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Constance Alexander: No application required for one of the best jobs in Kentucky


Jeff Worley’s job history is as checkered as the shirt he wears in the ID he carried when he was a taxicab driver in Wichita. Since those days in the 1970s, he has worked as an offset pressman, folk singer, research magazine editor, and university professor. Now retired from University of Kentucky, a new career opportunity recently came his way, via a phone call from the Kentucky Arts Council.

“You’ve been nominated as Kentucky’s next Poet Laureate. Would you accept?” the voice asked.

Worley barely paused before saying yes. “It was the easiest question I ever got,” he admitted.

As he makes plans for his two-year appointment, Worley says he will do a lot of what has already been done by past Poets Laureate. “I’ll go to high schools, book clubs, writing groups, civic groups,” he explains. “My goal is to say yes to every opportunity.”

To prepare, he is gathering information and advice from others who formerly served. “I’ve already talked with five of them,” he said. “I asked about their experiences, what’s worked, whether there were any surprises. It’s an education just doing that.”

George Ella Lyon, 2015-16 Poet Laureate, recalled that the most memorable and surprising question she was asked came from a third-grader: “When you get this job, does it come with an outfit?” the little girl wanted to know.

As Worley reflects on this question, he supposes his poetry costume might include a sombrero.

The sense of humor that is evident in some of his poems is an aspect of Worley’s writing that audiences are bound to enjoy, with or without sombrero.

“I want to de-mystify what poetry is. Poets aren’t trying to hide anything,” he added.” We want to be accessible, memorable.”

In Worley’s opinion — despite the sometimes arbitrary attitudes about poetry perpetuated by over-zealous English teachers — poets want to reveal rather than conceal. “We’re discovering things we didn’t know we knew,” is the way he describes his creative process.

His poem, “So you want to be a teaching assistant in English,” is a rueful reminiscence of teaching in winter in Wichita, his home town.

The radiator “will be a cold slab of ribs.” Worse than that, the class meets at 7:30 a.m.

“You follow the bouncing full moon

of your flashlight, like the dim beam

from a miner’s helmet…”

Not only that, but the 28 students hate the teacher, “because it’s your fault the afternoon classes/ were full. They hate you because it’s Wichita/ and their hair is frozen to their heads.”

Worley’s appointment becomes official on Kentucky Writers Day, at 10 a.m., April 24, at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort. At 2 pm, a reading by six Poets Laureate is scheduled at the Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort. Jeff Worley will read, along with Richard Taylor, Joe Survant, Frank X Walker, George Ella Lyon, and Frederick Smock.

On April 23 at 6:30 p.m, Jeff Worley’s poems will be read at Calloway County’s celebration of National Poetry Month at the public library. Participants are invited to read the work of a Kentucky writer, or their own poetry. The public is invited and the event is free with a reception afterwards.

For more information, contact Mrs. Sandy Linn at sandy.linn@callowaycountylibrary.org. The phone number is 270-753-2288. The library is at 711 Main Street in Murray.

Additional information about Jeff Worley is available at this website.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.


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