MK Stallings | St. Louis Public Radio

MK Stallings

UrbArts founder MK Stallings and St. Louis Youth Poet Laureate Camryn Howe say the power of the spoken word is electric. [5/30/19]
Jeremy D. Goodwin | St. Louis Public Radio

Camryn Howe discovered the power of poetry as a high school freshman, when a conversation in physics class led to an impromptu visit to her school’s slam poetry club. When she heard her classmates’ work, crackling with energy and performed aloud, she was hooked. Spoken-word poetry, she found, gave her a way to communicate things that felt too raw to express any other way — and she found the gumption to share her work onstage in front of strangers.

Howe, 18, is now St. Louis’s Youth Poet Laureate. She’ll be a part of Rustbelt Poetry Slam, an annual event now in its 20th year that will be hosted in St. Louis for the first time, at .ZACK on June 21 and 22. The organizer is UrbArts, the Old North-based nonprofit focused on youth outreach through the power of the word.

File Photo. Alderman Terry Kennedy says the delay in naming a St. Louis poet laureate could stretch into next year.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When members of the Board of Aldermen created St. Louis' poet laureate position, they intended to promote unity. Indeed, inaugural official poet Michael Castro was lauded for building bridges with his words.

But now the post has become a lightning rod for disagreement. 

At issue is whether the task force that recommended Castro's replacement complied with the ordinance that established the position. If not, city aldermen want to know if that invalidates the task force's choice of Jane Ellen Ibur as the city’s next poet laureate.

 In this file photo, St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro talks with students at an event presented by the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation.
Adelia Castro

Some in the St. Louis poetry community are upset about a delay in announcing a new poet laureate.

In December 2014, Michael Castro was ushered in with great fanfare as St. Louis’ first official poet. It was a two-year term.

This past December, the head of the task force charged with naming Castro’s successor told poet Jane Ellen Ibur that she’d been selected. But she still doesn't have the job.