Dr. Sue Walker has been named poet laureate of Alabama for a second consecutive four-year term.
Walker, who is Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and director of the Stokes Center for Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama, was elected by the Alabama Writers’ Conclave in recognition of her international reputation as a poet and sworn in by Gov. Bob Riley.
Responsibilities as poet laureate are challenging, pleasing and unpredictable, said Walker. Her first assignment was to write a poem about Alabama for a third-grade science textbook. Though poets traditionally select their style to enhance their subject, in this case, even the number of lines was prescribed in advance. “I was quite pleased to be able to come up with a poem about the Space Center and coal mining and Indians and all,” she said.
The major responsibility of her first term, however, she set for herself. “I thought the poet laureate should leave something behind, something of the heart and the head,” she said. She collected a book of poetry by Alabama authors and authors who considered Alabama in their work. Whatever Remembers Us was published a year ago and she will receive honors for the volume from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association this fall.
Surprised by the variety of work appropriate to her collection, she noted, “It’s not all beautiful. Some things — particularly racial issues — are not beautiful. But our past teaches us how to live in the present.”
“Dr. Walker is an accomplished teacher, writer and scholar who is a wonderful asset to the University of South Alabama,” said Dr. G. David Johnson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “As poet laureate for Alabama for the last four years, Dr. Walker has traveled the state several times over to read from her own work and promote the value of poetry and literature. She obviously loves what she does, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She is a great ambassador for USA, and we are very proud that she has been re-appointed to this distinguished post.”
Walker began dabbling with poetry as early as the first grade. “I love the sound of words and the sound of rhymes,” she said. “Life and breath and sound are all qualities of poetry.”
She shares that passion for poetry far and wide. Foremost, she teaches poetry at USA. She also works with area high school students through the Poets Out Loud National program. Beginning this fall, her USA students will be able to participate in a service learning project by working with high school students as they prepare for local, state, and a national competition through Poets Out Loud.
She moves beyond the campus with a blog at negativecapabilitypress.org. On the blog, poets share their poems as well as their reactions to the work of others and their collegial suggestions for other poets. It’s a place to learn, to grow, to heal.
“There are things in our lives we feel we have no control over,” Walker said. “Being able to write about those things gives us some kind of control. You can control those words.”