Newsday – Laureate Eyes Language




May 27, 2007

The new poet laureate of Queens has a message for young people: Watch your language.

Julio Marzan, 61, installed at Queens Borough Hall May 4 as the county’s fourth bard, plans to spend part of his three-year term encouraging youth to give thought to what they say.

“I’d like to talk to students about language, how they express themselves and to realize how that affects their lives every day,” Marzan said. “They should not only say what they feel like saying, but listen to what they’re saying and to what other people are saying.”

“They express feelings, but don’t understand what they’re saying,” he said. “Sometimes it just comes out because it sounds cool, it sounds right. Poetry is about breaking all that down.”

Marzan, a native of Puerto Rico who settled in the Bronx with his family when he was four months old, is well prepared for this task he set for himself. The Little Neck resident has published two books of poetry and non-fiction books. His poems have appeared in various anthologies and journals.

He was an English major at Fordham University; he holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of the Arts, and a PhD in romance languages from New York University. Last year he was a visiting professor in the Department of Romance Languages at Harvard University; and is an associate professor of English at Nassau Community College. He has won numerous awards, including the Dylan Thomas Memorial Award for Poetry presented by The New School.

“It’s a major achievement to get kids to play chess,” he said. “I’m looking to be the equivalent of that in language.”

A panel of judges selected Marzan, a married father of two grown children, from 45 contenders for the unsalaried position of poet laureate. He is the first Latino-American to hold the title. He was raised in the South Bronx and has lived in Queens for 36 years.

“Julio Marzan has what we most cherish in a poet laureate: an international perspective and a strong, lyrical voice that, like Walt Whitman’s, ‘hears America singing,'” said Queens College President James Muyskens, who with Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, announced the appointment.

“I am confident that he will hear the varied carols of Queens during the next three years and share its many songs with all the people of his adopted home,” Muyskens added.

The idea for a Queens poet laureate originated with the Friends of Queens College, a group of volunteers who support the college’s library programs and services.

For Marzan, winning the competition is “an opportunity to share my work, have other people react to it. I’m ready for that, and Queens is ready,” he said. “The cultural life of New York is coming out to Queens. It seems like a fun time to get involved.”
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.