– In May of 2009 Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan
was named the Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, the fourth person and first woman to hold the post
. Over lunch on Main Street in Southampton, Hamptons.com got a glimpse of her history and ambitions regarding her role representing the county's lyric voice.
Initiated by Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher
, the position of Poet Laureate was created less than a decade ago in 2003 by the Suffolk County Legislature, which is responsible for the appointment. It is an unpaid, two-year post honoring the art of poetry and the appointee is charged with the task of promoting the art within the county and presenting the face of it to the rest of the world. Former Suffolk County poet laureates include George Wallace
(2003-2004), Dr. Daniel Thomas Moran
, DDS (2005-2006) and Dr. David B. Axelrod
, PhD (2007-20).
The three prior laureates are world renowned poets with international translations and reputations. For example Nuzzo-Morgan's immediate predecessor, Axelrod, has won three Fulbright Awards, has been the American Poet-in-Residence in both Yugoslavia and the Peoples Republic of China and has published over a dozen books of poetry. In comparison, Nuzzo-Morgan can perhaps be considered the grassroots, poet laureate of the everyday people of Suffolk County. In truth of fact, as a poet she does not come close to matching their poetic international reputations or prolific publishing resumes.
However, Wallace commented upon her appointment, "As founder of the North Sea Poetry Scene, Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan has utilized her initiative, organizational skills and dedication to bring honor, recognition and creative opportunities to Suffolk County poets." Truthfully, Nuzzo-Morgan may be better known for promoting poetry than creating it and there is nothing wrong with that mission. Frankly, it is the primary charge of any poet laureate.
A Long Island native, Nuzzo-Morgan came to, or back to, poetry later in life, "I wrote all the time when I was a teenager, but stopped writing in my 20s after 10 years. I got back into it in my 30s, about 20 years ago." Although college educated, her degrees are in accounting and include a Masters in banking/finance/management, not literature or the humanities. She is, however, presently enrolled part time in the prestigious MFA Writing Program at Stony Brook/Southampton University. Yes, our present poet laureate is actually a student pursuing a degree in writing.
Suffolk County Poet Laureate Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan.
Controversy and confrontation has surrounded the selection process of the county's poet laureate almost since its inception, a process Nuzzo-Morgan herself admitted to not fully understanding. Nuzzo-Morgan is indeed well deserving of the appointment, but I have to wonder why someone like Alan Planz
, her admitted poetic mentor, has been overlooked for poet laureate? Not to mention other Long Island poets I have known since the 1970s like Graham Everett
, Vince Clemente
or Claire Nicolas White
, to name but a very few.
In regards to the grassroots nature of her laureateship, in 2001 Nuzzo-Morgan founded the North Sea Poetry Scene (NSPS), a not-for-profit organization located on eastern Long Island, with programs that extend to NYC. She founded the organization in reaction to a rather unwelcoming East End writing workshop she was attending at the time, "They were doing a reading, but I was told I had not been a member long enough to be allowed to read. Another reading came around and again I was told I had not been a member long enough. So I decided to start my own little thing. I set up a reading at the Blue Poodle Art Gallery [Southampton] and asked Planz to be my first reader and he said, 'Only if you read with me.' So that was my first reading."
I asked Nuzzo-Morgan if she had a firm plan when starting the NSPS or if it was a process of evolution, "A couple of things have surprised me and a couple of things sprung up I didn't anticipate, but for the most part I had a vision, a business vision. I think that is where the business [background] came in and really helped, name recognition, reputation, all that. So that is what I worked on for the first five years. It wasn't for money or a money making venture, but I think I accomplished a lot of what I wanted to, but I had some surprises."
One of Nuzzo-Morgan's surprises were unexpected poetry postings on the NSPS poetry blog by an American woman who had found herself, after an Internet arranged marriage, trapped in Romania with an abusive husband. As the woman's poetry became darker and more desperate, Nuzzo-Morgan became more concerned. She and other members of the NSPS petitioned the American State Department and the Romanian Government, they worked tirelessly to extricate the woman from her horror. Yes, at least this time, the pen proved to be mightier than the sword, thankfully.
Nuzzo-Morgan and the NSPS's other work includes a prison poetry workshop and an anthology ("Finding Our Voices") funded by the Huntington Arts Council. Educational programs in the schools, adult workshops, and featured and open poetry readings Island-wide are part of the activities of the NSPS and the responsibilities that Nuzzo-Morgan considers her mission as Poet Laureate.
Although she self-produced a CD of her poems in 2002, Nuzzo-Morgan's first book of poetry was not brought to print until 2004 when Street Press published "The Bitter, The Sweet." Subsequently the following year she self-published "One Woman's Voice" through her North Sea Poetry Scene Press, an imprint she created as part of her NSPS organization. "Let Me Tell You Something" was again brought out by Street Press in 2006 and nominated for a Pulitzer. Inspired by the painful death of her 17 year old son who was struck down by a speeding car while walking in Southampton, "For Michael" (North Sea Poetry Scene Press, 2008) is Nuzzo-Morgan latest book, a painfully beautiful homage to loss, mourning and recovery.
Along with publishing some of her and other poet's work, Nuzzo-Morgan's NSPS Press publishes the organization's annual poetry anthology "Long Island Sounds." The 2009 edition features 212 poets, most from Long Island but many from New York City
and Upstate New York, along with other states and countries. Notable local writers in this year's edition include Planz, Clemente, Jonathan Cohen
, Ray Freed
, Street Press publisher Everett and previous poet laureates Wallace and Axelrod, among many others.
Through NSPS and her own passion, Nuzzo-Morgan has accumulated over 1,000 books, video and audio tapes, papers and other regional poetry related material. Her dream is to create a Long Island Poetry Archival Center.
Unlike Erika Duncan
who this past year donated her highly regarded "Herstory" archives to Stony Brook University
, Nuzzo-Morgan would like to create an independent, non-university associated location for her poetry archives, "I'm not doing that! I don't want any university, I have been asked and I won't give it to them. I want it to be walk in the door, stand alone, 'This is ours!' Come and visit, you have a book? You want to do a reading? Let's see what the schedule looks like. It is not going to be hidden away in some college."
It is an historic year for women in the world of poetry as this year Carol Ann Duffy
is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly bisexual person to hold the position of Poet Laureate of Great Britain. She has won a Somerset Maugham Award; "Mean Time" (1993), which also won the Whitbread Poetry Award; and "Rapture" (2005), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Great Britain established the position of poet laureate centuries ago and it has been held by such figures as Lord Alfred Tennyson
and William Wordsworth
and was not limited by terms, but usually by mortality. The first poet laureate of England was Ben Jonson who served first under James I and then Charles I for 21 years from 1616 to 1637, the year of the poet's death.
As evident by the recent edition of "Long Island Sounds" and thanks to Nuzzo-Morgan, poetry is alive and well on the East End in particular and elsewhere in general. In Suffolk County its care and nurturing, at least until May 2010, is the responsibility of its business savvy and anti-academic, but very grassroots and passionate poet laureate, Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan.
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com