The delay in naming a new St. Louis poet laureate may soon be over.
in December, a poet laureate task force recommended local poet and educator Jane Ellen Ibur. The next step was up the Board of Aldermen, which oversees the position. But a dispute about whether the task force followed regulations has delayed the board’s vote for five months.
Board President Lewis Reed now says he believes Ibur will be offered the position. But first, he wants a board committee to look into the way task force chair Aaron Williams handled its affairs.
“The process was absolutely disregarded,” Reed said.
A question of timing
Reed said Williams violated the terms of the ordinance that created the poet laureate position by removing poet MK Stallings from that task force.
In 2014, the task force chose Michael Castro as St. Louis’ inaugural poet laureate and the Board of Aldermen made it official. Castro’s two-year term started Jan. 1, 2015.
As Castro prepared to step down, the task force discussed who would succeed him. Task force member and poet MK Stallings thought it should be longtime St. Louis poet Shirley LeFlore. Williams, who favored Ibur, said his was the majority opinion.
Stallings said Williams removed him from the task force during the disagreement — before Stallings’ term on the task force was set to end at the end of June 2016.
Williams said that because the committee would not meet again until November, five months after Stallings’ term was over, Stallings' term did not end prematurely.
“I didn’t kick him off the committee," Williams said.
‘Jane would be just incredible’
With Stallings no longer on board, the task force unanimously recommended Ibur in December 2016. The process stalled when the recommendation didn't come up for a vote. Castro agreed to stay on for a short time but then resigned in May, four months after his term was set to end.
But Reed said he can’t let the matter drop because he doesn’t want it to taint Ibur’s nomination and service.
“[We don’t want] the poet laureate to end up having to take on all the flak of all the anger that was built up from people who were marginalized in the process,” Reed said.
Ibur told St. Louis Public Radio last week that she was disappointed over the delay and had no information about the reason behind it. She said no one has called her to explain.
Reed said it would be unfair to appoint her until the controversy is settled.
Williams, however, said he doesn’t understand why it’s taken Reed so long to look into the matter, letting Ibur and others wonder what happened and when it might be resolved.
“Lewis Reed has had six months to pick up a phone and talk to me to get the facts,” Williams said.
Reed said he needs to figure out which committee will take up the issue, but that it won’t take that long to investigate. He expects the position to be filled by the end of June.
One thing Reed and Williams agree on: Ibur is a good choice.
“Jane would be just incredible,” Reed said. "I think she’d be extraordinary; I think she’d do a great job.”
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL