Missouri names first poet laureate

Walter Bargen is the first poet laureate of Missouri.

Gov. Matt Blunt on Tuesday appointed Bargen to the newly created post. The author, 59, lives in Ashland and has more than 10 books to his credit. He also has won numerous awards for his work.

Members of Missouri’s literary community had high praise for Blunt’s selection.

“I’m delighted with it,” said Robert Stewart, editor of New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Walter is a hard-working poet and he’s a real poet — there’s no sentimentality in his writing. It’s edgy and yet it’s grounded in real life. I think he’ll represent us well.”

Stewart also said Bargen is as good on the stage as he is on the page — an important factor, given that one of the missions of a poet laureate is to bring verse to the people.

“The thing that strikes me about his public performances is the intensity and the passion with which he delivers poems,” Stewart said. “I think that’s something people are going to respect and enjoy.”

Gloria Vando, who founded Helicon Nine Editions and co-founded the Writers Place, cited Bargen’s generosity toward other writers and his involvement in the literary community.

“He is very supportive of other poets. He comes to readings, he invites people to things he’s doing. He’s a real participant in the literary community, unlike some poets who really don’t participate in other people’s success.”

Bargen will serve a two-year term, according to an announcement of the appointment on Blunt’s Web site,

“As Missouri Poet Laureate Mr. Bargen will help continue Missouri’s rich cultural heritage of men and women in the arts,” Blunt said in the announcement. “(His) extensive creative writing experience is impressive ”

Indeed. Bargen’s work has appeared in dozens of major literary journals, including New Letters, Missouri Review and River Styx. His awards include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. In 2005, the Writers Place and The Kansas City Star named The Feast as the winner of the William Rockhill Nelson Award for best poetry book of the year by a Missouri or Kansas writer.

The poet laureate’s duties will include making appearances at libraries and schools in the state and writing an original poem in honor of Missouri.