Michael Harper (1989-1994)
C.D. Wright (1994-1999)
Thomas Chandler (1999-2006)
Lisa Starr (2007-2012)
Providence, RI, January 9, 2012 -
Governor Lincoln D. Chafee today appointed Rick Benjamin, Ph.D., of Warwick as State Poet of Rhode Island. Dr. Benjamin replaces outgoing State Poet Lisa Starr of Block Island, whose five-year term has expired.
"Dr. Rick Benjamin is an accomplished and committed poet and educator who has taken his love for and belief in the power of poetry far beyond the classroom and out into our Rhode Island communities," Governor Chafee said. "One of the many letters of recommendation sent on Dr. Benjamin's behalf stated, 'Rick Benjamin knows that poetry can change people - that the writing and reading of poems can change how we live within and give back to our communities.' Another wrote, 'Based on his extensive community involvement with poetry, I think he has already distinguished himself as an "unofficial" State Poet.' With this in mind, it is my pleasure to make the unofficial official and appoint Rick Benjamin the State Poet of Rhode Island."
"I also want to thank the tremendously talented Lisa Starr for her service to our state," Governor Chafee continued. "She was an excellent State Poet, and I am personally grateful for the wonderful poem she read at my inauguration as Governor. I know that Lisa will be glad not to have to travel from Block Island to the mainland quite as frequently, but on behalf of the people of our state I am grateful for her commitment over the past five years."
Benjamin is currently a lecturer in Public Humanities & Environmental Studies at Brown University, where he has also taught in Literary Arts and the departments of English and Education. Benjamin lectures at the Rhode Island School of Design, and is on the faculty of the MFA Program in Interdisciplinary Arts at Vermont's Goddard College. He is the author of the collections Passing Love: Poems (2010) and the forthcoming Floating World: Poems, both from San Francisco's Wolf Ridge Press. He also edited Love, Loss, Life: The Epoch Poets (2011) and Words from Mothers: Poems from Project Hold (2009). His poems have also appeared in Ars Poetica (Logolalia), Berkeley Poetry Review, Blackletter, Chalkboard, Creature Comforts, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review, Urthona: The Buddhist Journal of the Arts, Watershed, Poem, Home: An Anthology, and Haiku Year. His essays have appeared most recently in American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan University Press), Watershed, and La Petite Zine.
Benjamin also has been extensively involved with non-profits and community organizations, having served as statewide director of Rhode Island River of Words, associate director of Project 540, the National High School Civic Engagement Initiative, leading workshops at the West End Community Center and at Epoch, an assisted living center in Providence, and serving as an arts mentoring fellow with New Urban Arts.
"I am honored and humbled to be named Poet Laureate of Rhode Island," Benjamin said. "My deepest wish during my tenure will be to saturate this small state with poetry - in schools, community and assisted living centers, in places where poetry already has a presence and in some other ones where it is desperately needed. I am delighted to accept this position."
The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts assisted Governor Chafee in the process of choosing the new State Poet, and provides assistance to the State Poet during his or her term. State Arts Council Executive Director Randall Rosenbaum thanked Governor Chafee for his support of this important position. "Poetry, among other things, helps us grapple with the highs and lows of life in a complex society," said Rosenbaum. "I'm delighted that our state has someone who can help Rhode Islanders of all ages find new and creative ways of expression, and through the art of poetry help us celebrate and memorialize what life offers to us all in the Ocean State."
The position of Rhode Island State Poet was established by law in 1989, and is traditionally held by an artist who represents the highest achievement in poetry in our state. While no specific duties are mentioned in the legislation, the State Poet serves as the principal advocate for poetry in Rhode Island. Rick Benjamin will be the fifth Rhode Island State Poet. Previous state poets are Michael Harper (1989-1994) and C.D. Wright (1994-1999), Thomas Chandler (1999-2006) and Lisa Starr (2007-2012).