Florida's Poet Laureate
After a competition of over four hundred Florida poets and selection by an anonymous national panel in 1980, Governor Robert Graham appointed Dr. Edmund Skellings the Poet Laureate of the State of Florida, a lifetime honor. Author of seven books of poems, his most recent is COLLECTED POEMS 1958-1998, published by the University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
Dr. Edmund Skellings
Edmund Skellings was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts in 1932, attended Suffield Academy, and graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with Honors in English in 1957.
His first experiments with poetry on magnetic tape began that year at the University of Iowa with subsequent publication of the first record-book, Duels and Duets, whose covers contained vinyl recordings of the poet’s voice. The book won the Chicago Midwest Award for design.
That same year saw his earliest experimental video-poems aired by WSUI using a combination of multi-camera switching and cinescope transmission. The University of Iowa typographic laboratory designed and published In This Tone of Voice, a children’s book of verse to teach punctuation with color graphical illustrations. Dr. Skellings graduated from the University of Iowa as Ph.D. in British and American Literature. He taught prosody and metrics for three years in the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
In 1963, he founded the Alaska Writers Workshop, with courses leading to the Master of Fine Arts degree and Doctor of Philosophy with creative dissertation. In 1964, Skellings founded the Alaska Flying Poets with a grant from Piper Corporation. Poet pilots served the far-flung communities of the state of Alaska by private airplane. The success of the program attracted national attention, and under a grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity, the poets again flew their own private aircraft to visit project Upward Bound students at fourteen universities from Texas to Illinois.
In 1967, Skellings joined the faculty of the Florida Atlantic University where he taught Understanding Poetry and Shakespeare at the Miami South Beach campus. Adding electronic augmentation to his microphone, he made many demonstration appearances for college and university television stations across the United States, including NETCHE, the fourteen college and university network of Nebraska. His audiotape experimentation continued, with resultant recording of a sixteen-track fifteen-minute concerto for voice and guitar distributed in Black Box, the cassette magazine of the National Endowment for the Arts. His quadraphonic (precursor to surround sound) three-dimensional voice recording was widely distributed after a studio performance at the National Center for Audio Experimentation at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1973, Skellings joined the faculty of Florida International University as Director of the International Institute for Creative Communication, which brought poetry programs to over one hundred thousand South Florida children with publications of subsequent anthologies of their writing. The work was supported by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs with matching grants from Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties. A special program was instituted for Sunland Training Centers statewide for disabled children. Skellings won a Governor’s Award for the arts in 1979 for community service.
During this time, the University Press of Florida published Nearing the Millennium, a collection of three books of poems, Heart Attacks, Face Value and Showing My Age. Selections from the trilogy were recorded live at the United States Library of Congress.
In 1981, Skellings was awarded a United States patent for a computer teaching system based upon the functional use of color on a cathode ray tube. He later received patents from the United Kingdom and Canada.
That same year the International Institute for Creative Communication distributed Skellings’ computer program named ELECTRIC POET to select English faculty at the nine State Universities of Florida. This software was accompanied by an Apple microcomputer with electronic mail capability for all Florida universities.
In 1982, the International Institute for Creative Communication founded ARTNET, the first arts and humanities microcomputer network in the United States, spearheading the electronic mail system now used by thousands of faculty and staff in Florida. Skellings continued his color research on microcomputer equipment loaned by Apple, Xerox, General Electric, IBM, Tektronix, Chromatics, Ramtek, Tandy, Intelligent Systems and Florida Computer Graphics corporations. International Business Machines placed twenty-five microcomputer workstations on permanent personal loan to Skellings for his use as the first faculty microcomputer laboratory at Florida International University.
In 1985, IBM published ELECTRIC POET and COMMA CAT, and Scholastic Magazine called COMMA CAT “the best of the best” in computer-assisted teaching programs.
The University Press of Florida published Skellings’ LIVING PROOF, a collection of poems celebrating the creative work of artists and scientists.
From 1978 to 1990, as Chairman of the Florida Speaker’s Advisory Panel for Computers and Telecommunication, Skellings researched and implemented a statewide computer information network for the Florida House of Representatives, connecting 120 Florida cities with a telecommunication system of over 1,500 computers.
Skellings is nationally regarded as a pioneer in the use of electronic technology for the arts, humanities and education. Stories on his innovations and inventions have appeared in TIME LIFE BOOKS, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, Computer World, IBM”s Perspectives in Computing, and many others.
