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Poetry in turmoil: St. Louis Poet Laureate Castro resigns over delay in picking new poet

St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro delivers a poem before the ceremonial swearing-in of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in 2015.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro delivers a poem before the ceremonial swearing-in of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Updated with information from the Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed's office — The St. Louis poet laureate position is vacant following the resignation of Michael Castro over the city's failure to pick his successor.

Castro, the city's first poet laureate, stepped down Thursday, noting that it was unfair for him to remain in the position when another poet had been named to succeed him.  In December, a committee recommended Jane Ellen Ibur take up the mantle.

But that choice was met with pushback by some members of the public, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed has not moved forward on the recommendation.

In a letter to Reed, Castro wrote that he did not want to delay the next poet laureate's selection.

Dear President Reed,

It has been more than four months since my term as poet laureate expired. I have continued to serve, at your office's request, on an interim basis, but I feel it would be unfair to my successor to continue to delay. I am therefore RESIGNING AS ST. LOUIS POET LAUREATE.

I wish to thank you for your support. Serving as poet laureate has been a great honor and pleasure, a highlight of my life and I have devoted myself body and soul to it.

At this late date, I think it is in the interest of the city and all those involved that the Board honor the work of the task force and abide by their decision.

Best wishes,
Michael Castro

Aaron Williams, chairman of the selection committee, said the position is more than just an honorary title. He said the poet laureate has a civic responsibility and the delay in choosing someone to follow Castro has deprived people of a unique cultural experience.

“For four and a half months this inaction has hurt kids, it’s hurt teachers, it’s hurt poets," Williams said. "It’s hurt people who run arts organizations and who have come to our community as visitors, as visiting poets who had an opportunity to see a poet laureate.”

Tom Shepard, Reed's chief of staff, said his office is reviewing the selection process after receiving complaints about the procedures for picking a new poet. Now that Castro has resigned,  Shepard said, the new poet laureate should be named in the next couple weeks.  

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold

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