Helen von Kolnitz Hyer | Poets Laureate

Helen von Kolnitz Hyer
S.C. Poet Laureate 1974 - 1983

Like Archibald Rutledge, Helen von Kolnitz Hyer had a calling to be a poet at a very young age. As a girl, she memorized poems from her aunt's little red book of 19th century English poets. Helen recited the poems for visitors to her aunt's house. Soon Helen was writing her own compositions. While attending Ashley Hall in Charleston, she wrote the school song and won several poetry prizes.

In 1920, Helen became a member of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, one of the oldest groups in the nation devoted to reading and writing poetry. Helen was very young and a bit out of place amongst the older, more traditional crowd of the Society. But she took this in stride. "They thought I was very young, but it didn't bother me," she said, "what really burnt them up was our first poetry contest, I won it, they didn't think a young girl should win."

The society enjoyed both serious and fun poetry activities. Helen won their limerick prize in 1968 for the following piece:

A lady who lived just to borrow
Moved next to us, much to our sorrow.
We fulfilled all her wishes,
Now she has all our dishes -
To our sorrow, we'll borrow, tomorrow.

 

Like Archibald Rutledge, Helen also loved the state's history and landscape.

In Santee Lullaby, she sings of the wild creatures along the Santee River.

 

Funny little furry things are creeping out of sight,
Santee, Santee,
Funny little fuzzy wings are folded for the night,
Santee, Santee,
Little stars are showing, Honey, let's be going
Fore the big, bull alligator tries to take a bite
of me-ee

 - excerpt from Santee Lullaby

 

Helen became South Carolina's second poet laureate in 1974. And, like Archibald Rutledge, she was interested in making sure that students in the state developed an interest in writing and reading poetry on their own. About her duties as poet laureate, with good humor she admitted, "All I can say is that a poet laureate gets around and talks about poetry with a lot of people."

Photo courtesy The State