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SC poet laureate Marjory Wentworth resigns from the position she has held for 17 years

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Marjory Wentworth, the poet laureate for the state of South Carolina, announced her resignation Friday. Her departure is effective immediately.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed serving as poet laureate. But after 17 years, it's time to pass the honor onto someone else," Wentworth said in a statement.

"I hope state legislators will approve a bill that will allow the position to rotate among the many talented poets in our state. Maybe this will give a little push in that direction."

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Wentworth told The Post and Courier she submitted her resignation to the governor's office via email earlier this week. A statement to the paper from the governor's office shared that "the governor thanks her for her service and wishes her all the best."

“On behalf of all of us at the South Carolina Arts Commission, I wish Marjory well and thank her for the many contributions she has made while serving as our State’s poet laureate," said David Platts, executive director of the S.C. Arts Commission. 

Her resignation follows a flurry of related announcements from South Carolina cultural leaders lately. Among them are Spoleto Festival USA General Director Nigel Redden, who cited factors such as the pandemic and consideration of Black Lives Matter protests. Gaillard Management Corporation President and CEO Stephen Bedard has also announced his retirement.

Wentworth, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Mark Sanford in 2003, said the non-salaried position involves participation at numerous events throughout the year, while also penning poems for occasions. 

In her role as poet laureate, Wentworth has long championed a rotation of poets, recommending it occur every three to five years. In doing so, a diverse range of poets can infuse the post with new ideas and initiatives. 

Over her 17-year tenure, Wentworth's contribution has not been without its challenges. She has twice been excluded from gubernatorial inaugurations.

The first was for Gov. Nikki Haley's second term in 2015. Her recital of the poem "One River, One Boat," which commented on the Confederate flag flying by the Statehouse, was cut from the ceremony, making national headlines. She said she was also not invited to participate in the 2019 inauguration of Gov. Henry McMaster.

Platts underscored the significance of the role of a state poet laureate.

"The stature of the poet laureate’s position allows all of us to see and recognize that the arts do not merely exist for their own sake. Rather, they can provoke thought, self-reflection and meaningful dialogue across a wide range of opinions and perspectives, and they can unify by appealing to our better instincts."

According to Wentworth, poetry plays a particularly crucial role in challenging times.

"Poetry is always something that we turn to in a time of trouble or crisis," she said. "People want to try to ... find the language to explain what's going on."

When it comes to the untapped potential of a state poet laureate, Wentworth points to local examples as proof of its grassroots power.

"Look at what the city poet laureates have done," she said, citing the efforts of Marcus Amaker in Charleston and Ed Madden in Columbia to integrate poetry into those communities. "That just gives you an idea of what happens when you have this title ... and your mandate is to bring poetry."

Follow Maura Hogan on Twitter at @msmaurahogan.

Maura Hogan is the arts critic at The Post and Courier. She has previously written about arts, culture and lifestyle for The New York Times, Gourmet, Garden & Gun, among other publications.