A local professor named Blair Poet Laureate | News, Sports, Jobs


Penn State Altoona English teacher Erin Murphy (right) receives Blair County’s first Poet Laureate Award from ArtsAltoona President Donna Gority at the Spoken Word Night event on April 26. Mirror photo of Cati Keith

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

Speaking at the event, Erin Murphy said she found out she had been named Poet Laureate via email.

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

ArtsAltoona board chair Donna Gority said 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 into the workplace. Plans for what will be undertaken by the award winners are still underway, organizers said.

Murphy, who was a professor at Penn State Altoona for 17 years, has experience in arts 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 inducted into the Blair County Art Hall of Fame.

“Erin is a very gifted writer 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 is positive-minded and very engaging.

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

“It’s fine if people want to learn how to be poets, but I find poetry to be valuable for so many other things.” Murphy said. “It teaches you to write concisely and it can help you with any type of writing you do.”

One of his former students used what he learned in a poetry writing class to prepare for engineering conference presentations.

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

“Poetry can help you with just about anything you like to write”, Murphy said. “Poetry teaches you to express the biggest idea with the fewest words.”

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

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

“Her reading was poignant and I am delighted that she is the county’s first Poet Laureate,” said Sherry Dilling, AmeriCorps Education Coordinator at ArtsAltoona.

Murphy said she finds ideas for poems in the classifieds, everyday life, family, students, and anything she observes.

His poems reflect this with titles such as “After reading a classified ad for a car that won’t roll back,” “Your mother’s maiden name is no secret” “When I won a poetry prize” and “The Internet of Things.”

“Everything is potential material for a poem”, Murphy said. “My friend said I would never talk to you because it might end up in a poem.”

The key to writing poetry is listening to what’s going on around you, Murphy said.

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

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

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