Tuesday, June 05, 2007

No Poet Laureate For Nassau County

Legislative Committee Votes Down Nominee For Honorary Post; Schmitt, Yatauro Substitute Lunacy For Literary Acclaim

Even in what should be apolitical -- the appointment of a Poet Laureate (an unpaid honorarium which essentially promotes the art) -- the Nassau County Legislature rebuffed the nomination of Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr., a poet of worldwide repute residing in Freeport, as Nassau County's first Poet Laureate.

There was something in Wheat's poems that the Legislature's Minority Leader, Peter Schmitt -- who, we suppose, spends much of his time in literary pursuits, reading novellas and waxing poetic -- found offensive to our troops.

Gee. We didn't realize that Peter Schmitt could even read. The other dumkopfs on the Committee who voted against Wheat's honorary appointment (including its Chair, Diane Yatauro, who, according to Newsday, felt "uncomfortable" with someone who wrote about an elected official), must have read the poems to him.

We took a look at Wheat's poems at issue -- which condemn war, not those who bear its burdens on the front lines -- and could find nothing offensive, demeaning, or, as Heir Schmitt puts it, that which "condemn(s) the troops fighting for America in Afghanistan and Iraq. . ."

In the online "Comments" section to the Newsday article on this story (as republished below) was the following, expressing, we hope, the sentiment of the literate, the reasoned, the free-thinking, and the right-minded:

During today’s meeting legislators will get much ink for impassioned emotional behavior -- the kind of behavior some may consider grossly impolite. Screaming at a would-be Poet Laureate and then being asked by the chairwoman to stop interrupting the poet is a most strange way to treat an invited guest.

This time it was poetry and perhaps another chance to grandstand that ignited some of the legislators. Isn’t that part of what "good" poetry does? It is a field of communications. It brings on a reaction and allows us to look again at the world. In other words it challenges the closed minded.

Max Cordon Wheat Jr., acted with impassioned grace even as one of his many books of poetry became a hot topic of the legislation meeting. Anyone who has served knows, "War is hell". The political poetry he wrote is lesser known than his many volums about nature. The poem in question was based on headlines ripped from the newspapers. Those who spoke on behalf of Mr. Wheat noted him as gentle-person, a nature and history lover, who encourages all to appreciate what we experience and then write about it. He has given 40+ years to education. He wanted as Poet Laureate to further the concept of elevating Nassau County as an open classroom for poetry and encourages the youth to write guided by their teachers.

Maybe Mr. Wheat was not conferred because poetry can be electrifying as the water leaking from the legislative roof too near the lights hanging above of the room on the fifth floor.

Wayne Wink stated, "Poetry is about art, feeling, literature and expression…This is not a popularity contest."

Perhaps, as Mr. Wink continued, the (other) legislators wanted a "jingle writing competition".

And this:

The poet laureate honor is awarded for great achievements, not bowing to the political right. Max Wheat has worked hard to promote poetry in this county. His warm manner has encouraged people of all ages to write and express themselves. His kindness is theraputic for many.

Like the majority of Americans, he hurts when American serviceman are killed or maimed. Unlike some of our legislators, Max Wheat is a true patriot who believes in our freedoms!

And so, Legislator Peter Schmitt and his ill-conceived ilk of "follow me into the abyss" legislators have managed to derail the nomination of Nassau County's first Poet Laureate, not unlike the way they derail much that would serve the public good.

They must be very proud of themselves.

On Monday, the ideology of ignorance, arrogance, and a rush to judgment that flies in the face of literacy, legitimacy, and the art form itself -- not to mention the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States -- won the day at the Nassau County Legislature.

We may not have a Poet Laureate in Nassau County, but if ever anyone warranted the nomination and appointment by acclamation as County Idiot, it would have to be Heir Peter Schmitt!

It would be, indeed, poetic justice if residents in his legislative district would vote this brain dead bozo out of office come November. As for Diane Yatauro, she is living proof that neither ignorance nor sheer stupidity is confined to one side of the political aisle.

Unless we, the good people of Nassau County, come to our senses -- whether on the appointment of Poet Laureates or how we repair potholes -- we will be left with but listless limerick, and far too little in the way of poetry.
- - -
No vote for Nassau poet laureate candidate
By Sid Cassese and Reid J. Epstein

A Nassau legislative committee Monday voted down a proposal to name the county's first poet laureate, saying some of the nominee's writings were offensive to service members fighting overseas.

Before the 6-1 vote against the nomination of Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr., Minority Leader Peter Schmitt said the Freeport poet's writings "condemn the troops fighting for America in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that's absolutely tragic... I don't care what his politics are, but you don't condemn the men and women who answer this nation's call and put on the uniform," Schmitt said.

Only Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) voted for Wheat.

"I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone in their right mind putting themselves through this again to be the poet laureate of Nassau County," Wink said. It was unclear Monday whether another nominee for the unpaid position will be put forward.

Wheat, 80, an award-winning member of the Long Island poetry community for about 40 years, was selected by a six-person committee. The poet laureate would serve for two years and would be charged with promoting and ecouraging poetry within the county and with giving two public readings each year.Wheat, whose work as a freelance writer has appeared in Newsday, is best known for his writing about nature.

The controversy surrounding his possible appointment stemmed primarily from his 2004 book of poems, "Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace."

Defending his nomination before the committee, Wheat, who said he served in the Marines, read from the book:

"At dusk of evening/at checkpoint in southern Baghdad/American soldiers remember suicide bombers/killing four soldiers at another checkpoint./They aim at vehicles approaching on Highway1,/running up slipway toward overpass.

