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Kentucky's Poet Laureates

Featured below are Kentucky's Poet Laureates and some of their poetical works available for check out from the Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives. To reserve books from this list, librarians may contact Interlibrary Loan at (502) 564-8300, ext. 327. Members of the general public may request materials by contacting their public library, or check materials out on-site with a KDLA library card.

Joy Bale Boone Jim Wayne Miller Henry Pilkenton
Lillie D. Chaffin Senator Tom Mobley Paul Salyers
Soc Clay J.T.C. Noe James Still
Dale Faughn Agnes O'Rear Jesse Stuart
James Baker Hall James H. Patton, Jr. Joel Survant
Edward G. Hill Lee Pennington Richard Taylor
Edwin C. Litsey Mrs. Eugene Phillips Lowell Allen Williams

To read more about Kentucky's poet laureates, visit the Kentucky Vertical Files, located in the State Library. To explore other works by the Poet Laureates, use Author Browse option in the KDLA Online Catalog.

1926 James Thomas Cotton Noe (b. 1864 - d. 1953)

Born in Washington County, Kentucky, Noe was a professor emeritus and former head of the education department at the University of Kentucky. Although Noe was mostly known as a literary researcher, his poetry became popular while teaching English at the university. By a joint resolution of the General Assembly, Noe became Kentucky's poet laureate in 1926. "Through the poetry of Cotton Noe," in a review by the Lexington Herald Leader, "there runs a profound and refreshing philosophy of human kindness, recognition of the romantic in the commonplace, generous interpretation of the lives of lowly people, devotion to the simple and fundamental virtues and belief in the grandeur and worth of the human spirit."
  • Oolooloon, Called Fleeting Doe: A Romance of Pioneer Kentucky. Lexington: Kentucky Kernel Press, 1938. Call number: K811.5 Noe

  • Tip Sams Again: A Selection of Poems. Lexington: Kentucky Kernel Press, 1947. Call number: K811.5 Noe


1928 Edward G. Hill (b. 1883 - d. )

Born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Hill came to Kentucky with his parents in 1899. Educated at the University of Louisville, Hill was a noted lawyer, orator and political campaigner throughout the Commonwealth. Known mostly for his poetic contributions to magazines and general press, Hill also published on volume of poems, The House of Aegeus and Other Verse. Hill was designated by a joint resolution by the state legislature as poet laureate in 1928.


1942 Mrs. Eugene Phillips (Louise Scott Phillips)


1954 Edwin Carlisle Litsey (b. 1874 - d. 1970 )

Born in Marion County, Kentucky, Litsey was mostly known in the area as the assistant cashier of the Marion National Bank in Lebanon, Kentucky. During World War I, he took an active part as a banker in the handling of the Liberty loans. It was during this time that Litsey's literary career began to flourish as a short story writer and poet. Litsey's works appeared in local magazines and won several local literary awards. Edgar Lee Masters once said of Litsey, "[I am] agreeably surprised at the excellence of these poems." Litsey's poems, which were collected into the volume, The Filled Cup, were published to high critical acclaim in 1935.

  • The Filled Cup: A Book of Poems for Sarah. Louisville: Standard Printing Company, 1935. Call number: K811.5 Lits

  • Spindrift: Verses and Poems. Louisville: John P. Morton & Co., 1915. Call number: K811.5 Lits


1954 Jesse Hilton Stuart (b. 1907 - d. 1984)

"First, last, always, I am a schoolteacher. I love the firing line of the classroom." Born in a three-room log cabin not far from Greenup, Kentucky, Stuart published more than 40 books, 400 short stories and thousands of articles and poems about Kentucky while he taught writing at various Kentucky schools. His status as one of Kentucky's leading authors began in 1934 with his publication of Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, a collection of poems about his boyhood in the hills. In 1954, Stuart was designated one of "the" poet laureates of Kentucky. In 1975 he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in poetry with one of his last works, "The World of Jesse Stuart." Harriette Simpson Arnow, a Kentucky-born writer, once said of Stuart's work, "He saw the people in the hills as human beings, not queer things very different from himself, so that his characters almost always seemed real...."

