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Rockland County Reappoints Masterson Poet Laureate

Dan Masterson of Pearl River became Rockland County's first Poet Laureate in 2009. This is the second time he has been reappointed to the role.

Dan Masterson first met poets Marya Zaturenska and Horace Gregory about 50 years ago. They read some of his poetry and asked to meet him.

Zaurenska and Gregory, who were husband and wife, discussed Masterson's work with him, then stopped him to offer one more comment as he moved to leave.

"Marya said, 'Horace and I feel that you have learned your (Robert) Frost too well," Masterson said, laughing as he told the story and making a gesture as if he had been stabbed in the heart. "I went through all my poems. Frost here. Frost there. I pitched it all out and started from scratch with my own voice."

That voice eventually led Masterson to become Rockland County's first Poet Laureate in 2009. He was reappointed in 2011, and County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and County Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell announced that the 79-year-old Pearl River resident would continue in the role at a press conference Thursday in the County Executive's Media Room.

"I was honored to be appointed Rockland County’s first poet laureate back in 2009 and delighted to be reappointed two years ago," Masterson said. "And today as I adjust to the reappointment's phrase of 'without term limit,' I feel validated and grateful."

Masterson is in his 49th year as of teaching at Rockland Community College, where he is the school's first Poet-in-Residence.  He has won two Pushcart Prizes, as well as Bullis, Borestone and Fels Poetry awards. He has written four books, receintly received the SUNY Chancelor's Award for Excellence in Teaching and works with young artists at high schools across the county. 

"He has been an absolutely terrific ambassador for poets and poetry and for that matter, a whole host of other things, including one of the best professors in the SUNY system," Vanderhoef said. "He has served so honorably, we just keep reappointing him. He’s just that good."

"He has really worked with students in Roclkand County and contributed what he knows about how to create poetry and other literary works and also visual arts," Cornell said. "He’s been working with students at  the different high schools. I think that is just such a noble venture. That’s why we are so thrilled that he would continue that project."

Clarkstown North student Peira Licht was chosen from among the young people Masterson works with to read one of her poems at Monday's press conference.

Masterson also read one of his own poems, entitled "Sunday Dinner," which he wrote after going through items in his parents' home after they passed away. He said the family always had large family dinners.

Vanderhoef and Cornell also announced that Zaturenska and Gregory, who lived together for many years in Palisades before both passed away in 1982, were posthumously appointed as honorary Poets Laureate. Masterson read one poem by each of them, Gregory's "Happy Birthday, Horace" and Zaturenska's "Another Snowstorm."

Zaturenska, who came to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine when she was seven, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Gregory received the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, a lifetime achievement award, in 1965. Other winners of the honor include Robert Frost, Theodore Roethke, W.H. Auden and Ezra Pound. Zaturenska and Gregory had been married for 60 years at the time of their deaths. 

Video from all of the poetry readings from Thursday's press conference are attached to this report, as is a video of Masterson telling the story about meeting Gregory and Zaturenska.

John April 12, 2013 at 11:46 AM
When I took his poetry class around 2000, I thought it was just going to be another class were I could get a quick 3 credits. Instead it was probably the best class I chose. His class was fantastic and he was an even better person. Couldn't be happier for the professor.
Michael Zaretsky April 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM
I took Dan Masterson's Poetry Class 30 years ago! He was inspiring!! Glad to see he has been so well honored!! I still have one or two of his books on my shelves and revisit them often!
Ryan Buncher April 12, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I hope people will take the time to watch the videos with this article, especially the one with Masterson telling the story about his meeting with Gregory and Zaturenska. I enjoyed the way he way he moved from a funny punch line to making a point about how they helped him to start writing in his own voice. .
Rose Marie Raccioppi April 12, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Yes, it is the true voice of a poet that moves us, that brings a lasting impression, that allows us to see, feel and be, beyond ourselves. I congratulate Dan Masterson on his designation and as Poet Laureate of Orangetown, applaud each shared gift of expression. April, National Poetry Month in celebration!!
John Alexander Douglas August 31, 2013 at 11:12 PM
I took Dan Masterson's course after a subtle invitation from Dan after handing him piece after piece I had written throughout high school. I have after 29 years reacquainted myself with poetry and Dan contacting him through his Poetry Master website for assistance. After many correspondence he signed your friend Dan. It has always been an honor to have studied beneath Dan and to have known his as a poet, as a person. I keep his book "All Things, Seen and Unseen" beside me while I write.

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