How now HoCoPoLitSo?


Writers who desire great honors -- the Nobel, poet laureate for the United States, or the world's richest poetry prize -- may want to try this incantation: HoCoPoLitSo, HoCoPoLitSo, HoCoPoLitSo.

That's the accepted shorthand for the Columbia-based Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, which seems to have an uncanny knack for bringing good fortune to its speakers.

The society, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next month, snared W. S. Merwin for this weekend's residency. Last month, he was awarded the first-ever Tanning Prize, a $100,000 bequest.

Another HoCoPoLitSo speaker, Derek Walcott of South Africa, went on to win the Nobel Prize. Poet Mark Strand appeared the same year he was named poet laureate.

Then again, perhaps it's not literary serendipity, but the unerring instincts of the society's founder, Ellen Conroy Kennedy, a translator best known for her work with Albert Camus' essays.

"The secret is a passion, I suppose, and then this is a community with a lots of interesting resources," she says when asked how the organization does it. "We've been courting Adrienne Rich for about 10 years."

The Baltimore-born Ms. Rich may not have visited yet, but other writers who have passed through Howard County include Nobel winners Saul Bellow and Issac Bashevis Singer, and the poet Stanley Kunitz,

The group has 150 paying members and a mailing list of 1,500. Ms. Kennedy, with the help of a part-time assistant, secures additional funding through grants.

Howard County Community College's television studio tapes interviews with visiting writers, which are broadcast on the local cable channel as part of "The Writer's Life," -- an innovation unimagined when the literary society was formed in 1974.

A conversation between Mr. Merwin and poet Roland Flint, who teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, will be broadcast next month on the Howard County cable system's Channel 8. The literary society also is negotiating with Baltimore County's cable company to air the show.

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