  • Kentucky Is My Land: Poems. New York: Dutton, 1952. Call number: K811.5 Stua

  • The Only Place We Live. (with August Derleth and Robert E. Gard) Madison, WI: Wisconsin House, c1976. Call number: 811.5208 Der

  • The World of Jesse Stuart: Selected Poems. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975. Call number: K811.52 Stua


1956 Lowell Allen Williams (b. 1907 - d.1995)

Born in Macon County, Missouri, Williams became a Kentuckian by unusual circumstances. While a lifeguard at Edgewater Beach of Reelfoot Lake, on the Tennessee side, Williams saved the owner of the lake, P.C. Ford. Ford developed an interest in Williams, and found him work in Carlisle County, Kentucky as a whiskey salesman. Before becoming designated Poet Laureate by the state legislature in 1956, Williams was also employed as an atomic engineer, oil rigger, locomotive fireman, guitarist, appliance saleman, tree surgeon, and public speaker. Williams wrote thousands of poems, as well as radio skits and songs, about his life experiences; most of these were published in local Kentucky newspapers. In a 1956 article, Louisville Courier Journal writer Allan M Trout said of Williams' appointment as Poet Laureate, "he [Williams] feels it is now his mandate to write a little harder, to work for civic betterment a little harder, to try a little harder by personal example to instill in others an appreciation for wholesome reading."

  • Across the Wide, Green Valley: Poems of America. Dallas: Triangle Publishing, 1961, c1960. Call number: K811.5 Will


1974 Lillie D. Chaffin (b. 1925 - d. 1993)

A native of Pike County, Kentucky, Chaffin was a schoolteacher and prize-winning writer and poet. She was designated one of KET's "Distinguished Kentuckians" in 1972. Chaffin's poetry was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She also received the International Poetry and Child Study Association Awards. In 1974, she was designated by the state legislature as an Associate Poet Laureate of Kentucky.

  • 8th Day, 13th Moon. Pikeville: Pikeville College Press, 1974. Call number: 811.54 Chaf

  • Lines and Points. Pikeville: Pikeville College Press, c1966. Call number: K811.54 Chaf


1976 Senator Tom Mobley (b. 1916 - d. 1996)

Mobley, a native of Elizabethtown and graduate of the Bowling Green Business University, is most noted for his political activism in the Louisville area. Mobley, a Democrat who was chairman of the Senate's highway and traffic-safety committee, was elected to two four-year terms in 1972 and 1976. During his term of office, Mobley obtained the financing for the Gene Snyder Freeway, a major thoroughfare crossing central and southern Jefferson County. Mobley also worked to obtain more local funding for school programs, especially literary programs. His poetic works include the Senate's "Poems for Posterity."


1978 Agnes O'Rear (b. 1896 - d. 1990)

A Southern mother of three, O'Rear started writing poetry in her early 20's to entertain her children about the simple everyday details of life in a Woodford County household. Influenced by the work of Emily Dickinson, O'Rear's works are based on the rhymes, rhythms and spontaneity of everyday speech. Some of O'Rear's poetry receiving high critical acclaim can be traced back to words uttered during bridge games, conversations with her family, or the rhythm of an everyday greeting. During her lifetime, O'Rear sold only one of her poems to a publication. In 1978 by the state legislature, O'Rear was designated an Associate Kentucky Poet Laureate.

  • From Where I Sit: A Book of Poems. c1975. Call number: K811.54 O'Re

  • A Poem to "Kentucky." (Composed for Kentucky's Sesquicentennial). 1942. Call number: K811.54 O'Re

  • With Love: A Book of Poems. 1977?. Call number: 811.54 O'Re


1984 Clarence Henry "Soc" Clay (b. 1937)

Clay, of South Shore, Kentucky is known as not only a writer but as a photographer of Kentucky outdoor subjects. His works have appeared in more than 100 titles, including newspapers, periodicals, books and magazines, such as Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Bassmaster, Southern Outdoors, Fishing World, Fishing Facts, In-Fisherman and Kentucky Afield. Clay's works garnered more than 100 national, regional, state and local awards. Clay insisted he does not write poetry but "perhaps writes poetically." He was named Kentucky Poet Laureate by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1983.


1984 Lee Pennington (b. 1939 - d.)

A native of White Oak in Greenup County, Pennington is known for his poetic images of Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. Pennington's interest in writing began in his teens, while he was attending McKell High School when Jesse Stuart was principal. Pennington's work is often compared to the easy lyrical style of Stuart. Like Stuart, Pennington is a also renowned storyteller, named Chairman of the Board of a national order of storytellers. In 1977, his book of poetry, I Knew a Woman, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. A writing instructor at Jefferson Community College, Pennington has had more than 1,300 poems published. During the early 1980's, his students lobbied the legislature to have Pennington named Poet Laureate; he was so designated in 1984.

