Poet laureate Ed Madden, right, with local poet and USC-Lancaster instructor Lisa Hammond at Pawley’s Front Porch as they celebrate Poems on the Menu. (Photos by Audrey Elsberry)
Ed Madden has been Columbia’s poet laureate for the past eight years, and has been nothing if not creative, putting poems on parking tickets, city buses, coffee sleeves, sidewalks and most recently, menus.
As Madden’s tenure comes to a close, the city has opened applications for the selection of a new poet laureate. A committee of local artistic and governmental figures will choose a replacement.
Madden, an English professor at the University of South Carolina who grew up in Arkansas, said the position is important because it captures the voice of the city in poetry.
“The legacy I would want to leave behind is to think about ways in which poetry can be a public art,” Madden said. “The ways that poetry can be inserted into daily life, the ways that it can be part of the life of the city and the ways that it can be part of how people understand themselves as a community.”
Lee Snelgrove, the former executive director of One Columbia, which helps oversee the city’s public art offerings, helped appoint Madden in 2015. Snelgrove is now the arts and culture manager for the Richland Library and also sits on the selection committee.
He said he was most excited about “some different perspectives … from what Ed has brought to the role and seeing some poets kind of take the position in new directions with new energy.”
Because Madden was the city’s first poet laureate, he had the privilege of shaping the role for himself and setting a precedent for what’s expected of his successor.
When it comes to the next person to fill the role “everybody is looking at it from the lens of what Ed Madden has accomplished and how to build on that,” Snelgrove said. “he could really set the tone for how future Poets Laureate in the city do their work.”
The application process is an open call to all Columbia poets over the age of 18. The posting on One Columbia’s website said applicants would be evaluated on “breadth and quality of publications, public speaking ability, writing skills, and commitment to service in the arts and city life.”
Madden sits on the selection committee.
He said there is a job description for the role in the official resolution by the city — but the job goes far beyond what is explicitly required.
“The basic expectations are to write a poem for a public event, to be available to schools and libraries, to promote poetry, to especially do outreach with young writers,” he said. “Whoever’s in the position should make it their own and come up with what your projects are and what your vision is.”
One Columbia will be accepting applications until Nov. 7. The new laureate will take over in January.
Madden said when he was appointed, he had two goals: to make poetry a public art and to create venues for local voices, with an emphasis on young writers.
He liked the idea of bringing poetry into everyday life, making it approachable and not just something you would find in literature.
In 2017, April 1 — both April Fools day and the beginning of National Poetry Month — landed on a Saturday. Madden distributed more than 2,000 fake parking tickets to parked cars, with the knowledge that metered spots are not ticketed on the weekends. Each ticket had a small poem in place of a fine. Projects such as this are what Madden’s tenure as poet laureate is all about. It’s also his favorite laureate project, he said.
There has been “a great response to how Ed has made poetry a public art, something that involves projects that take place in the public realm and public space,” Snelgrove said.
“A poet laureate can bring gravitas or introspection … and having them present at official city events like the state of the city always showcases the role of the arts and how important it is in the city,” Snelgrove said.
Wednesday afternoon, one of Madden’s last projects took place at Pawleys Front Porch restaurant in Five Points. Poems on the Menu is its name, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
A poem by local poet and USC-Lancaster instructor Lisa Hammond about going out to dinner, will for some time be stapled to the top of each Pawleys Front Porch menu so diners can read as they peruse meal options.
Hammond said she was excited to be included in the project.
“I teach poetry, so it’s very exciting when I get to see it just out in the wild,” Hammond said.
Indeed, Madden will be a tough act to follow, Hammond said. She had thought about applying to be his replacement but decided against it.
“Just, you might just say, anybody who’s gonna follow has big shoes to fill,” she said.
Madden is hopeful for those who choose to apply for the position.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing the kinds of people who apply and what vision they have for what they can do,” Madden said.