Marjory Wentworth

Marjory Wentworth

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The words “poet laureate” don’t appear much in the media. Or anywhere else for that matter.

South Carolina’s poet laureate, Marjory Wentworth, is well aware of that. The Mount Pleasant woman is a writer, artist and social justice activist whose position means that she has certain obligations — usually reciting a poem at the governor’s inauguration.

After teaching English composition on Wednesday, she stopped to marvel at the bonanza that had occurred over the last week after Gov. Nikki Haley’s organizers cut Wentworth out of the inauguration. After the Post and Courier and other local media picked it up, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn read it into the congressional record. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, did the same in the state Senate, The State reported.

When NPR and the Washington Post picked up the thread, Wentworth said responses came streaming in reacting to her poem, “One River, One Boat.”

Wentworth isn’t sure why she was cut from the 90-minute inaugural and said she heard she had gotten the axe before organizers saw the poem, which confronts South Carolina’s history with race and racism. “The fact that I wasn’t contacted – it’s almost like they forgot about it,” she said. A Haley spokeswoman said time constraints led to the cut.

One part of the poem would have raised eyebrows at the inaugural:

“Here, where the Confederate flag still flies, beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past, conflicted about the future; at the heart of it, we are at war with ourselves.”

Her poem about race hit a nerve in part, Wentworth thinks, because of the recent killing of black men around the country, including in Ferguson, Missouri.

It’s possible it’s gotten a lot more reaction than it might have if she had recited it at the inauguration.

“I’m getting letters, I cant even read them they’re so beautiful. Unbelievably beautiful, heartfelt expressions,” she said. “I haven’t had time to process all this. This poem clearly says something a lot of people feel and they’re making the effort to communicate that to me. It’s a real privilege to hear from people.”

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