"The 22-year-old Corporal from Chicago,/Gunner aboard tank bearing barrel legend 'Bush & Co,'/ fires cannon shells/sees two men in silver gray Toyota Camry die/ 'in an explosion of blood and steel.'"

Later in the committee meeting, Wheat said: "Don't let concerns for the meaning of the poems stop you from enjoying the poems."

But Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), who chaired the seven-member Government Services Committee, said that "Once I saw that he had picked an elected official -- the president -- to write about, it made me uncomfortable."

George Wallace, Suffolk County's first poet laureate, who served in 2003 and 2004, said that, "for a political body to have a position of poet laureate, they must consider what their purposes are -- whether it's to have somebody who agrees with their politics or to have a person in the poetry scene and willing to promote it.

"... And you'll have to ask that person, can they put their politics or religion or social point of view aside to play the public role," Wallace said.

Wheat said he was saddened by the vote. "I was looking forward to it very much. I wanted to make Nassau County accessible to poetry enthusiasts."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
- - -
American Mourning Poem
by Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

American Service Men and Women Dead -
1355"Coming Home"

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
--George W. Bush, President of the United States
State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003

In catacombs of military transports
destined for Dover Air Force Base,
loves, beliefs, ideals, plans:
Hancock Community College,
University of Miami,
New York Police Academy,
weddings, children,
barbeques, baseball, bass fishing-
All lidded down inside caskets
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

25-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
St. George, Maine.
Sailor, rock climber, stargazer.
On dance floor, ". . . like a magnet."
Loves lobsters, mussels-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

30-year-old Army Private First Class Tuba City, Arizona.
". . . young, a single mother and capable."
Her boy, 4 - her girl, 3.
Woman proud of her Hopi heritage-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

20-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
La Harpe, Illinois.
High school football, basketball player,
lifeguard at health club pool,
lifts weights,
going to be a physical trainer.
Joins Marine Corps Reserve
to pay for studies at Southern Illinois University-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

21-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
Gallatin, Tennessee.
Nurses dying mother with his humor,
dresses in clown costume for nieces' birthdays.
History buff, reads fat books about generals,
presidents, the Revolutionary War-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

24-year-old Coast Guard Petty Officer
Northport, New York.
Wife, three months pregnant.
Wants to be a policeman like his father."
. . . the kind of person that you fall in love with
the minute that you meet him," a friend says-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

A father, a mother grieve for their only son, an Army Specialist.
"He wanted to be an engineer," the father remembers.
"He wanted to set up his own business when he got out.
And I say, 'Amigo, I'm waiting for you to get out
so we can put up our own business.'
And all that, well, you know, is history."

The Major General carefully, caringly folds The American Flag,
places the nation's ensign into the mother's hands

Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr. ©

This poem appears as "Coming Home" in the paperback, "Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace," (Cow Meadow Promotions, 2004), by Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr., of Freeport, New York. Maxwell623@aol.com


  1. June 4th SHOULD have been a day to celebrate. Instead it was a day to be ashamed of....

    Our LEGISLATIVE branch dropped the ball.
    Rather than announce the appointment of Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr. as NASSAU COUNTY'S First Poet Laureate, they choose to take their petty personal opinions to the podium.

    How embarrassing for the rest of us. How disappointed we are with the Legislative leadership.

    Poetry and Art are supposed to emote.

    If something makes you uncomfortable.
    There is a reason. If it makes you think, that can only be good.

    We need to think. Discomfort in a situation can cause you to change it.

    This situation is not over.

    It's bad enough that the part of our community that expresses themselves through the arts IS NOT supported in this COUNTY......but, to show how small and narrow minded the leadership is.....

    Well...that is truly sad. Not much on an example of FREEDOM from oppression from our culture our art, our emotional expressiveness.......

    Yesterday should have been a day for ALL of our community to celebrate......

    Instead, it was a day to be ashamed of the leadership and the direction that our fair County is headed into.......

  2. I can't agree more with this article. To judge a poet's whole body of work by a political litmus test of text taken out of context, not only has a chilling effect on public expression but is babbity to say the least. I think it would appropriate to dress up in a sheep suit and come to the Legislature to bleat since that seems to be the only kind of expression they want the baaing of stray sheep following their leader. I thought we were Americans, the people who dumped tea in the harbour to protest arbitray authority. I urge everyone who is offended by the treatment of Mr. Wheat to call the offices of Katoura, Dennenberg,Skinell, Gonzalez,Dunne, and Becker at 516-571-3000.
    This is the dumbing down of our cultural environment and we must show our legislators that they should trust the public to decide what they like and don't like, and not think for them in this move of pre-censorship of artistic expression.

  3. This year it's time to Dump Schmitt...

  4. There's a solution for that problem here.

    Power to the poets!

  5. Nassau County's First Poet Laureate

    A Laureate to Remember - by D.A. Kasimakis

    The day was set.
    The time was right.
    We had the seat within our sight.

    We thought we knew all would agree,
    Nassau would take it’s place in HISTORY.

    Instead they baulked, they turned and ran.
    They should have held the public’s stand.

    To buckle under at the end,
    they proved to be
    NO poet’s friend.

    Who cares what all the cronies think?
    We’ll smite them, public opinion will sink.

    POET LAUREATE is the name we’ll claim
    for Maxwell Corydon Wheat’s fame.

  6. Today is June 24th. I just got back from Cedarmere....

    Ah, well....there were so many Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr supporters at Cedarmere, today is was encouraging.....

    Maybe there is still hope for our fair County...

    There is poetry in every thing we do, in our daily lives...the enormous amount of attention to this issue has brought Poetry out of our minds and into the mainstream of conversation. What better way to PROVE.....Maxwell is Poet Laureate of the people.