think it’s important to have other organizations involved,” she explained. “I thought it would make the grant application more successful, and it would certainly make the projects that I decided to focus on more successful by drawing on other people’s expertise.”
She connected with Nashville’s Southern Word, a nationally recognized spoken-word youth development and education program, for help with the first goal: a series of writing workshops, open mics and school visits, online as needed, for LGBTQ+ youth in Murfreesboro.
Their work ideally will culminate in joining the statewide LGBT+ College Conference at MTSU next April.
A partnership with Poetry in the Boro, a monthly open mic and featured reading series hosted in Murfreesboro, was important to establish, too. Whittemore is a co-curator of the project founded by inaugural Murfreesboro Poet Laureate — and MTSU alumna — Kory Wells.
“Some of the grant money will go to support readings and help us invite some featured readers,” she said, “and we’re also going to start a calendar project. It’s going to feature local poetry and local photography … as a fundraiser to provide a steady source of income for Poetry in the Boro.
“I’m just excited to have this opportunity to do this good work for our community.”
Whittemore is serving the city for a yearlong appointment as Cultural Arts Murfreesboro‘s 2020 poet laureate. Since her projects are stretching into 2021 and at the mercy of the pandemic’s schedule, she’ll probably take the option of adding another year to her local role of community service.
“Every poet laureate’s challenges and opportunities are very individual, but … I think the opportunities to connect more people with poetry in our community and letting them know what’s available here are great,” she said.
“I think the challenge is that you’re just looking to … write poems and sort of balancing your time so you can do your work while also providing service to the community.”
Whittemore has taught in MTSU’s Department of English since 2016, most often leading first-year composition courses and general education literature courses. This fall she’s adding creative writing to her teaching schedule.
“I love teaching that English 1010 class because I love helping students,” the professor said. “The students are figuring out a new relationship to writing, and I love helping them with that, helping them develop a more positive relationship to the writing process.
“I tell them, ‘You may not love writing at the end of the semester, but if you just don’t hate it, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Just learn to tolerate it. You’re going to have to write things your whole life. You can have a better relationship with that process that’s going to serve you in the long run.'”
Whittemore’s acclaimed poetry collection, “Glass Harvest,” was published in 2016. Her poems, which have earned multiple awards, have appeared or are forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere.
She’s also the reviews editor at Southern Indiana Review literary magazine and holds an undergraduate degree from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and master’s degrees from Lewis & Clark College and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Her appointment as a Poet Laureate Fellow for the Academy of American Poets will run into the next year. Like her peers in this year’s honorees, the next 11 months are looking quite busy, too.
“It’s one of those things that one door opens and a lot of other doors appear, so you never know what one good thing leads to,” she said. “I’m excited to connect with more people in the community and see what we can make happen. I’m happy to listen.”
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)