  • Thigmotropism. Louisville: Green River Writers/Grex Press, c1993. Call number: K811.54 Penn


1984 Paul Salyers (b. 1940)

Born in Wolf County, Kentucky, Salyers is a newspaper columnist and schoolteacher of homebound children. Salyers literary work includes 14 volumes of poetry. He described his work as having "appeal to people who don't read much." Once President of the Kentucky Poetry Society, Salyers designation as Poet Laureate met with much controversy in the literary community. His appointment would fill the position of Eastern Kentucky's Poet Laureate, held by Jesse Stuart, who died earlier that year. Contenders for the honor at the time included James Still, Wendell Berry, and Robert Penn Warren.
Six years after Salyers was designated Poet Laureate, the process of selecting nominees for the honor was changed; the Kentucky Arts Council, rather than the General Assembly, would handle nominations, based on poet guidelines established by the National Endowment for the Arts. The winner would be selected by the governor. Instead of lifelong status, the term was also limited to two years.

  • Voice of the Hills. New York: Vantage Press, 1971. Call number: K811.54 Saly


1986 Dale Faughn (b. 1925 - d.)

Faughn, a teacher in the Caldwell County school system for 45 years, has directed science fairs, literary fairs, and world culture days, and was instrumental in organizing the Western Kentucky Academic Association. He recently established a $15,000 trust fund to award scholarships to graduating seniors who plan to become teachers.

Faughn literary career started when he began using his original poetry as a teaching aid. With seven volumes already published, his eighth focuses exclusively on teaching. "I believe he instructed me more in his biology class about public speaking, proper English, discipline, being clear and exact in actions and thoughts, and creative freedom than just simply teaching me about cell microanatomy and function." Aaron Carner, former student.


1986 Jim Wayne Miller (b. 1936 - d. 1996)

Born in Leicester, North Carolina, Miller was one of six children in a community rich with literary influences, with residents such as Carl Sandburg and Thomas Wolfe. After receiving a doctorate in German and English literature from Vanderbilt University, Miller began teaching German studies at Western Kentucky University. While teaching, Miller's first of eight volumes of poetry, Copperhead Cane, was published. His first work of fiction, Newfound, received several awards, including being named "Book of the Year" by the American Library Association. He was also one of Kentucky's leading Appalachian scholars, being a consultant for several schools, as well as a public speaker on Appalachian subjects and folklore. His two volumes, Appalachia Inside Out, (co-edited with R. Higgs and A. Manning) are considered to be the most comprehensive anthology ever assembled about Appalachia. Miller was named Kentucky Poet Laureate in 1986.

  • The Brier Poems. Frankfort: Gnomon Press, 1997. Call number: K811.54 Mill

  • Copperhead Cane: Poems. Nashville: Robert Moore Allen, c1964. Call number: K811.54 Mill

  • Dialogue with a Dead Man. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1974. Call number: K811.54 Mill

  • The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same. Frankfort: Whippoorwill Press, 1971. Call number: K811.54 Mill

  • The Mountains Have Come Closer. Boone, NC: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1980. Call number: K811.54 Mill

  • Vein of Words. Big Timber, MT: Seven Buffaloes Press, 198-?. Call number: K811.54 Mill


1986 Henry E. Pilkenton (b. 1895 - d. 1992)


1990 James H. Patton, Jr.


1995 James Still (b. 1906 - d. 2001)

One of ten children, Still was born in Chambers County, Alabama. At the age of eight, he wrote his first short story, "The Golden Nugget." By high school, he had completed his first novel. His residence in Kentucky began when he accepted a librarian position at the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County during the Great Depression. While a librarian, Still wrote poems and stories about the people, events and images of Eastern Kentucky, and submitted these works to national magazines. In 1937, his first book, a collection of poems, Hounds on the Mountain, was published. Shortly afterward, Still resigned his position and became a contract writer for Viking Press. Still, often misperceived as a "hermit writer," has made no attempt at promoting himself or his writings, declining awards not on the basis of being anti-social, but because "[I] lacked bus fare and suitable clothing for the occasions." It was not until 1976 with his collection of short stories, Pattern of Man, that Still began to receive wide critical accaim. Many of Still's works, comprising of poems, short stories and children's books, are now class reading requirements in Appalachian and Southern literature courses. In 1995, Still was the first Kentucky Poet Laureate appoint by a Kentucky Governor, Gov. Brereton C. Jones.

