Thursday, January 17, 2019

One King to honor, another to shun -- Jan. 17, 2019 column


By MARSHA MERCER

Two men named King are in the news.

First, let us turn to a King who deserves our admiration and respect. A federal holiday Monday honors the life and memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The slain civil rights leader, who won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35 for his nonviolent campaign against racism, would have turned 90 on Jan. 15. He was 39 when his life was cut tragically short by a sniper April 4, 1968.

It’s instructive, given recent events involving another man named King, to remember the MLK Jr. holiday was hard won.

Congress dithered for 15 years, and Sen. Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, filibustered the bill with 300 pages of documents accusing King of being a Marxist with communist leanings.

Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York declared the papers “filth.”

Eventually Congress did the right thing and sent the bill to President Ronald Reagan, who signed the King holiday into law in 1983. The first observance was in 1986. Still some states lagged. Arizona did not recognize the holiday until 1992 and New Hampshire 1999. 

Now, though, every year on the third Monday in January, people gather for prayer breakfasts and worship services, read King’s writings and tell his stories to younger generations. Choirs sing, bells toll and people march. Many devote their time to volunteering on the national day of service.

The day demands action because Martin Luther King Jr’s work is far from done.

 “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he said.

And that brings us to the other, lesser, King in the news.

Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, after a career of racist rhetoric, has finally been punished. He was kicked off the powerful Agriculture, Judiciary and Small Business committees and has been urged to resign from Congress.

The furor stemmed from a Jan. 10 interview in The New York Times.

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?” King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and civilization?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, suggested King “find another line of work” if he didn’t understand why his comments were offensive. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the remarks “abhorrent.”

King tried to tamp down the outrage by insisting he did not advocate white nationalism or white supremacy, had been misquoted and his remarks taken out of context

Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, the top African-American congressional leader, introduced a measure to condemn the substance of King’s remarks, pointing out it was MLK Jr.’s 90th birthday. Clyburn referred to a “tale of two Kings.”

The House voted 424 to 1 for the resolution. Even King voted for it. The only no vote was Rep. Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois, who thought the resolution too weak and wanted the house to censure King.

Other House Democrats thought censuring a member of Congress for speech outside Congress could be a bad precedent, especially given the new crop of outspoken Democratic members.

The full House punted on censure on a voice vote, referring the matter to the House Ethics Committee.

Steve King is at least isolated and immobilized. Several newspapers in Iowa say he has embarrassed the state long enough and should resign. He says he won’t resign, which is always what people say until the moment they do.  

So let Steve King stew in his bitter juices, and let us shun him and his boneheaded ideas while we celebrate the inspiring life of Martin Luther King Jr.

The open-air Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and bookshop in Washington remain open during the partial government shutdown. Among the MLK quotations on his memorial is this from 1959:

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. 
You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

Those are words to live by on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and every day.
©2019, Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Think you know impeachment? Take our quiz -- Jan. 10, 2019 column


By MARSHA MERCER

New Democratic House members are prodding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get on with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. But Pelosi and other seasoned Democratic leaders have put the brakes on such talk, saying they need to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller to present his findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

For his part, Trump says he can’t be impeached because he’s doing a good job. He tweeted Jan. 4: “They only want to impeach me because they know they can’t win in 2020, too much success!”

So what exactly does impeachment entail? Test your knowledge with our quiz. Answers are below.   

1       1 Under the Constitution, who can be impeached?
A.      Only the president
B.      Only the president and vice president
C.      The president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States

2       2  Which of these are causes for impeachment and removal from office as set forth in the Constitution?
A.      Repeated lies and criminal behavior
B.      Treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors
C.      Collusion with a foreign entity  

3       3 What happens in the House during impeachment proceedings?
A.      The House brings formal charges of malfeasance
B.      The House has a trial  
C.      The House has the power to remove the president from office
D.      All of the above

