Poet Alison Rollins
Provided by Alison Rollins

“I realized fairly recently that I have to write. I am a poet and I claim that and it is a necessity. The same way I breathe, the same way I blink, it must be done.” Alison Rollins.

St. Louis poet Alison Rollins has won a prestigious 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship for young poets. 

St. Louis-based writer Jacqui Germain shared her poetry on "St. Louis on the Air."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

“I think of St. Louis as a place in which people are right next to each other and trying not to see each other at the same time,” said writer and poet Jacqui Germain, who has made her home here since moving from Ohio in 2008 to attend Washington University.  Germain has stayed in the area and her changing relationship with St. Louis is an integral part of her work, as is her activism.

Treasure Shields Redmond, her mother Elsie Lee Shields, and her grandmother Mary Shields. Meridian, Mississippi 1995
Provided by Treasure Shields Redmond

A St. Louis-area poet is lending her voice to the small but growing movement of activists calling for protests that disrupt U.S. society to spur social and economic justice.

Treasure Shields Redmond is a professor at Southwestern Illinois College and author of a book on civil rights trailblazer Fannie Lou Hamer. She is calling for a St. Louis-area strike by black workers during the Labor Day weekend. She’s calling the event Strike for Black Lives in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Treasure Shields Redmond and her book, “Chop: A Collection of Kwansabas for Fannie Lou Hamer"
Kim Love / Shields Redmond headshot

As a child in Meridian, Miss., Treasure Shields Redmond donned special shoes nearly every Sunday — a black patent leather pair that skipped after her mother as they walked to the Baptist church.

By high school, she’d traded her Mary Janes for Nikes, and hymns like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” for Public Enemy's “Party for Your Right to Fight.”

The daughter of East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene Redmond is now a poet and performing artist, and an English professor at Southwestern Illinois College.  In our latest Cut & Paste podcast, we talk with Shields Redmond about using language and song as tools for social justice and illuminating women’s lives.

Provided by Darian Wigfall

“Play All Trap Music/That's What We Want/Let it wash ya brain/All We Do Is Stunt.”

In the first stanza of a new poem, multimedia artist Darian Wigfall examines how corporations run by the wealthy profit from art forms they didn’t develop.  He says the work takes aim at corporations and wealthy classes that appropriate minority voices.

Wigfall turned his poem into a series of large-scale paintings currently on view at the Kranzberg Arts Center. The show is titled “Hidden Messages: The Subtlety of Oppression.”

Rachel Knickerman | Flickr | http://bit.ly/24icZgD

April is National Poetry Month and before we flip the calendar page, St. Louis on the Air wants to celebrate two local organizations working to make sure that poetry continues on in the lives of young people.

Listen to the full interview and hear poetry from the young poets themselves:

UrbArts VerbQuake Poetry Slam

William J. Clinton Presidential Library

This year’s Sundance Film Festival premiered a documentary about someone St. Louisans know and love: the incomparable Maya Angelou. The film is titled “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” and will have its St. Louis premiere on Thursday, March 24 at the Missouri History Museum, as part of Washington University Libraries Film & Media Archive’s Henry Hampton Film Series.  It is the first documentary to be made about Angelou’s life.

Poet and spoken word artist Cheeraz Gormon has felt great pain.

She grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood of College Hill and remembers what it was like to hear the first gun shots ring out in her neighborhood in the late 1980s and the gang wars that erupted thereafter. She remembers when her brother, six weeks home from Kuwait, was murdered in Olivette. She remembers, most recently, when her baby brother was murdered on August 13, 2013, defending a woman who was the victim of domestic abuse. She most certainly remembers years of systemic racism she faced as an executive in the advertising industry and daily life as a black woman and activist.

But Gormon has also approached this pain with great love: a fuel for her poetry and spoken word performances that are capturing the hearts and minds of people around St. Louis.

St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro delivers a poem before the ceremonial swearing-in of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

This weekend poetry becomes a test of whether poets and poetry enthusiasts who follow a certain genre can cross cultural and stylist barriers in their art. The Brick City Poetry Festival is being presented as the first poetry festival of its kind in the St. Louis region. The goal? To bring together academic, spoken-word, young, old, and racially diverse poets in search of “human commonality.”

