The Laureate Fellows’ Collaborative Poem

A cross-country, exquisite corpse by thirteen regional poet laureate fellows from our 2021-2022 cohort examining the role of a laureate in community.

Always a shift in definitions:
auteur author into community worker, 
not we are here to hear your voice
but are here to give us voice
(we seem to have mislaid it on the way
to society, did you bring a flashlight?)
Call it impropriety — we aim to misbehave.
To remind you all your money is no remedy
for the grave.

                                                     Preface — Brian Sonia-Wallace 
                                                             West Hollywood, CA


A Poet Laureate is
a servant's heart
on a stark canvas
of parchment. The role
is honey in the mouth and bitter
in the belly. We are an unfolding
scroll of judgment
in sacred tones.
                                                             Andrea Sanderson 
                                                             San Antonio, TX

Laureate of faith found her—
                                        ancient stone under the moon
without breath — wind abandoned
in her core fossilized poems recall
words hemorrhaging forests

                                                            Semaj Brown 
                                                            Flint City, MI

I was taught: heart
with mind speaks truth. Dark-
                  bright, bright-dark,
                  & the infinite sheen
of the in-between. Who
am I, are you, to lift
                  our voice?
                  With calloused hands
& histories we carry each
other. We honor our dead. We gather
                  & plant the seeds, hoping to bend
                  time to a softer curve.

                                                           Luisa A. Igloria


copper leaves sit upon a neighboring tin roof
and I can’t help but believe these too
are a lesson in speaking of sooth
                creation to nature
                to observation
                to writing it down
                to a poem it becomes
the writer's blood filling with warmth
to have created and continued
to have lived with bronze sights
on a frozen morning

                                                           Georgina Marie 
                                                           Lake County, CA

Or in populous cities:
The varied carols—where in poems,
Singing voices speak,
Speaking voices sing.

                                                           Lloyd Schwartz
                                                           Somerville, MA


I was taught to gather
Only what belonged to me
To never pick wildflowers
But instead commit  
To memory the shape 
And sound of what they 
Shelter, painted lady
Bumblebee, when I say 
Speak poetry—
I mean know the language
Of wild and fragile things
Speak of flight and firelight
How to measure a wingspan 
A lifespan, a split second
That changes everything 
Carry each other 
The poet says, this matters 
More than anything

                                                             Aileen Cassinetto 
                                                             San Mateo County, CA


To not be
wind wear, but to let 
the air guide you... 

                                                             Marcus Amaker 
                                                             Charleston, SC

To make sacred our sadness 
Unveiled into triumphs of story 

                                                             Magdalena Gomez
                                                             Springfield, MA

This unfolding
This cultural conjuring 
This exercise in ritual 
The poet does not write, the poet sings 

                                                             Bobby LeFebre 

The poet whose right to song 
under-rings and overhears, 
conjures covens, translates, conjugation, 
folds into the public soil, 
                                                rocks out again

                                                              Melissa Kwasny

Smooth and jagged crumbs of earth 
Planted and strewn, surprising the toes of giants 
Leveling giants to ground-level truths 
Poets, reclined into the landscape 
clapping dirt and ink from their hands 

                                                             Dasha Kelly Hamilton 
                                                             Wisconsin and Milwaukee 

ridding themselves of illusions and excess
Red clay makes fertile soil 
for growing imaginations and generations. 
Poets tend society’s gardens. 
Nurturing seeds, plucking weeds. 

                                                             Chasity Gunn 
                                                             Elgin, IL


Dad always grew tomatoes
They were his pride and joy
So when the lady outside Home Depot
Offered me the box and said,
‘Do you have a garden?’
I didn’t say no, though I should have
I said, ‘We have a theatre…’
And somehow that was just as good.

It grows like a weed in Hollywood
In the cracks between Film and Industry
It was a grease monkey’s garage, then a shooting range
But only now
Can we call the people who run it clowns.
We put the tomatoes out
On the air conditioning supply unit
To try to add some poetry to that phrase.

Today is tomatoes in the parking lot
Tomorrow is white roof, filtered water, solar
panels, cycle racks, urban garden, green
building, public plaza, artist’s village
To build a cultural heritage for the city
I once heard described as ‘Hell’s parking lot’
Tomato by tomato
Because nobody dreams as hard as poets
And nobody works as hard as clowns.

The Comfort Ghosts

They are all here,
generations of elder queers with crooked hands
like trees. I shake my whole self at the giant’s trunk.
The forest glistens. A world built on invisible
shimmers suddenly in the light.

If only the roots could see the budding sky.

If only I could garden my history so deep.

This is strength.
This is pride.
To be burned, emptied.
To stand tall, anyway, play host to new branches, fresh green,
a forest with a single
root system.

Whatever they say of us, let them say,

we didn’t do this alone.

After the Music

Praise the Zoom call.
You’re on mute, love!
Can’t hear you —

(secretly) Praise (the bad) connection.

Praise our home offices, our home schools,
our home gyms, our closed bars, our kitchen dances,
our cooking fails, our odd jobs. Our rented
U-Hauls. Our promises to stay.

In a workshop (online, duh), my friend Dorsay,
a resplendent seventy five, crowned in Diana Ross curls,
shares her poem: butterflies, a lover’s caress
and then — Why should I not want to just die?

She seeded concerts across the city for decades.
Now, it’s impossible to sing together. Everyone is slightly
out of time. What happens after the music?
We gape and stammer, but Dorsay —

she booms laughter, claps her hands.
We’re here aren’t we? However we gather,
it’s a party. Our face parade, through lag and crash, and latency,
logging on against erasure. I’ll be there

next week, writes Dorsay. A late night promise.
The next morning, bougainvillea shocks pink
across the sidewalk. I leave the Russian bakery
with a loaf of black Borodinsky rye.

Praise the long walk, with no end. The right now.
Our newly fragiled bodies.
That awkward, grateful way we hold each other
at any distance.