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Whitestone resident is new boro poet laureate

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Park won the honorary post out of a pool of more than 70 candidates, some with popular names such as Joseph Simmons, known as Reverend Run of Run-DMC. Simmons, the brother of rap-mogul Russell Simmons, ran his campaign for the position on the basis that rap is poetry. But his were not the words for which the judges were looking.

Instead the panel — two Queens College professors and a St. John’s University professor — winnowed down the candidates to three and Borough President Helen Marshall made the final selection of Park after reviewing her portfolio of poems relating to the borough.

The ranks of contenders for poet laureate swelled after The New York Times reported earlier this spring that competition for the poet laureate’s slot in Queens was thin.

“When The Times put down Queens, a lot of Queens poets said ‘oh no, no, no, no, we’ve got to get in there,’” Marshall said. “Culture and arts are alive and well in Queens. Poetry readings take place all over the place.”

Park, a 26-year-old master’s student at New York University who grew up in Flushing and lives in Whitestone, said the world of words is thriving in the borough in which she grew up.

“I was really surprised the only quote The Times used from me was the one that was disparaging about Queens,” she said. One of the first poets to throw her hat into the ring for the post, she was quoted by the newspaper as saying “for me Queens is like a suburban nightmare.”

Instead, she said the borough has inspired her and the women who raised her here are some of the muses of her verse.

“I can only hope my work resonates with the lovely echo of their lives,” she said of her mother and aunt, who attended the ceremony.

Her mother, Sucha Park, said she and her husband tried as hard as they could to encourage her daughter into a life other than that of a poet’s.

“We forced her to go to NYU business school. She wasn’t happy,” the elder Park said. “She transferred to Sarah Lawrence and did very well.”

The new poet laureate said she began working on her verse at Townsend Harris High School and has continued to write ever since.

She has performed everywhere from New York to San Francisco and was even featured in the HBO special of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons’ Broadway show “Def Poetry Jam.”

During her three-year term as poet laureate, she plans to promote literary arts in the borough for poets of every age.

“She outlined a program that was extremely ambitious,” judge George Held said. “She seems to have the youth and energy to carry it out.”

Marshall swore Park into the honorary office by reciting an oath that included upholding the U.S. Constitution and the Charter of the City of New York.

Hal Sirowitz, Park’s predecessor, said the experience of a Queens poet laureate is one part promoting poetry as an art and one part dispelling misnomers about the borough.

“At one time before hip-hop and the reappreciation of the great jazz musicians, Queens’ claim to fame was Archie Bunker,” he said. Now Park will have the opportunity to redefine that image with her honorary role, which she will use to promote spoken verse in Queens.

“Her poems cry out, ‘I’m not who you think I am — it’s me,’” he said. “And now she’s being asked to do the same thing with her home, to show people that Queens isn’t what they think it is, a place where most people just pass through.

Sirowitz added, “It’s our most ethnic borough. By many different types of people living and working together we’re proving that the world is large enough for everyone.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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