4       4 What is the Senate’s role in impeachment?
A.      The Senate rubberstamps the House’s verdict
B.      The Senate conducts a trial with House members as prosecutors
C.      Only the Senate has the power to remove the president from office
D.      B and C 
5          5 Which two presidents have been impeached?
A.      Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton
B.      Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton
C.      Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton  

6      6 Which president was impeached and removed from office?
A.      Andrew Johnson
B.      Bill Clinton
C.      Richard Nixon
D.      None

7       7 Who is next in line to be president after the president and vice president?
A.      Speaker of the House
B.      Secretary of State
C.      President Pro Tempore of the Senate
D.      Congress would elect the president

8       8   What vote is required in the House to impeach a president?
A.      Simple majority
B.      Two-thirds

9      9 What vote is required in the Senate to remove a president?
A.      Simple majority
B.      Two-thirds

1      10 Who presides over an impeachment trial in the Senate?
A.      The senator with the most seniority
B.      The Supreme Court justice selected by other justices
C.      Chief Justice of the United States

1      11 How did impeachment affect President Bill Clinton’s job approval ratings?
A.      His ratings plummeted to the lowest level of his presidency
B.      His ratings jumped to the highest level of his presidency

1      12 How did Republican impeachment proceedings against Clinton affect the approval ratings of Republicans?
A.      The approval rating of the Republican Party jumped 10 percent
B.      The Republican approval rating plummeted 10 percent

Answers:
1)      C – Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution
2)      B – The Constitution doesn’t define “high crimes and misdemeanors,” leaving it to  Congress.
3)      A -- The House’s role is to bring the charges.
4)      D – The Senate holds a trial and has sole power to remove from office.
5)      A – Nixon resigned after the House drew up articles of impeachment but before he would have been impeached.  
6)      D – No presidents have been removed from office.
7)      A – Yes, Nancy Pelosi would be next in line if President Trump and Vice President Pence were unable to serve.
8)      A
9)      B
10)   C
11)   B – After the House approved two articles of impeachment against Clinton for lying under oath and obstructing justice in December 1998, his approval rating jumped 10 points to 73 percent, even though most people thought he had lied and was less honest and trustworthy, a Gallup poll found.
12)  B – Gallup found less than one-third of the country had a favorable view of the GOP.

SOURCES: Senate.gov, House.gov, National Archives, Library of Congress, Gallup.com

© 2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Resolving to be president? Ask W.C. Fields -- Jan. 3, 2019 column


By MARSHA MERCER

The first Democrat out of the gate to formally explore a 2020 presidential bid is traipsing around Iowa this weekend.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a foe of big banks and big business, promises to end the corruption in Washington and be a champion for the middle class.

She has called President Donald Trump a “thin-skinned racist bully.” He calls her Pocahontas.

Warren is the first of thousands of earnest Democratic presidential hopefuls who soon will be out campaigning. OK, it’ll only be dozens, but it will feel like thousands.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are among those weighing bids.

Meanwhile, Trump never stopped campaigning, as his every appearance demonstrates. 

Some state Republican officials say they might cancel GOP primaries to keep Trump from facing a challenge from within his own party.

Democrats are determined to send Trump back to New York after one term, but with no clear front-runner, party leader or unifying message, at this point anyone could become the Democrats’ nominee.

The Democratic National Committee will sponsor six candidate debates this year, starting in June.

We’re facing countless breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tweets, emails and untold Russian influences before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in February 2020.

Candidates will try to outdo each other with campaign resolutions aplenty. So, we need to pace ourselves.

What we need is W.C. Fields. Really. 

I ran across a parody the comedian wrote that can lighten and enlighten our long campaign season. In “Fields for President,” he announces his candidacy and puts forth his thoughts about resolutions – campaign and New Year’s.

The year was 1940, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had just been elected to an unprecedented third term. A book nearly 80 years old, “Fields for President” is silly, often sexist and surprisingly on point. It was republished in 2016 with a forward by TV talk show host Dick Cavett.

