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Looking Ahead to “American Celebration”: Poets Laureate in Conversation, Part 2

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U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Photo: Shawn Miller
Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Poet Laureate of Oklahoma
Adrian Matejka, Poet Laureate of Indiana. Photo: Stephen Sproll
Kealoha, Poet Laureate of Hawaii. Photo: Ronen Zilberman
Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Tom Callan
Vogue Robinson, Poet Laureate of Clark County, NV




















This coming Monday, April 15, 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Tracy K. Smith will conclude her laureateship with an event at the Library of Congress titled “American Celebration.” Joining her onstage in a conversation about the role of poets laureate will be state, city, and county poets laureate Jeanetta Calhoun Mish (Oklahoma), Kealoha (Hawaii), Adrian Matejka (Indiana), Tina Chang (Brooklyn, NY), and Vogue Robinson (Clark County, NV). We hope you’ll join us for this historic event—free tickets are still available, but going fast—at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium.

To gear up for Monday’s conversation, we’ve asked each poet laureate to answer a couple of questions about their roles and outreach efforts. Our first question went up on the blog yesterday. Here are their thoughtful responses to our second question:

What has most excited you about your own outreach efforts in the position?

Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate:

I’ve developed terms for why poetry is indispensable in our current social and political climate. I think I sensed this intuitively but the outreach has solidified a clear sense of why poems are a necessary antidote to our divisive, technology-mediated American consciousness.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Poet Laureate of Oklahoma:

I have been most excited about and delighted by my visits to rural communities and schools. Readings and workshops in rural underserved areas have been generously welcomed and well-attended—more folks participate, per capita, than in urban areas. The emotionally-profound and courageous poetry written by students and community members in rural areas is always deeply embedded in the land and in family and cultural history while also responding to the broader issues of contemporary America. So far as I’m concerned, this is the purpose of the laureateship: to encourage people, my people, to write our Oklahoma.

Adrian Matejka, Poet Laureate of Indiana:

It’s been such a pleasure to travel around my state, being a part of the creation of poems in places where there sometimes wasn’t public poetry happening before. The thing that excites me the most about this outreach is that the poems my fellow Indiana poets have been writing in these workshops and gatherings have had so little to do with me. I’m sometimes able to facilitate spaces in which the writers feel safe sharing their stories, but those poems were there when I showed up. They were just waiting for a microphone or megaphone or a friend to say “yes, let’s write some poems.” The fact that there are poets just waiting to happen all around Indiana makes the state itself more robust and artistically egalitarian. It makes it a better place to live.

Kealoha, Poet Laureate of Hawaii:

I’ve been most excited in my efforts to shift the needle regarding our conversations about science. During my recent tours, I’ve been on a mission to bring scientific truths to people through poetry and performance, and I find that this dance between disciplines is a powerful tool to help people understand big picture ideas such as evolution and climate change.

I’ve also been extremely excited by opportunities to interface with other native communities around the United States. I’ve been moved to find the parallels in the way we tell our stories, and the way we use words to pass on our knowledge and traditions.

Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, NY:

Being inducted as a poet laureate at the same time as becoming a mother, I found my two biggest roles in my life walked hand in hand. I’ve been the most excited about working with children and many of my efforts are in partnership with early literacy. I work with children’s book authors and illustrators to bring them into public schools. It’s wonderful to know children would like to be writers too. Their mission statement is often so bold and pure: “I want to be an artist!” My excitement is in supporting that, watching that grow, celebrating the personal realization that they can, indeed, be makers, doers, and innovators. When I started in this role, I held the idea that I would be the teacher or perhaps I might walk into a space to impart a lesson. The opposite is true. I am a witness to community. I am witness to inspiration and I feel lucky to be invited into so many soul-spaces in Brooklyn and across the U.S. to receive powerful messages of song, hard work, and praise.

Vogue Robinson, Poet Laureate of Clark County, NV:

My intergenerational programming, Poetry For Life – NV and Alzheimer’s Poetry Project – NV, have both taught me so much about expression, joy, and love. Seeing students share their love of words with complete strangers and writing a poem together was wonderful.

My outreach efforts also extended to my family. The poets I worked with actually came to my home and read poetry to my 97-year-old grandmother. It was great to see her joy & to watch their interactions.

That should whet your appetite for Monday’s event. If you can’t join us in person, don’t worry: you can watch the livestream on the Library’s Facebook page or YouTube site (captioned).