Alabama's poet laureate names Boudreau to state delegation
Dr. Eleanor Boudreau is an assistant professor of English at UWA.
UWA professor joins effort to elevate poetry's popularity
Story: Phillip Tutor | Photo: Betsy Compton
As a published poet and admirer of rhythmic verse, Dr. Eleanor Boudreau pairs the recollection of her first poem with a faint chuckle of self-deprecation.
“I was in second grade, and it was about ants with pants,” said Boudreau, an assistant professor of English at the University of West Alabama. “They were pants-wearing ants that were running around in that poem. Honestly, it sounds pretty good to me.”
Humor aside, the Massachusetts-born Boudreau is enjoying a meteoric rise in her career in higher education. The former award-winning NPR reporter in Memphis, Tennessee, who began teaching at UWA in August 2022 has been named to the Alabama Poetry Delegation, a five-member body tasked with broadening the literary genre’s popularity in the state.
Ashley M. Jones, the Alabama poet laureate, created the delegation, selected delegates through an application process and assigned them to represent different regions. Boudreau represents the central-west region, which includes Bibb, Choctaw, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Marion, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties.
“I like a wide range of poetry, and I think being an Alabama Poetry Delegate is about encouraging people to write poems that excite them and that sound like them and express their vision, not teaching poetry people to write poems that sound like me.”
-- Dr. Eleanor Boudreau
Each delegate receives a $1,000 stipend and $2,000 to cover programming expenses. Dr. Tina Jones, UWA’s assistant provost and vice president of the Division of Economic and Workforce Development, encouraged Boudreau to apply for the delegation, she said. UWA and Jones’ division are Boudreau’s partner organizations in the effort. Through a partnership with the Alabama Writers’ Forum, the delegation is supported by the Academy of American Poets and the Mellon Foundation.
“I'm actually very excited,” Boudreau said. “But as someone who just moved in August, I am still getting to know the area, and one of the most rewarding things for me is that being named a delegate is a way for me to interact beyond the walls of UWA and get to know the community.”
In her delegation application, Boudreau outlined a plan that would emphasize participation in local readings in lieu of passive listening, and also tailor events around themed writing -- such as workshops featuring poems about Alabama. She’s also planning events that highlight poems about storms, particularly tornadoes and hurricanes. The application required a form of crowdsourcing, so Boudreau developed a two-question survey that asked respondents in her region what they would prefer in poetry readings.
“One of the reasons I'm so excited about starting off with Alabama poems is it's a way to think about place and where we are in the genre of poetry,” she said. “And that's something I'm very interested in as someone who is new but also compelled by this area.”
Though Boudreau’s region encompasses 12 counties mostly in the Black Belt, she is scheduling several events for UWA’s campus and is interesting in holding one at University Charter School. The first should take place this fall, she said, and feature poetry about Alabama. A second event, likely early in 2024, would highlight storm-related poems and delve into “a little bit of the science behind these events as well as the poetic responses to them,” she said. Dates have not been set for the campus activities, which would be open to the public.
Boudreau has to complete her regional programing during Jones’ term as poet laureate, which runs through 2026.
Before joining UWA’s faculty, Boudreau published her first book, “Earnest, Earnest?” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), which received the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Her poetry has also been published in several periodicals and reviews, including Lit Hub, American Poetry Review and Tin House.
“I like a wide range of poetry,” she said, “and I think being an Alabama Poetry Delegate is about encouraging people to write poems that excite them and that sound like them and express their vision, not teaching poetry people to write poems that sound like me.”