Fields, whose comedic persona was as a hard-drinking misanthrope, writes: 

“Campaign resolutions are nothing more than overgrown New Year’s resolutions: They are thrown together hastily at the last minute, with never a thought as to how they may be gracefully broken.

“Now, I am a candidate with years of experience in the making and breaking of New Year’s resolutions, and what I can accomplish with those, I can certainly accomplish with campaign resolutions.”

That’s as good an explanation as I’ve seen why campaign promises vanish into thin air.

This is the time of year for making New Year’s resolutions, and of course reporters ask presidents for theirs. When Fox News asked Trump his personal resolution for 2019, he replied: “Success, prosperity and the health of our country.”

You wouldn’t expect Trump to admit he needs to change anything, would you?

Few presidents are like Jimmy Carter who conceded after his first year in office he’d underestimated Congress and would try harder in the New Year.

President George W. Bush said at the end of 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “All in all, it’s been a fabulous year for Laura and me.” He also said he didn’t regret even one of the decisions he’d made.

To be fair, Bush enjoyed an approval rating of nearly 90 percent at the time.

But Bush also came forth with a personal resolution: “Eat fewer cheeseburgers.”

Fields says: “Ninety-three percent of New Year’s resolutions fail because they are based on frustration. Tell a person he must no longer eat pomegranates, and he’ll be a nervous wreck until he does eat them.”

What he called the Fields Plan takes the opposite approach. “Instead of prohibiting a person from doing what he’d like to do, force him to do what he’d like to do,” he 
writes.

We’re about to see each candidate develop and pitch a plan he or she hopes will match what voters would like to happen. But, as boxer Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.  

So we’d best take all these resolutions with a healthy dose of skepticism and a grain of salt – just not on our pomegranates.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Localities pay people to move there -- on Stateline.org Dec. 31, 2018

https://bit.ly/2LL1vzG

Stateline

‘Pay to Move’ Attracts People — Not Employers

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For decades, cities and states have tried to create jobs and boost their economies by luring out-of-state employers. Now some areas are trying to attract workers — one worker at a time.
Starting in January, programs in Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay people to relocate to those places if they work remotely. Other resident recruitment strategies in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont include weekends that tempt tourists to stay, discounted rent, student loan assistance and free land.
“It’s a departure — very much a sharp departure” from Vermont’s traditional programs, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. “We need people.”
The shift in strategy marks a recognition that as fewer people are tethered to brick-and-mortar offices, state and local officials can reap the benefits of workers’ spending and taxes no matter where their employers are based.
“You need the people to get the businesses to come, and a lot of small places are immediately out of the running because the people aren’t there. It feeds on itself,” said Doug Farquhar, program director for rural development with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Farquhar sees “pay to move” as “somewhat of a desperate plea: We need educated people to come here and stay here.” He cautions that little research has been done on the effectiveness or sustainability of the strategy. And in Vermont, some advocates for the poor have criticized state officials for “luring tech bros to gentrify our communities.”
But in a state that is desperate for more people — Vermont has about 620,000 residents, with about 45 percent of them retired or about to retire — officials are willing to give it a try.
“The original idea was to give incentives to out-of-state companies to find people who want to live here,” said Democratic state Sen. Michael Sirotkin, chairman of the economic development committee. “We decided to give the money to the workers and let them find their jobs.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed the Remote Worker Grant Program in May. The legislature provided $500,000 over three years to reimburse expenses of remote workers from other states who relocate.
Each worker can receive up to $10,000 in grants over two years. Eligible expenses include computer software and hardware, internet access and membership in a coworking space.
"Every town is looking to bring in jobs to their small town. You might as well beat your head against a wall. We took the opposite approach. We thought: Bring the people and tell them to find their own job."
Steve Piperformer mayor MARQUETTE, KANSAS
Tulsa also is focusing on remote workers. Tulsa Remote will pay workers who pass a stringent online screening process and live in Tulsa for a year $10,000 in cash installments. Workers also will receive free membership in a coworking space and housing discounts. The pilot project is funded and administered by the private George Kaiser Family Foundation. No public funds are involved.
Tulsa’s population, about 400,000, has been flat for decades. The foundation was looking for ways to attract new talent to the city, said Executive Director Ken Levit. The foundation has already brought 50 artists and writers to Tulsa for a year or more through the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, which pays stipends and provides free rent.
“There’s no fixed budget” for Tulsa Remote, Levit said. For now, it’s a one-year pilot program, but the overwhelming response means it could be extended, he said. More than 8,000 people have completed lengthy online applications.

