A familiar name in the city of Gulfport is the new poet laureate. Peter Hargitai, who was Gulfport’s first poet laureate in 2015, will now take over the duties from Mayor Sam Henderson, Gulfport’s 2017-2018 laureate.
“Peter’s ability to take his experiences and perceptions, weave them through his vivid imagination and translate them into language is astounding,” said Henderson. “His poetry is a great window upon a brash, brilliant, intimate and deeply colorful universe…He will no doubt continue to be a charismatic apostle of literature as our poet laureate.”
Hargitai is a retired English professor who lectured at the University of Miami and Florida International. He was born in Budapest, Hungary and moved to the US when he was nine and lived in Mentor, Ohio for the rest of his childhood. In addition to poetry, Hargitai has published fiction, nonfiction and has translated Hungarian authors’ works into English. He has lived in Gulfport for eight years.
“Gulfport always beckoned to me as a place of serenity where I could freely create,” said Hargitai. “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 says he has a strong connection to the town that stretches back to the 1950s. Three generations of his wife 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.
The laureate was chosen by blind readings of all of the entrants’ poetry. Hargitai will serve as laureate for three years rather than the previous one-year term, as per rule change this year, and his wife will act as his alternate.
According to the news release from The Circle of Friends of the Gulfport Library and the Gulfport Public Library the rules have been changed to allow sufficient time for the poet laureate to achieve his or her plans and potential. The Poet Laureate Committee and the Gulfport Library Board decided that a one-year term is not sufficient for the laureate to achieve their plans and potential. Past poets had programs started in the schools and other parts of the community that could not be finished in one year, according to the release.
The Circle of Friends of the Gulfport Library and the Gulfport Public Library are hosting Gulfport Poet Laureate Night at 7 p.m. on January 25 at the library and the public is invited. Helen Pruitt Wallace, the Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg, will speak briefly on the idea of the poet laureate, followed by readings from Gulfport poet laureate applicants including Edie Daly, Rob McCabe, Nadine Miller, Rose-Marie Seawall and Diane and Peter Hargitai.
Current laureate Sam Henderson will present a proclamation naming Hargitai the new poet laureate. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m. before the readings and presentation, and the community will have the opportunity to meet the poets.