English doctoral candidate Toni Holland recently turned her passion for poetry into a yearlong look at the impact of poets laureate in North America.
Holland, a graduate teaching assistant, has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship from the Institute of International Education. She will begin research this fall at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, examining the legacy of poets laureate from the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s a dream come true to work with what I’ve loved for 20 years,” Holland said.
Taking cues from her dissertation, Holland said she’ll spend much of her time researching the history and legacy of the poet laureate program in both countries. In Canada, four poets have been named to the parliamentary post since the program’s inception in 2002. In the U.S., there have been 47 poets laureate since the program began in 1937. However, apart from Robert Frost, few Americans would be able to name one.
“There are three different ways I’m approaching the project,” she said. “First, I want to look at and identify the politics; who’s been chosen and why, who has not been chosen and why, and what the public perception has been. Then I’ll look at the reception of their poetry, what kind of poetics they come from, and how they’re received at-large in the community of poetry. Finally, I’ll look at what kinds of programming they’ve worked on to bring [poetry] to a wide, public audience.”
Holland credits her Fulbright award and success in completing her doctoral work to Dr. Tim Morris, professor of English and graduate advisor. Morris, however, is quick to deflect such praise and instead celebrates Holland’s work in showcasing poetry and its U.S. history.
“Within the poetry world, it’s very difficult for Americans to name a single living poet,” said Morris. “In that respect, the poets laureate who do get some attention and play in the media are among the most visible figures and they set a tone for how poetry is received. Trying to understand their work is the most important project in terms of the intersection of poetry and popular media.”
Morris said that while several English professors have won Fulbright awards in years past, this is the first time, to his knowledge, a doctoral student has won one so early in their career. “It’s certainly a notable event,” he said.
Holland intends to finish her Ph.D. course work this summer, then move to Edmonton. She will teach a senior-level seminar course at the University of Alberta and pursue a teaching position for 2011. But the research she’ll be doing on the transatlantic impact of poets laureate from two nations will take priority.
“The best part of the Fulbright,” she said, “is that I get to do exactly what I love.”