by Joseph J Kozma
Jacksonville Poet Laureate.
On April 21, Mayor Andy Ezard appointed Jacksonville’s first poet laureate. The next day, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearangin appointed the first poet laureate of Fresno, California. In rapid order, other cities followed: according to the Academy of American Poets, there are at least 35 major cities that can count on the services of their poets laureate.
It is frequently asked: “What does the poet laureate do?”
To answer, we should go to Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate.
In the introduction to “The Poets Laureate Anthology,” he writes that the poet laureate is free to design a way to make poetry more popular. Of course, he speaks of the U.S. poets laureate. Indeed, several poets laureate over the years tried methods with various degrees of success. Specifically, the United States Poet Laureate participates at functions of library by reading a poem or two. Otherwise, he is free to develop his own project to improve the image of poetry.
The next question is: “What is the poet laureate of Jacksonville expected to do?” Or, “What can he do?”
Let’s listen to Mayor Ashley Swearingin of Fresno: “ To express what it is like to be in Fresno, what life is like on the ground here, and to really capture the essence of our community, to bind us as a community and help to represent to the outside world what our community is like.” She is rather specific. Can what she says be applied to Jacksonville?
Most of the time, the answer to the question is broad and general: “Increase the awareness of poetry in the community.”
Jacksonville, rightly, asks: Can that be done?
The answer is a resounding yes. Lets look at the significance of poetry in art, in intellectual activity, in linguistics and individual enrichment and try to say that there is nothing really on which to expand. Or, just simply say that there is nothing to do. Or worse, “Don’t shake the bushes.” With Jacksonville’s rich history, with three colleges, with visible social and artistic activities, with poetry around on the calendar for years and being active for the same time, the time is ready to march forward. The base upon which to build is here.
To achieve more awareness, all modalities of communications must be embraced by the poet laureate, meaning poetry. The darkness needs light; the stillness needs voices, linguistic and musical. The art world and the digital world need to be approached with imagination. But, first of all, the listeners, the population needs to be aware of its own existence. The potentials it has from school age to the completion of “residence on earth,” like Pablo Neruda says in the title of one of his books.
Jacksonville has historic and current events to celebrate. The importance of the celebrations can be augmented with Poems performed for and at the events. It might not be easy to see, but there are economic advantages in increasing the presence of poetry in our city.
Let poetry be part of our daily life. It is easy, fun and exciting.