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Suffolk County’s First Woman Poet Laureate

Originally Posted: December 16, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

  |   16 Comments · Print Article

"Long Island Sounds," the annual anthology of the North Sea Poetry Scene. Photos by Douglas Harrington

Southampton – 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 Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (Daniel John Hall Kleinmeier) from Kings Park,Long Island says::
UR poetry still stinks, and I can still beat you any day with my left-handed poetry alone!! Sorry, kiddo, MY" When the Montauk Gales " slays ur attempts at your rhyming today annd tomorrow
Jul 25, 2011 6:25 pm

Guest (Phil Reinstein) from Huntington, NY says::
Now that I am 60 years old and only recently having become interested and involved in poetry and the poetry scene of Long Island, I have been inspired by the demonstrated dedication and talent of Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan. I love her work.She is a role model. Thanks, Tammy for all that you are doing.
Dec 28, 2009 1:54 pm

Guest (muriel h. weinstein) from Great Neck says::
Tammy makes good sense when she states the location for the archives she's planning is NOT to be housed in a university. The Louis Armstrong Archives were in Queens College and now they are to be removed and transferred to the new building they're erecting strictly as an archival home for Louis' letters, records, etc. A college or university does NOT have the easy entering & exiting you have in a stand alone building. The university's closed many holidays, you have to go through certain ID processes in some, but the main rationale, & I'm with her, she's got a good head on her shoulders, is that it develops its OWN IDENTITY It has iats own hours, its own staff, and ANYONE can come in for as short or as long a time as they want. Likek POETS HOUSE in NYC that Stanley Kunitz, the poet founded. Just poetry, for poetry, about poetry, by poets with no restrictions in hours or days by the university. A stand alone building is easily RECOGNIZABLE..it is easily accessible. Notr so a univeristy with about ten entrances & trouble parking, etc. Tammy's wise. She knows what she's doing. And I enjopy her poetry. It's great. And if she's going for an MFA in it, what does that tell you? That clearly she's still GROWING in her poetry. I love it. It's great. So there. I can't help but respond that way because your ;interview carried a tone that was not fair, it seemed judgemental, even critical. And clearly, the population loves it because look at the outpouring of letters. We're proud of Tammy and her poetry !!! muriel h.weinstein (Yes, even Nassau poets love her !!!)
Dec 26, 2009 12:28 pm

Guest (Rosemary McKinley) from Southold says::
Anyone who has read Tammy's poetry knows that she is supremely talented in this area. I have been moved by many of her poems. I am glad that she writes from the heart and is not so hung up on convention, yet she hails from the business world. The fact that she has worked tirelessly to promote poetry on Long Island just adds to the body of work she has produced. I am proud to call on her our poet laureate of Suffolk County.
Dec 23, 2009 3:08 pm

Guest (DH) from Hamptons.com says::
My use of anti-academic was in reference to her adamant desire not to choose a college for her archives. Anyone who is going for her third degree in the MFA program at SH is hardly anti-academic as far as education. That was not my intention and I apologise if it came off that way.
Dec 23, 2009 12:56 pm

Guest (DH) from Hamptons.com says::
Dear Gail and others, Please re-read the article a bit more carefully, in paragraph six I state, "Nuzzo- Morgan is indeed well deserving of the appointment..." Pardon me, at what point did I call her anti-academic? I stated the FACT that she has degrees in business and is a student in the SH MFA Writing Program. If you are referencing the FACT that I reported that she does not want her archive housed at a university, it is you that are insinuating that she is anti- academic. I simply reported her intention as told to me during our interview and quoted her directly, "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." The entire interview was recorded and I quoted her verbatim. Like it or not, having only arrived on the rich LI poetry scene in 2001, she does not have the international reputation or publishing history of her predecessors, that is again a FACT. I am sure Tammy herself would probably admit it. For the record, I do appreciate her "grassroots" advocacy of poetry more than you realize, as I started probably the most successful weekly open poetry readings ever seen on the North Shore in Port Jefferson in 1977, "The Back Room Poetry Series." It continued every Sunday with packed houses until 1981, then again, after my tour with the National Shakespeare Company and my return from the west coast at my jazz club in PJ from 1991-95 and yet again at "The Checkmate" in Setauket with a live jazz trio backing the poetry, 1997-98. I myself was a nominee for the position of poet laureate when it was created in 2003. Frankly, George Wallace was a far better choice. The FACTS are that Suffolk County has a poet laureate that is indeed an accountant with a Masters Degree in business. She indeed started her own North Sea Poetry Scene because she was not allowed to read her poetry after getting “back into it” after a 10 year absence. She indeed has self-published two of her four books of poetry and is a part-time student in a writing program as the Poet Laureate. She also indeed does not want to house her archives “…in some college.” And yes, I am sorry, but she does not have an international reputation as a poet and only became an active advocate for Long Island poetry less than a decade ago. Finally, there are indeed other poet advocates that have been on the Long Island scene for decades longer than Nuzzo-Morgan. FACTS, like them or not, they are what they are! Other FACTS, clearly noted in this article, are that she works tirelessly to promote regional poetry, runs prison poetry workshops and edits a Long Island poetry anthology. These are all things that make her, as I stated, "well deserving of the appointment." Lighten up kids, you cannot pick and choose your facts and, frankly, I just report them. DH
Dec 22, 2009 11:27 pm