Housing Help

Ben Winchester, a rural demographer at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, said people who leave small towns to attend college often want to return to their hometowns when they reach their 30s and 40s. For many of them, the challenge is finding a house.
Harmony, Minnesota, is an example. The Great Recession led to a years-long halt of construction in Harmony, population 1,080. In 2014, the local economic development authority started offering incentives of $5,000 to $12,000 to build houses, depending on the expected taxable value of the building.
Harmony Mayor Steve Donney acknowledged that the program “was very slow to take off.” So far, the town has paid out about $62,750 and has committed to paying out another $20,000 for eight buildings. This year, for the first time, the town has collected some new property tax revenue — about $2,200.
“I’m a 100 percent believer in the project. So far, it’s working,” Donney said. “It has encouraged people to build, and new people are a bonus.”
“One of my questions as mayor is, ‘When do we stop this?’” Donney said. But, he said, other members of the local economic development authority respond, “Why would we stop this?”
Marquette, in central Kansas, also turned to housing incentives after failing to attract businesses.
“Every town is looking to bring in jobs to their small town. You might as well beat your head against a wall,” said Steve Piper, the former longtime mayor. “We took the opposite approach. We thought: Bring the people and tell them to find their own job.” Marquette is within commuting distance of the larger cities Salina, McPherson and Hutchinson.
But Marquette, population 650, had no buildable lots, so the local economic development commission bought 50 acres in 2002 and started giving lots away. The modern-day homesteading story made national news, and hundreds of people contacted the town.
“It helped. A lot of people are looking for a little Mayberry,” Piper said, referring to the fictional town that was the setting for “the Andy Griffith Show.”
About 30 homes have been built in the Westridge Addition area, almost all by people from out of state, and two newcomers started small businesses in town, Piper said. “We still have land to give away, so that’s good.”

Student Loan Help

Student loan assistance programs, modeled on incentives for medical personnel, teachers and lawyers, may be a more promising strategy for rural areas to grow population, NCSL’s Farquhar said.
Two years ago, Maine expanded the opportunity tax credit, which had been limited to graduates of in-state schools, to graduates of out-of-state schools who live and work in Maine.
Maine Gov.-elect Janet Mills, a Democrat, promised in her campaign to simplify the complicated tax credit system and to invest in a “Rural Return Scholarship” to give young people from rural Maine incentive to return to their hometowns.
In Michigan, the Community Foundation in St. Clair County, about an hour north of Detroit, joined nearby counties to start the Come Home Award, a “reverse scholarship” that pays up to $15,000 in student loans over three years.
The foundation gives out about $300,000 a year in traditional scholarships. But donors said, “We’re just paying young people to leave,” said Randy Maiers, the foundation’s executive director. “We wanted to do something different.”
Since 2016, only 13 of the more than 50 applicants have been approved, almost all with recent STEAM degrees — science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. The ideal candidate is someone who has “met someone and wants to settle down and move back home,” Maiers said.
About $45,000 is currently available for the awards, but Maiers warned, “Don’t tell us you’re going to live with mom and dad or ‘I really don’t know what I want to do.’ This is not for everybody.”