  • From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c2001. Call number: K811.52 Stil

  • Hounds on the Mountain. Lexington: Anvil Press, 1965, c1937. Call number: K811.5 Stil

  • The Wolfpen Poems. (with an introduction by Jim Wayne Miller) Berea: Berea College Press, 1986. Call number: K811.52 Stil


1997 Joy Bale Boone (b. 1912 - d. )

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Boone moved to Elizabethtown, Kentucky after her marriage. Boone began her literary career as a reviewer for the Louisville Courier Journal in 1945. One of her chief literary interests was poetry; Boone was "appalled at how little contemporary poetry there was to read" in Kentucky, and began to edit two anthologies of contemporary Kentucky poets (1964, 1967). She also founded the literary magazine, Approaches (which is now called the Kentucky Poetry Review) in 1964. Her own poetic works number approximately 800, spanning 60 years. Boone's poem, "The Storm's Eye: A Narrative in Verse Celebrating Cassius Marcellus Clay, Man of Freedom 1810-1903" is her best known work. Boone was appointed Kentucky Poet Laureate in 1997 by Governor Paul Patton.

  • Never Less Than Love. Louisville: Kentucky Poetry Press, 1973?. Call number: 811.54 Boon

  • The Storm's Eye: A Narrative in Verse Celebrating Cassius Marcellus Clay, Man of Freedom, 1810-1903. Louisville: Kentucky Poetry Press, 1974. Catalog Number K811.54 Boon


1999 Richard Taylor (b. 1942)

A native of Louisville, Taylor's interest in literature began in high school when a friend recommended he read works by contemporary poets Dylan Thomas and E. E. Cummings. Taylor's literary career, though, did not flourish until he attended the University of Kentucky and began writing for the campus publication, Stylus. Says Taylor of Kentucky, "The history and landscape of Kentucky make it an especially fertile place for writers... Any place you go in the Bluegrass, you can bore down to sedimentary rock.. It gives you a sense of your smallness in the face of the geological time under us." Taylor's published works include three volumes of poetry, one novel, and several non-fiction works about the Bluegrass region. Currently a professor at Frankfort's Kentucky State University, Taylor is also known for his support of arts in the public schools. As one of Kentucky's Poets-in-the-Schools, and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, he has advocated for additional funding and expansion of arts programs throughout the state.

  • Bluegrass. Monterey: Larkspur Press, 1975. Call number: K811 Tayl

  • Earth Bones. Frankfort: Gnomon Press, c1979. Call number: 811.54 Tayl

  • Stone Eye. Monterey: Larkspur Press, 2001.


2001 James Baker Hall (b. 1935)

Hall, a Lexington native, is known not only as an author, but also as a prize-winning photographer and longtime University of Kentucky professor of English. An advocate of artists in the schools, Hall is an avid advocate for Kentucky literary programs. He is a supporter of Kentucky writers, on both regional and national levels. Hall's works include five volumes of poetry, two novels and text for two photography books; he also has four collections of photography.

  • Getting It on Up to the Brag. Monterey: Larkspur Press, 1975. Call number: K811 Hall


2003 Joe Survant (b. 1942)

Survant (M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Delaware) has been a professor of English at Western Kentucky University since 1970, and director of the Writing Program there since 1994. In addition to his teaching career, his literary works have been critically acclaimed. His book-length, narrative poem, Anne and Alpheus, 1842-1882, was selected for the 1995 Arkansas Poetry Prize and his chapbook, We Will All Be Changed, won the State Street Press Poetry Prize. Survant's poetry has been published in such magaines as The American Voice, Chelsea Poet and Critic, Stand Magazine, and The Sow Ear's Poetry Review.

  • Anne & Alpheus, 1842-1882. Fayetteville, Ark. : The University of Arkansas Press, 1996. Call Number: K 811.54 Surv
  • Presence of Snow in the Tropics. Singapore : Landmark Books, c2001. Call Number: K 811.54 Surv
  • Rafting Rise. Gainesville : University Press of Florida, c2002. Call Number: K 811.54 Surv
Page updated 05/27/2004
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