Ted Mathys
Durrie Bouscaren

St. Louis poet Ted Mathys has “Math” in his name -- and his background.

“I started out college as a math major. I’m really interested in precision and exactitude,” Mathys said.

Poetry eventually won out as an occupation, but give the word a prefix and math is a close second: a preoccupation. Numbers still figure prominently in his work, including his book to be released June 12, called “Null Set.” So does child’s play.

2013 7GP book cover

Seventh-graders are known for the outsized emotions that begin to grip their thoughts at the onset of puberty. But a program called the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation helps middle-schoolers express their feelings.

Michael Castro
Ros Crenshaw

This Saturday, St. Louis’ first Poet Laureate Michael Castro will publicly read his first official poem, commemorating the city’s 250th birthday.The reading will take place at a coronation ceremony from 3-5 p.m. at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.

Urb Arts fundraising poster
Courtesy of Urb Arts

Urban Artist Alliance for Child Development known as Urb Arts, a community arts organization, hopes to raise $72,000 in 72 hours. Founder MK Stallings said the money will fund the organization's purchase of a building in north St. Louis to remake as a new arts center.

“A professional performing arts center for community artists would elevate, I would say, the game for a lot of community artists in St. Louis,” said Stallings, the administrative and creative force behind Urb Arts.

Michael Castro
Ros Crenshaw

Updated to include Michael Castro's poetry and interview audio, and reaction from poet Shirley Bradford LeFlore.

Except for dotting the “i’s” and crossing a “t” or two, St. Louis has its first official poet.

A typewriter for the "What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking?" project sits in the Central West End in 2013. Passers-by were encouraged to anonymously share their thoughts.
Erin Williams / St. Louis Public Radio

In 2013, Henry Goldkamp decorated St. Louis with 40 typewriters. Each of the manual typewriter stations asked passers-by to tap out their thoughts.

Goldkamp dubbed the project “What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking?” and has published a curated book of responses. The book, also called “What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking?,” will be released on Nov. 22.

So what is St. Louis thinking?

Janae Wilson and Aaron Williams at the Sept. 19 Board of Aldermen Friday
Provided by Aaron Williams

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted Friday to approve the new position of poet laureate, but even before their approval, nominations were pouring in.

This past Monday, a website was set up for nominating candidates. Within just a few hours, several dozen names were submitted. Many are duplicates with at least one candidate named by 10 different people, according to Aaron Williams, who is set to chair the task force that will select the city’s official poet.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Poet Richard Blanco is best known for “One Today,” the poem he wrote and read at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. Blanco was the first Latino, first immigrant and first openly gay writer to be commissioned as an inaugural poet.

Lewis Reed 2013
Provided by Lewis Reed

St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed is spearheading an effort to establish a poet laureate position in St. Louis.

Brenda Clarke | via Flickr

Poetry is misunderstood.

“Poetry does have this reputation among the general public as being this highbrow kind of communication that’s only suitable for academic people and people of the intellectual elite, and is not relevant or needed for anybody else,” Missouri poet laureate Bill Trowbridge told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Monday.

“St. Louis is kind of underappreciated as a literary city,” St. Louis author Ann Leckie said. “There’s the long history, but there’s also plenty of writers who are here now.”

That history, including authors like Maya Angelou and Tennessee Williams, and award-winning authors like Leckie are fueling next weekend’s Lit in the Lou festival.

St. Louis Public Radio photos

Boise has one. So do Houston and Los Angeles, and even East St. Louis. But St. Louis is one of the few major cities that doesn’t have a poet laureate, an official poet to document its culture in verse.

image courtesy of Styx

Richard Newman of River Styx brings his poetic touch to St. Louis Public Radio. He regularly selects a poem to appear on this site. It's a free glimpse into the vibrant poetry life in this area. Today: Ted Kooser | Applause

Louis Brodsky
Provided by the family

Louis Daniel Brodsky, a stunningly prolific writer who composed nearly 12,000 poems, including more than 350 on the Holocaust, has died.

