It’s National Poetry Month every month in Poetry, Texas but the rest of us may rely on the annual celebration of poetry each April to learn more about the poems and poets who are a vital part of our culture.
Texans have long loved poetry, though some argue that most Texan poems written before 1932 aren’t very good. Even so, poetry was held in high enough regard the 43rd Legislature adopted a resolution in 1933 that a poet laureate be appointed every two years. Judd Mortimer Lewis, a long-time newspaper man from Houston, was the first to be honored.
Interestingly, seven of the next nine Texas poet laureates hailed from the Texas Lakes and Hill Country Trail Regions. Perhaps they found extra inspiration in the areas’ cattle trails, historic downtowns, and canyons and fields filled with wildlife and flowers.
Grace Noll Crowell (1936–39) was called “one of the most beloved poets in America” by Dale Carnegie. It was not uncommon for visitors from across the U.S. and beyond to drop by her Dallas home.
Nancy Richey Ranson (1941–43), garden editor of The Dallas Morning News for several decades, was an ardent conservationist who encouraged garden clubs to plant crepe myrtles all over Dallas as part of a beautification campaign.
Dollilee Davis Smith (1943–45) published her first poem “Bombed” at the beginning of World War II, but most of her poems about daily life, housework, and religion were poems other Cleburne residents could relate to.
David Riley Russell (1945–47) was also a playwright whose plays were produced in Dallas theaters and at Southern Methodist University, where the David R. Russell Memorial Poetry Award is given annually.
Aline B. Carter (1947–49) taught astronomy classes at the Witte Museum in San Antonio and was equally well known for her humanitarian work with orphans, inmates, and patients in Bexar County orphanages, jails, and hospitals.
Carlos Ashley (1949–51) was a fourth-generation Texan devoted to San Saba County. He served as a Texas State Senator for a decade starting in 1948 and was an inspiration to cowboy poet greats Red Steagall and Baxter Black. Ashley and Black appeared together with Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” in 1989.
Arthur M. Sampley (1951–53) joined North Texas State University in Denton in 1935 and was honored as Distinguished Professor of English, the first University Professor, Professor Emeritus, and Director of Librarians Emeritus.
Intrigued? A quick Google search turns up some of these poet laureates’ poems and poetry collections online. The fact that these poems are still easily accessible and available all these years later speaks to the deep connection between these poets and their readers, these poets and the state of Texas.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. Mrs. Dollilee Davis Smith, Cleburne, Texas, state chairman of the American Mothers Committee. (1947). Retrieved from https://library.uta.edu/digitalgallery-beta/img/20065287.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries; and David R. Russell, Poet Laureate of Texas, professor of speech at Southern Methodist University. (1945). Retrieved from https://library.uta.edu/digitalgallery-beta/img/20034320.
Carlos Ashley: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/carlosashley.htm;
[Arthur M. Sampley], photograph, January 1961; (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc495099/:accessed April 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.
Judd Mortimer Lewis
Grace Noll Crowell
Nancy Richey Ranson
Dollilee Davis Smith
Bio, article with poems: https://www.cleburnetimesreview.com/news/lifestyles/words-of-cleburne-poet-laureate-always-hit-the-mark-the-heart/article_e6b8e6e9-07a2-594f-bea3-8696ef7810fa.html
David Riley Russell
Aline B. Carter
Poems: Winners of the 2020 Aline B. Carter Poetry Contest, sponsored by Maverick Carter House and Gemini Ink: https://geminiink.org/aline-b-carter-winners-2020/
Arthur M. Sampley