“It made sense to have a poet laureate,” says Davis, “‘to raise the consciousness of the community to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry,’ which is how the Library of Congress describes the purpose of a poet laureate.”
Davis put out a call for poetry submissions and assembled a judging panel to “represent the diversity of the Gulfport community.”
Nineteen candidates submitted three poems each in a bid to become Gulfport’s first poet laureate.
“The panel had quite a challenge to select one winner, as Gulfport has many talented poets,” says Davis.
Ultimately, Peter Hargitai, a retired English professor, was chosen to fill the position with the approval of the Gulfport City Council at its October 20 meeting.
Hargitai lives in Town Shores with his wife Diane, an artist. He was born in Hungary and moved to the United States with his family when he was nine years old. Although he has only lived in Gulfport for five years, Hargatai says he has a strong connection to the town that stretches back to the 1950s. Three generations of Diane’s family lived in Gulfport, and after she and Peter were married in 1965, they visited often. Eventually the couple bought their condo as a writing escape while still living in Miami, where Hargitai continued to teach at Florida International University until his retirement.
“Gulfport always beckoned to me as a place of serenity where I could freely create,” Hargitai says. “There is a diversity in Gulfport that is very progressive and not often found in other small towns, with a wide variety of talent that energizes this magical space.”
Hargitai’s love affair with language began early. When he was first learning English, he explains that even clichés seemed magical and full of imagery.
“Poetry became identity to me,” says Hargitai. “Each word is charged with energy. It’s in your soul, where there are no masks.”
In addition to poetry, Hargitai has published fiction, nonfiction and has translated Hungarian authors’ works into English.
“Once I moved to Gulfport, my writing voice changed to a freer cadence that was more truly mine,” Hargitai says. “Seeing a flight of birds take off and the freedom of creatures in the bay is so joyous and life-affirming. There is no ego here and an emphasis on individualism.”
Hargitai says he has no plans to rest on his laurels as Gulfport’s first poet laureate, calling the appointment “an honor to serve.” He is already thinking of ways to involve the community.
“A goal is to bring poetry back to a generation that may have become culturally blind to it,” he says. “I plan to visit the library often to inspire children who are easy to work with and not jaded.”
Hargitai says he would like to get schools involved via a poetry contest with readings by the winners, and entries showcased in a published book. Other suggestions include spoken word performances, monthly readings of classic poets with Q&A sessions, including readings of children’s poems by authors like Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll. Hargitai says he would also like to work with Gulfport Senior Center members and hospice patients.
Recalling his first walk down Beach Boulevard, Hargitai says he recognized the originality of Gulfport as a progressive town that has not yet shut its doors on the past.
“People are not afraid to be themselves and those who retire here find a Fountain of Youth through art,” Hargitai says. “I feel more at home here than during the 34 years I spent in Miami. I am the happiest here that I’ve ever been and I want to give back.”
Peter Hargitai will read his poetry at An Evening of Performance Art, which will be held at the Gulfport Public Library, on Thursday, November 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Yes, I am Gulfportian!
I am one of many squawking poets
Pushing our carts of rare books
And lost languages, asterisks
Aspiring to be stars on the 4th of July
Blossoming into Gulfport’s fireworks,
Rainbow colors exploding, cascading
Into fountains over Boca Ciega Bay.
I am young inspired by the old,
I am old fired up by the young,
I am retired yet re-firing full throttle
As a volunteer novice bibliophile.
I strum my chords under lone pavilions,
An artist unabashed to hawk his soul
On paper, canvas, clay or papier-mache.
On a red-green nostalgia trolley
I ferry lovers of life in space and time
For the magic of Art Walk on Beach Blvd.
I am a bard
Braying at my bit
To keep the American Dream alive,
I am Fire Engine 17
Wailing my siren against time,
Blowing my horn and life into lungs
To keep another heart beating.
I am Gulfport’s Finest
Brothers and sisters in blue
Whose bright shields justly
Shield all those in need.
I am a seeker of wisdom,
I compose my poems on the pier
Watching the frayed waves crawl
In their shining silt shimmer,
Floating back the old floating dock
That used to be here.
A high schooler learning our history
In the old museum.
I am the new library using Wi-Fi
To trace my family’s genealogy.
I am a law student at Stetson.
I am a senior citizen taking Tai Chi Chuan,
Learning happiness one dance step at a time
To finally burst from my cocoon and tango
In the ballroom of our historic Casino.
I am a one-act summer play,
A Cathy Award winning director
At the Hickman Theater toasting
Her cast with a glass of rose
In the quaint and iconic Habana Café.
I am The Gabber, The Gulfport Patch,
The Talk of the Town in Town Shores.
I am a die-hard hippie in a tie-dye
T-shirt at Blueberry Patch discussing
The works of Jack Kerouac and T.S. Eliot.
I read my poems in home-care hospices
To give hope to the sick and the dying
Who dream of lost porches and no tomorrows.
I teach them to go gently into their glowing
Second birth in the setting sun.
I am this earth,
This 3.8 square mile plot of land, this grass,
Leaves of Sabal and Palmetto
Playing with the breeze.
I am the warm green water
Sunkist pink on the evening Bay.
I am that humble bungalow
Painted coloring-book teal
With purple geckos leaping
Across my stucco walls.
I live, work and love here,
My partner and I can
Walk our Doxiepoo
In a baby buggy here.
There’s a saying I am here
Because I am not all there,
But at least I know who I am.
I am one of the 12,164
Happy to die here.
Yes, I am
Three generations of Gulfportian
Women who have walked here,
Who marched for the right to vote,
For equal rights, for equal pay.
I am an African-American woman,
A veteran wounded warrior
Whose artificial limbs propel her
With mechanical grace
In a game of Beach Volleyball.
I am a new breed of American
Whose free and unbridled voice
Recharges with new hope
Unafraid to squawk on sidewalks,
Mixing, harmonizing voices
In church choirs, in City Hall,
At open mikes, bouncing
Off the Rec Center’s
To booming fireworks in the sky,
Diverse voices becoming one,
Exploding in unison:
Yes, I am Gulfportian!