When Mr. Brodsky decided to become serious about his poetry, he committed himself to writing a poem every day of his life.

“He worked at being a poet,” said Eugene Redmond, professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and poet laureate of East St. Louis. “Lou went to work like a physician, like a person who worked in a coal mine, like a janitor, like a math teacher. It was amazing.”

image courtesy of Styx

Richard Newman of River Styx brings his poetic touch to St. Louis Public Radio. He regularly selects a poem to appear on this site. It's a free glimpse into the vibrant poetry life in this area. Today: A.E. Stallings | Daphne.

River Styx’s 39th (because who wants to turn 40?) Anniversary Issue just hit the stands and mailboxes. It includes this poem from the point of view of Daphne, a naiad chased by Apollo. Just before she was overtaken, she called out to her father, a river god, for help, and he turned her into a laurel tree.

A. E. Stallings


Rooted in my shade so long,

I have forgotten dance, and song,

The wild escape that brought me here.

My hair is leaves, the leaves are sere

And pregnant with a bitter oil,

My grip is pitch-forked in the soil.

No one pursues. I do not run

But stand all seasons in the sun:

Autumn shook me for his rattle,

Winter wooed me. Witless prattle

Coupled in my brain all spring

And changed into a crackled thing.

A poet’s wreath, a girl’s lost beauty

Crown me dryly, like a duty;

Now that the wind begins to shift,

Careless as a match, and swift,

Let summer find me in his turn

Slow to fade, and quick to burn.

A.E. Stallings is an American poet who has lived in Athens, Greece, since 1999. Her most recent collection is Olives (Triquarterly, 2012). She is a recipient of a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In this 2011 photo taken in Harlem, Maya Angelou is seated and Eugene Redmond is at her right.
Ros Crenshaw

The passing on Wednesday, May 28, of world-renowned poet, novelist and activist Maya Angelou has been a major news and social media topic.

Here in the St. Louis area, where Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, as Marguerite Johnson before moving away to Stamps, Ark., at an early age, she leaves behind her “brother in spirit,” East St. Louis-born poet and scholar, Eugene Redmond.

image courtesy of Styx

Richard Newman of River Styx brings his poetic touch to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon. He regularly selects a poem to appear on this site. It's a free glimpse into the vibrant poetry life in this area. Today: Jeffrey Bean | The Voyeur’s Blues.

This month we’re featuring a blues poem from River Styx’s upcoming anniversary issue. The blues often come in dark shades, and this one makes the speaker compelling and creepy, the scene sinister yet almost sweet.

Jeffrey Bean

The Voyeur’s Blues

detail from Gallery 210 postcard

Tuesday afternoon, I got away from the office a little early and headed south, dodging raindrops on the way to Chester, Ill. Past Ruma, the sky commanded attention.

On my right, streaks of thin clouds danced against an opaque, pale blue. Straight ahead, dark, deep foreboding clouds layered upward. The rain streaked below. But above all that, a dome of the clearest, cleanest blue provided the beginning of a benediction that was completed in the rainbow patch shimmering at my left.

Frazier Glenn Cross once headed a North Carolina Klan organization.
Wikipedia | archival photo

The national news brought poignant remembrances of the Boston Marathon this week. Close to home, the news brought fresh, stark examples of the best and worst in human nature.

Aaron Williams

When St. Louis attorney recruiter Aaron Williams became interested in croquet 30 years ago, it was about partying, not poetry. Getting some friends together to play croquet in Forest Park was just “something to do.”

“It was an opportunity for everyone to wear white and bring a bottle of champagne,” Williams quipped.

Kalise Harris
Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio Intern

A South City Prep student who wrote about her best friend’s death set a high bar in the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation contest, created by St. Louis attorney Aaron Williams. But this year’s school winner seems ready to carry the mantle.

On Wednesday, 83 seventh-graders will perform an exercise in courage: reading their original poems at the Missouri History Museum in front of an audience. It’s the final event of the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation, called “Poetry on Their Own Terms.”