Who Will Speak For St. Louis As Its First Poet Laureate? | St. Louis Public Radio

Who Will Speak For St. Louis As Its First Poet Laureate?

Nov 7, 2014

7th Grade Poetry Foundation winner Janae Wilson and Aaron Williams at the Sept. 19 Board of Aldermen meeting.
Credit 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.

Williams founded the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation, a poetry project for middle-schoolers in St. Louis and around the country. He's impressed with the caliber of the nominations. Williams had halfway expected to see at least a few submissions along the lines of “the bartender at the Southside Grill” or “Mack the barber,” but he's happy to be wrong about that.

“They’re really doing their homework, the poetry community especially, is taking this quite seriously,” Williams said. “We have one of the richest poetry communities of any city in the United States, of any region in the United States, so there are hundreds of poets, if not thousands of poets. in the St. Louis community.”

The website lists very specific parameters for submissions. The poet laureate must be an experienced, published poet who’s lived on the Missouri side of the metro area for at least five years, among other criteria.

The poet laureate is a two-year position. Five more members of the task force — including government and literary professionals —  will soon be appointed. But their names won't be released to the public until after they make their decision. Among the jobs of the panel is to find a funder who will offer compensation to the chosen poet, commensurate with that of other cities. Some cities like Brooklyn do not pay their poet laureate, but others offer $5,000 to $10,000 a year, Williams said.

Now more than ever, it's important for St. Louis' official poet to reflect the diverse culture of the area, Williams noted.

“It’s made up of a number of races, and ethnicities and many perspectives," Williams said. "And so you’re really looking, I’m sure the committee will be looking, for someone who really has a voice that speaks to all -- not just to some.”