Jennifer Tappenden, a student in the MFA in Creative Writing program at UMSL, is the university's first poet laureate. She is shown here at All Along Press in St. Louis, which prints poems published by Tappenden's Architrave Press. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Jennifer Tappenden works by day making small databases for researchers to track study data. By night, the 42-year-old New York native hones her poetry skills while in pursuit of her master’s of fine arts in creative writing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She’s scheduled to graduate in December, but before then she’s spending her final year at UMSL as the university’s first poet laureate.

“It feels wonderful,” Tappenden said of her new title. “Most poets are never recognized at all, so it’s quite an honor.”

She began the role in January and will carry the title for a one-year term lasting until the conclusion of 2012. Tappenden’s first official duty as UMSL’s poet laureate was to read a poem a dinner honoring high school student writers.

“I’ll be giving similar readings at other university events over the coming year and acting as a general ambassador for UMSL, our MFA program and the art of poetry,” Tappenden said.

A desire to fine-tune her poetry and a busy work schedule drew Tappenden to UMSL’s MFA in Creative Writing, a program offered through the Department of English.

“I wanted to pursue my writing in a more disciplined way, but I have a full-time job,” Tappenden said. “UMSL’s program offers all its classes in the evening, and you can complete the degree over up to six years, so it really fit my life.”

John Dalton, director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at UMSL, called Tappenden one of the program’s most active and engaged students, despite her keeping busy with her work as a research data manger.

“Jen is very active in the St. Louis poetry community, knows how to read to a crowd, and is a terrific ambassador for poetry and our MFA program,” Dalton said.

Tappenden has published poems in acclaimed literary journals, and her work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also founded Architrave Press, which publishes single-edition poems and allows customers to select the poems of their choice for custom-made poetry collections (like a mixtape of music). The Architrave-published poems are printed at All Along Press in St. Louis.

As to the decision to create the poet laureate position, Dalton pointed to Ron Yasbin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Poetry is beautiful,” Yasbin explained. “There used to be more poet laureates. I don’t know of any other universities that have them. With Jennifer as our first poet laureate, we have a great talent to represent the MFA in Creative Writing program, college and university.”

Tappenden, as well as fellow UMSL creative writing students and Architrave poets Emily Grise and Ray Holmes will guest on “Literature for the Halibut” from 9 to 10 p.m. Monday (April 30) on KDHX (88.1 FM). The show can also be streamed live at kdhx.org and will be available as an archive stream for two weeks. Read more about what they’ll discuss here.

Also, more can be read about Tappenden, who will be profiled in the forthcoming spring edition of UMSL Magazine.

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Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming
Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.

Eye on UMSL: The flavor of homecoming

Senior business major Jalen Walker-Wright gets a cup of southwest chili from Vanessa Loyd and Erin Schaeffer during last Thursday’s homecoming Chili Feed.