Daniel Donaghy, professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, is Windham County’s first-ever poet laureate. The position is a year-long term that allows the chosen individual to work with local schools and community groups to promote poetry through workshops and readings. The announcement was made on Feb. 24 at the Windham Town Hall during Willimantic’s annual Cupid ceremony, in which local residents are honored for their love and dedication to the community.
“My goal for the next year is to help students and other community members hear their inner voice and inspire them to tell their stories,” said Donaghy.
While the state of Connecticut has appointed a poet laureate, the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate (CCPL) encourages cities, towns and regions to appoint local laureates as well. “The arts are essential to the health and vivacity of every community,” said the CCPL in a written statement. “Poetry is something people turn to for solace, enlightenment and delight. A poet laureate is someone who is recognized for his or her longstanding involvement in poetry. This person demonstrates passion and expertise in the field, and works to promote poetry in the general culture.”
At the inaugural event, Donaghy read William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29,” which he considers to be the birth of blues and rock and roll music and a timely message for Valentine’s Day. “The theme is essentially, ‘I was nothing until I found you.’”
Over the years Windham County has demonstrated a strong commitment to the arts. “My hopes are to continue to build on the already established commitment and make literature, poetry and writing as visible in the town as theatre,” he said. “I want to make poetry something people need in their lives. I think poetry is an essential voice within ourselves. It’s where our stories, friendships, memories and regrets live. It’s all the important things about us.”
Donaghy expresses the importance that poetry has had on his life and how the work of Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Harry Humes really inspired him. “I want to help as many people as I can, as they helped me,” said Donaghy. “I want people to see that their voices matter. I want people to see the value in what they have to say. I think once you have a teacher who shows you that, no one can undo it.”
Throughout his career, Donaghy has been presented with numerous awards including the Connecticut Board of Regents teaching award, the CSU Norton Mezvinsky Trustees Research Award and Eastern’s Club Advisor of the Year award. Donaghy was promoted to full professor in 2015 and teaches several courses, primarily focused on poetry.
“Having a faculty member selected as the region’s poetry ambassador is an honor,” said Ginny Connors, co-founder of the Coalition of Poets Laureate. “This lends credit to the talents found at Eastern. Writing poetry — good poetry — is not as easy as people think. Workshops on poetry add to the culture and can help people feel comfortable with writing and reading poetry.”
Donaghy stresses the importance of writing and reading poetry throughout his teachings. “In our speeding world it’s pretty revolutionary to write a poem,” he said. “I know I’m supposed to be going around liking Instagram posts and taking funny selfies on Snapchat, but I’m not going to do that. I am going to sit here right now and think about what it means to be alive; make the world stop for a while and give myself the opportunity to grow. We never get a chance to nurture our inner voice or think about who we are and how we got here.”
Over the next year, Donaghy will influence the members of Windham County through readings and writing workshops. The job comes with no limits and no description. “I look forward to working alone and with my poetry students. My work as poet laureate will allow me to further Eastern’s mission as Connecticut’s public liberal arts university and will create exciting service opportunities for creative writing students.”