NC Poet Laureate Visits Watauga High School

Bathanti @WHS

Photo by Marshall Ashcraft

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Dr. Joseph Bathanti and Mary Kent Whitaker (front and center in photo) with Whitaker’s English students at Watauga High School

Posted July 3, 2013 at

If you think today’s students can’t be bothered with poetry, the recent visit of North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Dr. Joseph Bathanti at Watauga High School should persuade you to think again. Dr. Bathanti shared his time and thoughts with Mary Kent Whitaker’s sophomore English classes at Watauga High School and Whitaker summed up their response with four words and an exclamation point: “My students loved him!”

The students’ own comments showed Bathanti had demonstrated that poetry is a universal language, accessible to anyone and experienced by everyone even when they don’t recognize it as poetry. Student Utah Jones said the visit taught him how important poetry is and helped him realize that “we hear poetry every day in the music we listen to.” Mary Fuller went further, saying “I realized everyone is a poet whether they acknowledge it or not,” a realization reflected in comments made by several other students as well.

Even poetry skeptics were impressed by Bathanti’s work with the class. “I have never liked poetry” commented student Will Spinetto, “but Dr. Bathanti’s work fascinated me.” Ali Maupin said she “never knew how enthralling poetry could be until he was pulling out poems about opossums, chocolate, and bunnies.”

The first paragraph of the job description for the North Carolina poet laureate states that the person “acts as an ambassador of N.C. literature, using the office as a platform from which to promote N.C. writers and the potentially transformative qualities of poetry and the written word.” It would be hard to find a better ambassador for poetry and literature than Dr. Joseph Bathanti.

In addition to serving as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate, Bathanti is a professor of creative writing and director of the Writing in the Field program at Appalachian State University.

His prolific accomplishments as a published author include six books of poetry, two novels, a short story collection, and works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that have appeared in at least eight different journals. The excellence of his work had been recognized with numerous literary awards well before he was designated the state’s Poet Laureate.

The Poet Laureate is chosen by the governor for a two year term. Dr. Bathanti was selected by Governor Bev Perdue last year and is expected to continue serving in the role through mid-2014.

Bathanti was invited to the high school by Whitaker, an English teacher with 37 years of classroom experience, including nine years at Watauga High School. She was the Watauga High School and Watauga County Schools Teacher of the Year for 2010-11 and is a National Board Certified Teacher with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Appalachian State University.

Whitaker said she was thrilled and honored by Bathanti’s visit and grateful for his generosity in sharing his time and talent with her students.

Bathanti’s commitment to public service is as strong as his passion for poetry and prose. He first came to NC as a participant in Volunteers in Service to America, a national service program sometimes described as a Peace Corps for the home front, and he has conducted writing workshops in prisons for over thirty years. He has also been a regular visitor in school classrooms and other settings as Poet Laureate, sharing the message that poetry is for everyone.

To measure his impact as an evangelist for poetry, look no further than Whitaker’s students. Joelle Page described his appeal in these words: “Dr. Bathanti has a spark about him that draws your ear to listen to everything he is speaking about. Whether he was reading a poem about a high school basketball game or his mother’s famous eggplant recipe, he kept me wanting to hear more.” Or, as Annika Davidson summed it up in her response to Dr. Bathanti’s visit, “so many poems, so little time.”


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