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February 26, 2016

Five for Friday: Poet laureate Yolanda Wisher

Newly crowned poet laureate discusses plans for her tenure

The Arts Five for Friday
Yolanda Wisher Mark Palacio/Handout Art

Newly appointed Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher was previously selected as a Pew Center for Arts & Heritage fellow in June.

Friday, Feb. 5, Montgomery County native Yolanda Wisher was crowned Philadelphia's third poet laureate. Renown for works like "Monk Eats and Afro" and countless features in anthologies and magazines, Wisher was also Montgomery County's first poet laureate and is the Chief Rhapsodist of Wherewithal for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which yes, we believe is the coolest title of all time).

During her tenure as the city's poet laureate, Wisher will certainly have a full plate on her hands. Frank Sherlock, for instance, who precedes Wisher in the role, participated in more than 100 related events while he held the title for two years. So, before Wisher is swept away in an exciting few years of lectures, events, readings and more, she chatted with us about her plans and her inspirations. 

How did you react when you first heard the news that you’d be the next poet laureate?

I danced to a Missy Elliott song on the third floor of my house.

Though it’s just been a few weeks since your appointment, can you share any details on your plans for your tenure?

I want to bring poetry organizations and city institutions together to cultivate an appreciation and love for poetry among those who live and work here. I’m looking forward to visiting schools to share my poetry story and the work of poets who came before me. I’m especially interested in hosting events that engage a diverse demographic of Philadelphians in experiencing, playing with, reading and writing poetry. The first event I hosted as Poet Laureate was the Poetic Address to the Nation, a poem written by many poets and based on stories from people across the country, performed at the Painted Bride Art Center Saturday, Feb. 20.

How do you think the role of the poet in society has changed in the digital age?

The poet’s role in society has become more essential in the digital age: to remind us that we aren’t algorithms, that we’re still human, that language can be more than just functional or economical — it can be meaningful, revelatory, artful, and powerful. The poet is still a griot, an ancient computer, documenting both the lines and what’s between them.

Who are some of your favorite poets working right now?

Michael Cirelli, LaTasha Natasha Diggs, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikky Finney, Ross Gay, Duriel Harris, Douglas Kearney, M. Nzadi Keita, Trapeta Mayson, Tracie Morris, Mendi & Keith Obadike, Ewuare Osayande, Patrick Rosal, Ursula Rucker, Frank Sherlock …

What would you say is the most inspiring part of Philadelphia?

The murals and the stories behind them.