Officially designated poet laureates have been a rare breed in New Milford-area communities.

The town of Washington stepped up recently to name Jesse Steinmetz, 21, as its poet laureate.

"It was Jesse's initiative," said First Selectman Mark Lyon. "He came to me and suggested it. I thought it sounded like an interesting thing to do."

Steinmetz, a Shepaug Valley High School graduate, was officially named Washington poet laureate July 2, when the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to bestow the honor on the Hampshire (Mass.) College senior.

In the true poet-laureate tradition, he immediately set out to teach workshops and conduct an open microphone poetry reading in town.

His goal is to promote poetry and encourage others to engage in their community creatively.

"I'd heard about poet laureates popping up in towns around the country," Steinmetz said. "This will likely be one of my last summers living here at home, and I want to interact in a new way with my community."

Steinmetz' major is poetry and Spanish at Hampshire. His thesis work will consist of writing a book of English translations of Chilean poems. He spent a semester of his junior year in Chile and Guatemala.

"We're very proud of Jesse's accomplishment, and for taking the initiative in doing this," said his father, Paul Steinmetz.

Steinmetz said he was inspired to write poetry as a fourth-grader, when he attended a poetry camp and wrote Japanese-style haiku poems.

He believes anyone can learn to write poems, and more people would enjoy poetry if it were not for the list of poets traditionally taught in schools.

"The only reason people think they can't write poetry is because they only read Emily Dickinson in high school, and think poetry has to rhyme or be about death," Steinmetz said.

"I think if we didn't have the collected body of work that comprises the canon, people would realize they could write and enjoy poetry."

The term poet laureate comes from the classical Greek civilization's bestowing of a crown of laurel on the heads of writers proficient in the arts.

Connecticut's poet laureate is Dick Allen.

The United States' poet laureate is Natasha Tretheway, who will be followed by Charles Wright in September.; 860-355-7322