Maneater Long Reads: A Poetic Life

MU alum Walter Bargen reflects on his experiences as Missouri’s first poet laureate.
Walter Bargen, former Missouri poet laureate and MU alum, discusses his poetry Oct. 28, 2015 in Ellis Library in Columbia, Mo.

Two men shake hands.

They sit down. One mentions T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”; the other recites 30 lines of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

And then former Gov. Matt Blunt asks Walter Bargen, “Can you think of any reason why you should not be appointed poet laureate?”

“I paused for a moment, and I foolishly said, looking for something really small, ‘You know, I used the word breasts once in a poem,’” Bargen said. “And mentally I’m going, ‘I just used the word ‘breasts’ in the governor’s office.’ Now I’m scrambling. I’m really desperate and trying to think of something else to say to cover that up and I blurt out, ‘Well you know, I grew up in the ’60s.’”

On Feb. 13, 2008, Bargen was named the first poet laureate of Missouri.

During his two-year term, Bargen made it his goal to promote all types of literature throughout the state. As the first to hold the position in Missouri, the MU graduate had to create the position as he went along, setting the stage for poet laureates after him.

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