June 20, 2018
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Belfast names new poet laureate, hoping the second time’s the charm

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Garber
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Garber
The Belfast City Council announced that Belfast native Jacob Fricke has been chosen to fill the Poet Laureate city post for the next two years.
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Because hope springs eternal in the human breast, Belfast city officials have moved past winter’s angry controversy over the selection of the new poet laureate to give it another shot.

Belfast native Jacob Fricke, 31, was unanimously appointed at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting to take up the two-year mantle for the honorary, unpaid post. And after he read one of his poems out loud, the councilors and others attending erupted into a round of applause.

“I am excited,” the bow-tie wearing poet said in an interview Wednesday at his workplace, Mr. Paperback in Belfast. “I welcome questions, and ideas and inspirations, and invite poets, city councilors, readers of poetry and everyone to address me with questions and concerns. That’s my job.”

Belfast has had an official poet laureate since 2007, when the position was created during now-Councilor Mike Hurley’s tenure as mayor. He wrote then in petitioning the council to create the post that the only criteria for qualification included being literary-minded, being a city resident and being able to “help us see, make us think, be Belfastian.”

Poets who have officially or unofficially served as poet laureate over the years include the late Bern Porter, Bob Ryan, Elizabeth Garber, Karin Spitfire and Linda Buckmaster.

Last year, Barbaria Maria was the sole person to submit a letter of application for the position, and was appointed laureate by the City Council on Dec. 21.

The controversy of barbed words began when Hurley was quoted in the weekly newspaper The Republican Journal about his dissatisfaction with the process of choosing a poet laureate for the city, calling it a failure and an “honorarium that a small club passes around.”

Maria attended a council meeting in January to tell them that she had felt blindsided by Hurley. She had declined the official post during a New Year’s Eve ceremony at the Colonial Theatre.

At that meeting, several people spoke in her support, with some angrily calling on the council to censure Hurley and another accusing him of going “rogue.”

The councilor apologized, and the poet laureate nomination committee reconvened, this time extending its range to the abutting towns of Waldo, Morrill, Northport, Belmont, Swanville and Searsport.

“Does this mean the poets will leave me alone?” Hurley wondered in a council meeting earlier this year when told of the expanded scope for poets.

Garber, who chaired the committee, said Wednesday that it was valuable to look at how the process works in other cities and states.

“I feel like the process is now more smooth and inclusive,” she said.

Fricke was the only applicant.

“That’s OK. He was just perfect,” Garber said, adding that Maria had been a perfect choice, too.

“We wanted to hear what the applicant’s vision of Belfast was and what they would bring to the poet community. Jacob was a perfect balance.”

Fricke, who recites his poems with theatrical flair and seems to favor the 1920s as a sartorial influence, has been performing poetry in the area for more than a decade. He has appeared on the stage, on sidewalks, on radio, at rock concerts, at schools, summer fairs and more, and his full-length poetry collection “This Book of Poems You Found” was recently published by Belfast’s Illuminated Sea Press. He also has been featured twice at the Belfast Poetry Festival, which this year will be held Oct. 14 and 15.

The new poet laureate will be inaugurated at an evening of poetry and music at 7 p.m. Friday, April 15, at the Gammons Room in the Belfast Free Library. There, he’ll be presented with the golden cloak that was made for Bern Porter, the city’s first unofficial poet laureate, in 1985.

“Jacob is the right poet for this moment,” Joshua Bodwell, executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, said in a press release.

Some of Fricke’s ideas include bringing poetry back to the local newspaper, setting up a poets’ brunch and poetry exchange, reintroducing seasonal poetry slams and establishing miniature edition poetry vending machines stocked with the wares of established, struggling, unknown and youth poets.

“The poetry scene in Belfast has a lot of different elements,” he said. “All of them strong, and all of them enthusiastic.”

Fricke said he did not feel nervous about returning to the scene of what he termed the “political rumpus” of January.

“I think there is a general consensus that what happened was unfortunate. Nobody wanted that,” he said. “But with something that’s up and running, and contributing to the arts scene and literary scene in a positive way, it should be easier to look forward.”

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