COLLEGE PARK – Reed Whittemore, a two-time poet laureate of the United States and former College Park resident, will be honored with a historical marker at the Trolley Trail plaza at Albion Road, the College Park City Council voted on April 9.
The marker would be steps away from where Whittemore lived in Calvert Hills, said Eric Olson, a former city council member and executive director of the College Park City‐University Partnership, who proposed the marker.
Whittemore, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, would have turned 100 this September 11.
Olson said that they would like to unveil the marker in an event celebrating his life on that day. Olson suggested inviting Whittemore’s family and former colleagues to the event and chalking some of the poet’s short poems throughout the Trolley Trail.
“That’s really something that we should celebrate,” Olson said, noting that Whittemore spent decades living in the community and was nationally and internationally recognized for his work. “As we’re trying to do more in terms of arts and culture and place making, it seemed like this was very appropriate.”
Whittemore, who was an English professor at the University of Maryland from 1967 to 1984, served as the “consultant in poetry” to the Library of Congress from 1964 to 1965 and from 1984 to 1985. The position would later be referred to as “poet laureate.”
A poet laureate serves as the nation’s official poet and “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry,” according to the Library of Congress.
In a letter to the city council, Olson said the marker would show College Park “as a place where a national figure lived (and where University faculty live) and highlight College Park as a place where arts and culture are alive and have a history.”
“Reed Whittemore brings prestige to College Park,” he wrote.
During the meeting, Mayor Patrick Wojahn voiced his support for the commemorative marker, reciting Whittemore’s 1954 poem, “On the Unimportance of Words.”
John Rigg, a District 3 council member, expressed his support for the project as well.
“As an undergraduate English major myself, I’m extraordinarily supportive of this,” he said. “It’s a great idea.”
Whittemore was survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren, according to his obituaries which appeared in multiple media outlets.
Olson said he spoke with Whittemore’s daughter about the plan and said she and her siblings were very supportive of the idea.
“They were all thrilled that this was even being thought about,” he said.
As an undergraduate at Yale University, Whittemore co-founded the literary magazine Furioso. After graduating in 1941, Whittemore served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.
After his years of service, Whittemore published 11 books of poetry and also served as the literary editor of the New Republic from 1969 to 1973.
The poet had dementia and was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease 45 years before his death that made it hard for Whittemore to raise his hands, make a fist or even walk, according to the obituary.
The marker would be funded through a College Park City‐University Partnership grant, but Olson asked for the city’s support in installing the marker, which would include details about his life.
When asked by Rigg if a poem of Whittemore would be included on the marker, Olson said he is communicating with the family to find the best one that would fit the size of the display.
“As we try to do more in terms of arts and culture and placemaking, it seemed like this was very appropriate,” Olson said.