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Local professor named Blair Poet Laureate

Murphy honored during ArtsAltoona’s Spoken Word Night

Penn State Altoona English professor Erin Murphy (right) receives the first Blair County Poet Laureate award from ArtsAltoona president Donna Gority during the Spoken Word Night event on April 26. Mirror photo by Cati Keith

A professor of English at Penn State Altoona who has written 13 books and enjoys creating images through words was named Blair County’s first Poet Laureate during ArtsAltoona’s Spoken Word Night on Tuesday.

Speaking at the event, Erin Murphy said she found out that she was named the poet laureate through email.

“It is a terrific honor and I want to thank ArtsAltoona for bestowing this to me,” Murphy said. “I’m excited to spread the word to the community about poetry.”

Donna Gority, president of the ArtsAltoona board, said that Murphy could use her new role in a variety of ways, perhaps through poetry workshops, attending or hosting poetry readings, judging contests and working with local businesses to incorporate poetry at work. Plans for what will be undertaken by winners of the award are still in the works, organizers said.

Murphy, who has been a professor at Penn State Altoona for 17 years, has experience with art administration and community arts programs.

In addition to writing books, she has won several local awards including the Wise Women of Blair County Tribute Award. The mother of four is also an inductee into the Blair County Art Hall of Fame.

“Erin is a very gifted author and poet. I don’t think we could have found a better ambassador for poetry,” said Gority, who presented Murphy with the award created by board member Pam Snyder Etters.

Murphy, Gority said, is an excellent teacher who has a positive spirit and is very engaging.

Murphy said she wants to teach people about poetry, but that doesn’t mean turning everyone into a poet.

“That’s fine if people want to learn to become poets, but I find that poetry is valuable for so many other things,” Murphy said. “It teaches you to write concisely and that can help you with any type of writing you are doing.”

A former student of hers used what he learned in a poetry writing class to help prepare for engineering conference presentations.

Poetry helps him explain through imagery what he is trying to describe, she said.

“Poetry can help you with pretty much anything you like to write,” Murphy said. “Poetry teaches you to express the largest idea with the fewest words.”

Looking ahead, Murphy said she wants to find a way to work with high school students because she feels what students can learn with language is very important in any career.

During the Spoken Word Night at the ArtAltoona center, Murphy shared some of her poems and talked about the inspiration behind them.

“Her reading was poignant, and I am excited that she will be serving as the first poet laureate for the county,” said Sherry Dilling, an AmeriCorps member serving as education coordinator at ArtsAltoona.

Murphy said she finds ideas for poems from classified ads, everyday life, family, students and anything she observes.

Her poems reflect that with titles such as “After reading a classified ad for a car that won’t go in reverse,” “Your mother’s maiden name is not a secret,” “When I Won a Poetry Prize” and “The Internet of Things.”

“Anything is potential material for a poem,” Murphy said. “My friend said I’m never going to talk to you because it could end up in a poem.”

The key to writing poetry is to be attuned to what is happening around you, Murphy said.

“I look forward to the plans she has for this new role,” Dilling said. “Her advocacy for poetry will greatly benefit our community by raising awareness of the creative outlet poetry offers.”

Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.

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