Visitors to Residents

States and localities also are looking to turn visitors into residents. Vermont hopes more young professionals and working families among its 13 million tourists a year will relocate, while Tallahassee is reaching out to baby boomers nearing retirement.
Announcing the Stay-to-Stay initiative in March, Vermont’s governor said, “We have about 16,000 fewer workers than we did in 2009. That’s why expanding our workforce is one of the top priorities of my administration.”
Four Vermont communities have sponsored Stay-to-Stay weekends. After a Friday night welcome reception with local leaders, tourists explore the area on their own before meeting Monday morning with entrepreneurs, realtors and potential employers. The Vermont tourism and marketing department is collaborating with local chambers of commerce and young professionals groups on the initiative.

“We literally put on white-glove service,” Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Wendy Knight said. So far, four people have relocated.
One is Jacqueline Posley, a 23-year-old from Mississippi. A recent graduate of Mississippi State University, Posley was working in an office in Starkville when she decided she wanted to live “somewhere cold and liberal.”
Posley and her then-fiance came to a Stay-to-Stay weekend. Her first day back at work in Starkville, she gave notice, and moved to Vermont in September. Her ex-fiance moved to New Hampshire.
But Posley’s story also illustrates some of the challenges that Vermont faces. She is African-American, and Vermont is 93 percent white.
Vermont and other New England states are scrambling to find ways to attract more people of color and help them feel at home. The Vermont tourism department highlights the state’s status as the first to abolish slavery and promotes a trail of African-American historic sites. And the website iamavermonter.org helps people of color connect and tell their stories about moving to and living in Vermont.
Posley found a job as a night auditor working the overnight shift at a ski resort, where she balances the day’s income and expenses and handles the front desk. But she hasn’t settled in yet. She finds Vermont’s housing costs higher than Mississippi’s, and her job pays less than what she made there. She loves seeing the stars at night — but not the 40-minute drive to the laundromat.
And Vermonters are less welcoming than she expected. Someone in a Walmart parking lot yelled at her to go back to where she came from, making her realize that Vermont “is not the liberal utopia it’s portrayed as.”
“I know Vermont wants new people,” Posley said. “They say they want millennials — but I’m a millennial and I’m not willing to commit long term.”
These days, she’s thinking about San Diego.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A four-letter word summarizes 2018 -- Dec. 27, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

As 2018 heads for the exits – finally -- the annual exercise to wrap up the year in a single word is in full swing.

The estimable Oxford Dictionaries says it selects for its Word of the Year one that reflects “the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the year and may be of lasting cultural significance. Oxford chose “toxic” for 2018.

Toxic is defined as poisonous. Not bad.

Toxic certainly was an improvement over Oxford’s resurrection in 2017 of the 1960s word “youthquake,” intended to show the power of the youth vote in Britain last year.

For its 2018 Word of the Year, Collins Dictionary chose “single-use,” which describes plastic bags and other items meant to be used once that are hurting the environment. 

That’s fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far.

Merriam-Webster chose “justice” to define 2018, saying the word was searched 74 percent more in 2018 than in 2017. That’s puzzling. It seems a good sign that people want to understand what justice means – but not if they think a dictionary definition will suffice.    

Dictionary.com settled for 2018 on “misinformation” -- defined as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

People often conflate misinformation with “disinformation,” Dictionary.com said, but disinformation means “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”

A worthwhile distinction, but it still leaves something lacking to capture this tumultuous year.

For me, none of those words sums 2018 the way a simple four-letter word does.

That word is “wall.”

President Donald Trump’s wall has become the defiant symbol of his America first and only, us-against-the-world presidency.

He proudly shut down the federal government just before Christmas to try to force Congress to give him billions to build a wall on the southern border.

We’ve been hearing so much from him about the need for a wall to protect us from the others that many younger Americans may not know a Republican president once urged the leader of the Soviet Union to tear down a wall.

But Ronald Reagan was the president who in 1987 demanded Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany.

Trump claims -- falsely -- Reagan wanted a wall on our southern border for eight years.

In fact, Reagan said during a 1980 presidential candidates’ debate: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit.”
And then Reagan added: “While they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back they can go back.” Candidate Reagan, by the way, also called for statehood for Puerto Rico.
Contrast that with the harsh rhetoric presidential candidate Trump used about immigrants and his repeated promise to build a border wall to protect us and make Mexico pay for it.