Guest (Peter V. Dugan) from East Rockaway, NY says::
Mr. Harrington’s final description of Suffolk County’s current Poet Laureate as being business savvy and anti-academic, but very grassroots and passionate lead me to believe he was talking about Walt Whitman. You know the man who fathered modern American poetry, the anti-elitist poet who sang of the virtues of America in free verse and set us free from the shackles of formal English verse. If it wasn’t for him we would still be reciting and writing poetry like Tennyson and Wordsworth. Kudos and congratulations Tammy, may you always follow the lead of Walt Whitman.
Dec 22, 2009 9:35 pm

Guest (Charlene Knadle) from Dix Hills says::
Tammy Nuzzo Morgan is a veritable dynamo. What other kind of human could host a radio show, publish an annual anthology, find temporary museum housing for a L.I.Poetry Archive while scouting for its permanent quarters and applying for grant money, organize and host banquets honoring poets of the region, teach poetry in the prisons, take on the occasional paying job, work towards a master's degree, and write Pulitzer-nomination-quality poetry all at the same time? Where does such energy come from? The truth is that Tammy Nuzzo Morgan CARES--about poetry and about those who write it. She's the Good Great Poet Laureate.
Dec 22, 2009 5:32 pm

Guest (gail goldstein) from n bellmore, ny says::
i think the author of this article owes tammy an apology for first, questioning her deserving her title as poet laureate and second, for calling her anti-academic. tammy does a phenomenol job of promoting long island poetry and supporting long island poets. no reading is too far for her to travel to. thanks for all you do, tammy!
Dec 22, 2009 9:05 am

Guest (Barbara Southard Southard) from Miller Place says::
Tammy is a writer of poetry, a student of poetry, (let's hope we all are still students) and gives us the extra bonus of promoter of poetry. What more could you ask for. Bravo, Tammy
Dec 22, 2009 8:49 am

Guest (Cristina Lopez-OKeeffe) from Stewart Manor, NY says::
Tammy's efforts toward providing opportunities and education for poets and those who love poetry have been tireless. This article should have focused much less on who isn't the poet laureate of Suffolk county but how the current one is doing such an exceptional job. And shame on the author for putting forth the idea that excellence in the arts need be tied to awards. Tammy - thank you for the opportunities, contacts and support you have given to those who have crossed your path. Keep up the excellent work.
Dec 21, 2009 11:15 pm

Guest (kirpal gordon) from nyc says::
i wish the reporter KNEW tammy. lawdie mama, she's walking & talking the conditions for poetry; it's not about an international reputation or prizes! it's about pain, about joy, about presence, about community---got nuttin to do at all w/ achievement via a middle brow path to social acceptance! oi w/ the feinschmeckers who need to see yr resume before they can decide if they'll listen. let's not be deluded. tammy swings w/ a human touch on the everyday people team--- i think i speak for many writers when i say that we love how tammy unites poesie & service.
Dec 21, 2009 2:15 pm

Guest (Stan Barkan) from Merrick, New York says::
Tammy is most deserving. I don't think anyone in Suffolk County works harder than she for the poetry community. She's also a real sweatheart.
Dec 20, 2009 12:38 am

Guest (Deborah Hauser) from Babylon, NY says::
The Poet Laureate's mission is to promote poetry in the community; to ensure that poetry is visible and accessible to poets and public alike. Tammy's non-academic, business oriented background serves her well in her capacity as Laureate. For years Tammy has worked selflessly to support local poetry. She is highly qualified and deserving of this prestigious, but unpaid, honor. She is a poet of the people and an inspiration to me as a poet and as a woman. Hail Tammy, our esteemed Laureate!
Dec 19, 2009 1:40 pm

Guest (Barb Reiher-Meyers) from Ronkonkoma says::
I respectfully submit that, as far as I know, Allen(sic) Planz,Professor Graham Everett, and Professor Vince Clemente were among the many fine poets who were asked, but declined to serve as Poet Laureate.
Dec 19, 2009 11:48 am

Guest (dlh) from everywhere says::
Tammy is very derserving of this great honor. She has worked hard for other poet's to get their voices heard. Congratulations Tammy and family.
Dec 18, 2009 10:21 am


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