George Ella Hoskins Lyon ’71 named Poet Laureate of Kentucky for 2015-16

Posted by Centre News in Creative Writing, English, News 17 Mar 2015

 Gov. Steve Beshear has named George Ella Hoskins Lyon ’71, as Poet Laureate of Kentucky for 2015-16.

A highly respected novelist, children’s writer, environmental activist, and master teacher, Lyon views lyric poetry as the heart of all of her literary work. She has written, “I am first of all a poet; which means my job is to see and sing the connections between things.”

When she entered Centre as a student from Harlan County in the 1960s, she had been writing poetry and songs since the third grade. Bringing with her a thirst for learning and an irresistible wit, she wrote and encouraged others to write, studied abroad in England and France, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in English from Indiana University, where she studied with the late poet Ruth Stone. Like her mentor Stone, Lyon is a font of creative energy as a teacher. Every year she visits dozens of schools to teach writing classes. She has twice served as Writer-in-Residence at Centre (1985, 1995) and has taught classes and workshops on numerous campuses.

To perceive the connections between things is the soul of wit, and wit is a lively pervasive element in all of her writings in prose and poetry. Just as she encourages her students to “hear the poetry in their everyday speech,” Lyon possesses a canny ear for the beauty and comedy of spoken English, including that of her childhood home in the Eastern Kentucky mountains.

In an early volume, Catalpa, Lyon includes several poems depicting the life of her beloved literary model Virginia Woolf, whom she reveres above all for her gift of language. Woolf has, Lyon writes, “a heart leafed with words like a tree,” a heart much like her own.

In another poetry collection, She Let Herself Go, she more fully explores the inner lives of women, praying for herself in middle age in springtime, “Revise me, April/… Give me word-root/ umbilical of ink/to bear me up.”

And her deeply moving recent volume, Many-Storied House, attempts to reconstruct — room by room and poem by poem — the house of her childhood and the stories of the lives and the deaths that once took place within it.

George Ella Lyon will be formally inducted as Poet Laureate in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort on April 24.

by Roberta White, Luellen Professor Emerita of English