Tearing down the Berlin wall was a symbol of Reagan’s presidency just as the border wall is the enduring symbol of Trump’s.

As the year ends, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are idle because the president and the Congress can’t agree on how much taxpayers should pay to build the wall Mexico refuses to pay for.

But what’s in a wall? Aware Democrats won’t go for the big, “beautiful” concrete wall he first promised, Trump lately has shifted to talk about a “steel slats” barrier you can see through.    

Beyond the border wall are the metaphoric walls that separate the president from many Americans and many Americans from each other. We almost instinctively wall ourselves off from those who hold different political views, watch different news shows and read different news sites.

Doubtlessly, the Russians and the Chinese have worked to sow dissension among us, to further wall us off from each other, with the goal of making the United States less united, more divided and weaker.

If Reagan were president, he might say to us: Tear down these walls.


©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A gift from the government. Really. -- Dec. 20, 2018 column


By MARSHA MERCER

If the frenzied pace of life and the blitz of breaking news have left you desperate for a time out, there’s help from an unlikely source: the federal government.

Tracy K. Smith, the poet laureate of the United States, has a new podcast.

I hear you: “Oh, great, another podcast. Just what we need.” But wait. “The Slowdown” invites us to do just that every weekday – slow down.

It’s only five minutes, and you don’t have to be an English major to enjoy the experience.  

Smith starts each episode with a thoughtful meditation on something she has done or seen that connects to the poem she then reads. Her voice is calm and friendly, her insights are engaging and the poems she chooses are conversational and unfussy.

“The Slowdown” is a counterpoint to the constant clash and clang of everyday life. It provides a pause, time to step outside ourselves and think about something we normally wouldn’t.

“Life is fast, intense and sometimes bewildering. But poetry offers a way of slowing things down, looking at them closely, mining each moment for all it houses,” Smith said when announcing the podcast. It launched Nov. 26 and will air on public radio stations starting next month.

I was among journalists who interviewed Smith by phone last year soon after Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden appointed her the nation’s 22nd poet laureate. I wondered if she was up to the post that’s been held by such distinguished poets as Robert Frost and Rita Dove.  

But Smith has proved to be an able poetry advocate, taking poems to rural places through her American Conversations tour and using today’s technology to summon us to “see the world more clearly through poetry.”

The poet laureate receives a $35,000 stipend and $5,000 travel budget annually, but, no, this is not your tax dollars at work.

The position is funded through a private endowment that established the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center in 1937 and contributions, as they say, from people like you. The podcast is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, based in Chicago, and supported by the center.

The poet laureate post was officially called Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress until 1985, when Congress dreamed up the clunky title Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Robert Penn Warren served under both titles, 1944-45 and 1986-87.

Smith, 46, earned a B.A. from Harvard and a master’s in creative writing from Columbia. She teaches at Princeton and is the author of four books of poetry and a memoir.

She won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “Life on Mars,” which the Pulitzer jury called “A collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.”

The poet laureate is not political, and Smith believes poetry can bring people together.

“I dreamed of using poetry as a way of building a bridge between people in cities and university towns, where poetry festivals and reading series are quite common, and those in rural parts of the United States, where such programming doesn’t often reach,” she wrote in a blog post.

“Because poems put us in touch with our most powerful memories, feelings, questions and wishes, I imagined that talking about poems might be a way of leaping past small-talk and collapsing the distance between strangers,” she wrote.

Her travels to New Mexico, Kentucky, South Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota, Maine and Louisiana have included stops to read and talk about poetry at libraries, community centers, a veterans’ home and a women’s prison.

She edited “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time,” an anthology with work by 50 living American poets, published in the fall.

“Poetry invites us to listen to other voices, to make space for other perspectives, and to care about the lives of others who may not look, sound or think like ourselves,” she said.

So spend five minutes with “The Slowdown.” Let me know where it takes you.  

© 2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.
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