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Charlotte's new poet laureate hopes to work in schools, libraries and with city's youth

Courtesy Jay Ward

The city of Charlotte made history this week when it named Jay Ward as the city's first poet laureate. He was picked from a pool of five finalists, and will serve a two year term as the city's signature wordsmith.

Ward has been recognized nationally as a spoken word artist who won the National Poetry Slam in 2018 and the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2019. He has also published a book of poems titled "Sing Me A Lesser Wound," and plans to publish a second book, "Composition," in September.

He joined WFAE's Nick de la Canal to discuss his plans as the city's inaugural poet laureate, and read some of his original work on the air.


On the subjects he's drawn to write about:

I find that a lot of my work is through the lens of fatherhood, and experiencing the world as my kids were growing up — seeing things through their eyes, things that I couldn't explain, things that I wanted to, things that I wish I didn't have to.

As a poet, I think we have no choice but to translate the world and hand it back to society, and we are, by necessity, impacted by what's happening around us — both the good things and the bad things. Poets have long been on the leading edge of societal change and revolution, and I think that's something that a poet can't shy away from, even if they wanted to.

On what drew him to poetry:

I started being drawn to poetry when I was in fifth and sixth grade, when I was starting to learn about the Harlem Renaissance, and at that time, hip hop was very new, and those things kind of coincided for me — the music of the language, but also the import of what was being said. It's words for a reason.

On what he hopes to accomplish as Charlotte's first poet laureate:

I absolutely want to establish a youth poet laureate program. I've worked for eight years with an organization called BreatheINK where we work with teenagers in the city with poetry and how to use their voice and how to establish that, so I know firsthand the power of the stories that the youth have.

I want to be in the schools and the libraries. I was involved in the Of Earth And Sky project as a curator. I would like to have something like that on the level of libraries and schools where the schools and the libraries are being beautified by the words of its students and of its patrons.

And other than that, really partnering with the organizations that are already here. I want to do some new events and new things, but I also recognize that we have a wealth of poets and a wealth of arts organizations that are really doing amazing things here in Charlotte, so it's not really about reinventing the wheel, it's more about how can we partner, and how can we amplify, and how can we support what's already here?

On how he'll measure success:

I'm hard on myself when it comes to stuff like this, but if I can get a portion of the projects that I have in mind out, if the next poet laureate feels enabled and empowered, I think that would be successful. Poetry by itself has power, so if we have a way to amplify that in the community, the poetry will do the work.

Listen to the full interview

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal