Plano computer analyst has second career as Texas Poet Laureate

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Before last May, few of Alan Lee Birkelbach's co-workers at the Plano office of Freddie Mac, a home finance company, knew he was a published poet.

That changed when the computer analyst was named Texas Poet Laureate for 2005-06 and the news was posted on the company web site.

"My co-workers began looking at me like they never knew me," Birkelbach says. "But I'm still the same guy -- except now I have poetry bookings until the middle of this year. It's like I tell my wife: Nothing has changed and everything has changed."

The Texas Poet Laureate is named each year by the Texas Legislature. The one-year appointment has no duties, no obligations and no pay.

Birkelbach, however, took the advice of former poet laureates to "act as an ambassador for poetry across the state."
As top bard, he has spoken at conferences, festivals, poetry groups, colleges, public libraries and bookstores. He was a guest at the Langdon Review of the Arts in Granbury in September and will speak this spring at Forrest Fest, an arts festival held annually in Lamesa and the only poetry festival in the high plains of West Texas.

Birkelbach, a poet since age 12, is the author of two poetry collections, No Boundaries and Weighed in the Balances.

After earning an English degree from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in 1978, he worked in various jobs before being hired by Freddie Mac in 1987.

Birkelbach says he tends to write about those who have lost their direction in life. He uses Texas and the Southwest as the foundation for many of his poems. The rural area of Georgetown where he grew up, "with a river and snakes running through our property," has inspired the settings for his poems, as has West Texas.

"My wife's mother lives in San Angelo. I've been to the Palo Duro Canyon several times. Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, Lajitas and parts of New Mexico also made a deep impression," he says.

In addition to his public appearances, Birkelbach has spent the last few months completing three book manuscripts.

"I decided to strike while the iron was hot," he says, adding that he sets aside three to four hours a week for poetry, and often writes for three to four hours an evening to meet deadlines.

As poet laureate, he's also enjoyed talking with fellow poets, including Cleatus Rattan, a fellow North Texas alumnus who was Texas Poet Laureate in 2004-05.

Birkelbach says having two alumni as poet laureates "speaks volumes about North Texas."
"Something there breeds good writers," he says.

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