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New Hampshire governor’s poet laureate pick creates political squabble

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New Hampshire governor’s poet laureate pick creates political squabble

New Hampshire’s governor has stirred a political squabble over the usually noncontroversial appointment of the state’s poet laureate.

The Poetry Society of New Hampshire has recommended a New England College professor whose work has appeared in Poetry Magazine and The Paris Review for the five-year, ceremonial post.

But Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, has selected a retired dentist with a history of sharp criticism of the Trump administration on social media.

“Governor Sununu nominated Daniel Thomas Moran — who has published 11 books — due to his extensive experience and impressive credentials,” said gubernatorial spokesman Ben Vihstadt.

Indeed, Mr. Moran’s literary credentials include 11 books of poetry, some self-published, and he was the poet laureate of Suffolk County, New York, from 2005 to 2007. Yet some of his more recent work can be found on Twitter.

“The Presidency has been defiled. The Congress has been defiled. Even the Roman Catholic Church has been defiled. Why not defile the #SupremeCourt? What makes them so special?” Mr. Moran tweeted last fall during the Senate confirmation hearing for Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

In May, he tweeted: “#SarahSanders is a proud graduate of #Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas where they apparently taught her that success can be best measured by the degree to which one can relieve oneself of a functioning conscience.”

“The important question is how many Americans have become fat or alcoholic, or clinically insane because @realDonaldTrump became President?” Mr. Moran asked in 2017.

The New Hampshire Union Leader — the state’s largest newspaper in the state’s largest city, Manchester — suggested Monday in an article that Mr. Moran has gained the governor’s favor because first lady Valerie Sununu serves with Mr. Moran on New Hampshire Humanities, a cultural enrichment nonprofit.

Rarely has the selection of a poet laureate been fraught with such intrigue. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia appoint poet laureates, who typically use their varied tenures to attend public poetry readings and other literary events, and to promote an appreciation of poetry throughout their geographical area.

New Hampshire’s previous poet laureate, Alice B. Fogel, saw her term end in March without a replacement. After a rigorous process, the Poetry Society of New Hampshire chose professor Jennifer Militello to succeed her. Since 1968, the board has offered the last word in selecting the poet laureate, and the governor historically has sent its nominee to the state’s executive council for appointment.

The executive council could ignore the governor’s nomination, as it makes the final decision.

Ms. Fogel has told a local public radio station that Mr. Sununu should stick with Ms. Militello. So has publisher Jeffrey Levine, founder of Tupelo Press, which has printed three of Ms. Militello’s books.

“She’s the real deal,” Mr. Levine said of the college poetry professor in an email to The Washington Times. “Her books are read throughout America, and have been adopted and studied in undergraduate and MFA [master of fine arts] writing programs many dozens of times.”

Mr. Moran did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Militello directed questions to the Poetry Society.

Meanwhile, there’s no apparent evidence that Mr. Moran’s politics seep into his free verse.

He read one of his poems titled “New Hampshire” at inaugural ceremonies this year, an ode to the Granite State’s founding, and a review of his new book, “A Shed for Wood,” in the February issue of New Hampshire magazine said his poems are about “the stuff of daily life — thermometers, olive pits, flea markets, fireflies and walking sticks.”

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