In 1989, Skellings was appointed an IBM Consulting Scholar, one of twelve in the nation. He also received a grant from IBM to establish the Florida Writers Network to electronically connect creative writing programs at Florida State University, University of Central Florida and Florida International University.
In 1990, Skellings was appointed founding Director of the Florida Center for Electronic Communication at Florida Atlantic University on the Fort Lauderdale Campus. The Center was mandated by the Florida Legislature to develop future uses of new information technologies for instruction, research and administration within the State University System and to provide liaison with the community colleges and libraries of Florida. Under Skellings’ direction, the Florida Center for Electronic Communication established a supercomputer multimedia studio laboratory to research and demonstrate state-of-the-art educational technologies.
Video materials produced by the Center have achieved recognition at video festivals around the world. In 1992, Skellings produced a new way to teach poetry using a network of Silicon Graphics supercomputers and advanced imaging software to generate moving pictures to illustrate the ideas in the lines of the poems. These “SuperPoems” were presented by the American Film Institute in Hollywood, California during the National Video Festival and were also shown on Miami Public Television. Year after year, Skellings’ unique animated poetry has received awards such as the New York Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, National Poetry Festival, Telly Awards, Berlin Film Festival (the largest video festival in the world) as well as Image Forum Festivals in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.
In 1995, the Florida Center for Electronic Communication produced Nearing the Millennium, a video biography about Skellings. The video featured fifteen of his supercomputer animated poems, historical footage, and commentary by leading contemporary poets.
In 1998, The University Press of Florida published Skellings COLLECTED POEMS 1958-1998. It included his four previously published books and one new book entitled PERSONAL EFFECTS. Also included was a CD with 50 selected poems read by Skellings. Two of the selections are poems created using audio editing equipment and are experimental sound poems.
Under Skellings direction, the Center rapidly developed a reputation as the finest university laboratory of its type east of the Mississippi River. Videography Magazine featured the Center’s supercomputer studio as “National Room of the Month.”
In 1998, Skellings was responsible for implementing a new graduate degree. The first class of Master of Fine Arts students began to study Computer Arts at the Florida Center for Electronic Communication. The MFA in Computer Arts was the only graduate program of its type at a public university in the southeastern United States and was selected as a member of the Academic Common Market. The program attracted students from all over the world- from England, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Columbia, Canada, and of course the USA. One of the graduate students was a Fulbright Scholar from Uruguay. The students produced an individual creative thesis consisting of 3D animations. Many students won awards and their animations shown at video festivals around the globe. By the time Skellings retired in 2006, fifty graduate students had been awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in Computer Arts.
In 2002, Skellings won the Videographer Crystal Award of Excellence for his digital video disc entitled WORD SONGS, the first collection of 3D animated poetry in the world. Novel and traditional poems are interpreted by computer-graphic illustration, and for the first time, are recorded in Dolby digital 5.1 home theater and animated with special effects. The entire audio-visual spectrum enhances these poems, at last fulfilling Skellings early prophesies for poetry.
During his directorship at the Florida Center for Electronic Communication, from 1990 to 2006, Skellings was responsible for bringing six million new dollars to Florida Atlantic University.
From January 2008 to May 2011, Edmund Skellings served as University Professor of Humanities at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, where he devoted his time between writing poetry and mentoring students. Dr. Skellings retired in May, 2011 due to poor health.
After Dr. Skellings retired, he wanted to step down from his lifetime appointment as Poet Laureate of Florida, in order to give more fine Florida poets an opportunity to bring their unique talents to this honorary position. He encouraged the efforts of those proposing new legislation to limit the term of service of the appointment and promised to support other poets in the state in these efforts.
In January 2011, The Carrollwood Cultural Center presented a retrospective film entitled "Edmund Skellings: A Man Ahead of His Time" which featured Skellings' animated poetry with commentary by former students and colleagues.
On August 19, 2012, Edmund Skellings passed away. The Florida State Poets Association honored his memory on October 12, 2012, as part of their annual convention. A new film "Edmund Skellings in His Own Words" premiered there.
If you wish to learn more about Florida's last Poet Laureate, visit The Edmund Skellings Digital Archive Collection at http://research.fit.edu/edmundskellings/.
The Poet Laureate serves without term and without compensation. The first Poet Laureate was Franklin N. Wood, appointed by Governor John W. Martin in 1929. The second was Mrs. Vivian Laramore Rader of Miami, who served from 1931 until her death in 1973 at age 83.