The 2022–2023 Laureate Fellows’ Collaborative Poem

Inspired by our 2021–22 cohort, sixteen regional poet laureate fellows from our 2022–23 cohort composed another exquisite corpse examining the role of a laureate in the community. Each laureate fellow received only what the poet before them had written and had to write a stanza responding to that. The starting questions were: What is a poet laureate? What does one do?


Speaking cities into existence with words
the way waves carve out shorelines 
creating civic constellations 
though our stars may never meet

shattering glass ceilings to shards
holding culture 
loose enough that sands can shift 
grappling keys from gatekeepers to copy and dispense;

This is a working title
not a lifetime achievement award.

—Andru Defeye 
Sacramento, CA 


Palpating the pulse of the unheard
Elevating the plight of the unloved
Ceaselessly pursuing the truth
Powerful deliverance above
The consciousness of some and
aimed right at the heart of others

Hands never idle
Minds know little peace
Interjection with inflection recognized
Then applied liberally, like a salve

—Ashanti Files
Urbana, IL


Speaking shorelines into existence with words 
the way streets carve out cities, 
creating new maps tethered 
to past and future, to river 
and hillside, overpass
and alley, amphitheater
and aqueduct, everywhere 
echoes of resilience,
of inflections amplified 

—B. K. Fischer
Westchester, NY


We’ve survived and collectively cried; a river
By being a giver of emotions
We’re an ocean of devotion
We marry words together
That may have never met
I bet
If you listen closely to our words as you listen
To the shore in a seashell
You can hear us yell
manifestations of creations and hope

—KaNikki Jakarta 
Alexandria, VA


Some days I think we are the soil
or red clay like in my grandmother’s yard—
fertile, waiting for the sun’s assignment,
full of root-making power. 
Other days, I see us clearly as the seeds 
themselves, the dandelion’s whisper 
settling back into flower. We make new things. 
We make fresh air from our leaves. 

—Ashley M. Jones


We make hope from sunlight 
scattering ourselves
from hillside to shoreline
finding our way
between the cracks in every city sidewalk
having faith that even on this blasted tired earth
something will dig in roots and grow

—Holly Karapetkova 
Arlington, VA


and we know that whether we are the soil or the seeds or even the bees
we are just one of many 
in an ecosystem of ideas
a convergence of culture and time
each of us a snapshot of when and where
to be assembled together like a flipbook or a motion picture
that tells the story of who we are now in the context of humanity
simple reflections of our communities
listening and processing and translating
offering observations and glimpses of possibilities

Honolulu, HI


And if we make hope from sunlight, then the story of who we are now
is a hivebox beside the highway.

We have leant against the box to hear the deep humming of the hive—
         how it gathers the ripeness from the rot,

the hallways of wind, the nectar of acacia and orange and thistle. 

We know some winters kill, though the weeping too is honey. 

And the silence of the hive—even that is a voice that arrives out of listening.

Even that is where the soil begins again to sing.

—Julia B. Levine
Davis, CA 


Speaking skies
into existence with words
the way prairies

speak the same languages as shorelines:
with wind, with tide rushing
through what we call plains

though there’s nothing ordinary here
in these blooms,
this frost, this future, this past

—Matt Mason 

We have a city to cover with lines:
Beginning with song lines of Erie people, Long-Tailed-Cat Nation,
following game trails that became Lakeshore Boulevard, 
Underground Railroad lines that ran 
to Station Hope Church on W 25th,
Great Migration lines escaping the color lines down South
only to find red line resegregation up North…
All those story lines intersecting here 
merging into this multi-colored scripture, weaving together 
this poem we call home, Cleveland.

—Ray McNiece 
Cleveland Heights, OH


And then there is a woman boiling beans
in Yerington, Nevada, wishing
for one good horse, one coral geranium,
one full day alive in a house
with the possibility of plenty.
River. Hawk. Wind. Dust. Listen.
Sometimes what we most need to know
comes to us in wish and in whisper.

—Gailmarie Pahmeier 


The road is long but scenic. These hours 
en-route are best-spent gathering riches 
that grow wild; the sunshine on the river, 
light cast from a mountainside in winter. 

Orchard rows in bloom wake the ancestors 
who live inside me. They call forth memories
of camas fields and streams            overflowing 
with the red riches of spawning salmon, 
and I think to do this work, is to be fully involved,
the way a dispatcher describes a house on fire, 
and you know that there will be nothing left 
but ashes, and a place to build something new, 
something better.                                    

—Rena Priest 

We are many peoples, housed and unhoused, and we speak with 
the heat from bowls of pho and gumbo and we are a poem.
We wear our huipiles, our kimonos or kente cloth when we stand or 
kneel beside the deep blue Pacific, as in prayer, as in a poem.
We are so much more than Joseph’s cloak of unmixable colors—
we are carnelian, onyx, heliodor, pearl. We are the poem &
wherever we’ve come from—Mozambique, Israel, Samoa, France—&
whoever it is we love, we are allegory and cento, ellipses…poem.

—Lynne Thompson 
Los Angeles, CA 


This is to assemble an altar, 
                                        again, and where
                           to place fossil and the candle
    flame of canna, cryptography of moss, the bones

of the missing and the breath of here.
             es donde soñamos, city of goblet light and late
          evening windows humming love and despair,
    every song an opening, and our words make a home,
mark the clock, paint a piano with monarchs and stars.

—Emma Trelles 
Santa Barbara, CA 


Full moon glows golden orange,
a perfect circle.
Saturn and Jupiter shine
in opposition
as the sky deepens to black.
Our communities,
often too busy to look
at Nature’s beauty,
rely on us as poets
to paint them pictures with words.

—Gwen Westerman 


This is to say, we are bone & flesh & muscle yet more; 
the deer roaming the meadows for ruffage; the girl on a dirt road waiting for the bus.
We are the deep throated hum of birds, the groan of the trees;
the boy who plows a field & the grandmother who warms his beans & bread.
We are the couple holding hands, the money spent, the baby growing
toward joy in the mother’s womb.
Being of these many places, these many people, yet one with the new-born foal, the fed belly as well as the empty one; we poet our way through bliss and despair, our voices rising up & up & out & out. We tell the stories, we sing hope & faith & let the world know we exist.

—Crystal Wilkinson

Copyright © 2023 by the poets. Used with permission of the poets.