Laren McClung of Bensalem Named 2016 Bucks County Poet Laureate

McClung, a Bucks alumna who rose to the top of 88 entries in the 40th annual contest, was honored with a reading and reception at the Newtown campus.

Laren McClung of Bensalem has been named the 2016 Bucks County Poet Laureate, officials at Bucks County Community College announced.

McClung, a Bucks alumna who now holds two master’s degrees and teaches at New York University, rose to the top of 88 entries in the 40th annual contest, said Dr. Christopher Bursk, co-director of the poet laureate program administered by the college. The contest is sponsored by the Bucks County Commissioners.

McClung was honored with a poetry reading and reception November 13 at Bucks’ Newtown campus, Bursk said.

After attending Bucks, McClung earned a BA and MA from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., and an MFA from New York University. She is the author of Between Here and Monkey Mountain (Sheep Meadow Press), and editor of the anthology Inheriting the War: Poetry and Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees, forthcoming from W.W. Norton in 2017.

Her awards include fellowships from Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus in Schwandorf, Germany. She has led writing workshops with residents at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island, New York, and with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has taught in the Prison Education Program. Her work has been published in many journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Cerise Press, The American Reader, PN Review, and War, Literature and the Arts.

The judges for the contest were poet Amy Small-McKenney as preliminary judge, and poet J.C. Todd as the final judge, who had high praise for the 10 poems that McClung entered.

“These astonishing poems enact a kind of re-incarnation, retrieving histories of the natural and the built world, of ancient ritual, and of language so they come alive again to mingle in the present world, palpable in the continuous present that art creates,” Todd wrote of the winning entries. “Although they are dense with language, the lines are musical; their cadence unspools images in a kind of cinema vérité.”  

The judges also named three runners-up in the contest. They are Jenny Isaacs of Doylestown, Steve Nolan of Newtown, and Kyra Juliet Spence of Newtown. They’ve been invited to read at the November 13 reception, along with 2015 Bucks County Poet Laureate Tyler Kline of Chalfont.

In addition to the inaugural reading and reception, McClung will be honored with a $500 honorarium and a proclamation from the Bucks County Commissioners.

Finalists in the contest were: Elizabeth Austin, Dante DelVecchio, Katherine Falk, Molly Gorelick, Barry Gross, Bernadette Karpa, Mary Jo LoBello Jerome, Michael Gino LoStracco, Geri Ann McLaughlin, Tom Mallouk, Nancy H. Mills, Jane Edna Mohler, Camille Norvaisas, Julienne Osborne-McKnight, Wendy Fulton Steginsky, Allen Totltzis, and Carly Volpe.

Reflecting on the 40th annual contest, Bursk, the program’s co-director and a past poet laureate, said the program attracts a wide range of writers.

“Past laureates have come from all lines of work – postal worker, marketing consultant, copy editor, artist, television producer, actor, teacher, farm worker, prison counselor – and from all ages – from 22 to 75,” said Bursk. “Some have had published widely before being chosen laureate, some only rarely. What all have shared is a commitment to their craft and a delight at being able to serve Bucks County as its laureate.”

The 2016 Bucks County Poet Laureate reading and reception takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 13 in the Orangery building on Bucks County Community College’s campus at 275 Swamp Rd., Newtown, Pa., 18940. Admission and parking are free.

The Bucks County Poet Laureate program – the longest-running such program in Pennsylvania – is another way that Bucks County Community College contributes to the cultural heritage of the region. For more information, contact program co-directors Dr. Christopher Bursk at 215-968-8156 or Dr. Ethel Rackin at 215-497-8719. 



In the dead of winter they keep coming back in the half-

light of the east window, Tyrian purples & deep pink

centers open like the mouths of forest animals,

their tendrils pushing away from the thick stegmata

swollen with its own internal spring. But spring

seems far now as branches shake in the wind on Bleecker.

You say the genetic blueprint must root back to the orient,

the Manuchurian where Sika deer, gorals, & panda

feed, where the medicinal petals are harvested for Shi-Hu,

blessings for the kidney or liver, but I know the flowers grow

below the equator or above in the mystery of the arctic.

Perhaps, I sometimes think, it must be the atmospherics,

the blustery air that drifts through the apartment.

Yet in my dreams the monocots twist themselves

into a rapture beckoning & they are thirsty. You know

they say the Orchidaceae are punished ghosts

undeserving of the beauty wrongdoing becomes.

Even in this reincarnate they lure & reach,

& if you stand too close, know they will ravish you.

-          Laren McClung

Jean Dolan
Assistant Director, Public Relations