Key West, a longtime home for poets from Elizabeth Bishop to Richard Wilbur, has selected Florida Keys native Arlo Haskell as the Conch Republic’s new poet laureate.
“We certainly have more than our fair share of poets, living and dead right here on this little rock,” he said in his remarks at a city commission meeting Tuesday. “As poet laureate, I’m going to try to build a genuine Conch Republic of Letters.”
Haskell will serve in the honorary role for two years. Though he has no official duties, he said he wants to make the island city’s poetry “a little easier to see.”
He also told WLRN that the honor had him thinking about the word "laureate," which comes from laurels.
"Are there any laurels in South Florida?" he said. "I did a little research and sure enough, there are lots. My favorite of the subtropical laurels is the avocado."
Haskell does all things literature in Key West. He’s executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar; author of two poetry collections, “Fool Proof” and “Joker”; and publisher of Sand Paper Press, which has featured works of poetry, short fiction and Latin American literature in translation since 2003.
Haskell has also been recognized as a historian. In 2017, he received the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Florida Nonfiction for “The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969),” which chronicles the impact the Jewish community had on the city.
Key West has been naming poet laureates since 2012. Past honorees include Kirby Congdon, Rosalind Brackenbury and Flower Conroy.
There will be a public inauguration celebration with a reading by Haskell on Friday, June 7, from 6-7 p.m.