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Local Poets Offering Personalized Poems All Month At Uptown Library

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Marshall Terry / WFAE
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Do you ever wish someone would write a poem just for you?  Well, the "Poet is In" at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Main Library. To mark National Poetry Month, around 20 local poets will be on hand during weekdays to write personalized poems on the spot. 

Jah Smalls sits at a desk lined with typewriters in the library’s lobby.  From noon to 1 p.m. during the week, this is his office.

"I’ve been writing poetry since I can remember," Smalls said. "In grade school, I used to write poems for my friends. They used to give them to the girls they had a crush on and stuff like that."

Smalls makes his living hosting poetry events and teaching slam poetry. He’s also self-published two books of poetry. But he’s never done anything quite like this.

"This is magical because people are sitting down and having a conversation with you," Smalls said. "And as we’re talking, there’s a smile or there’s a linking of the eyes and the person actually falls into a trance almost giving you a story. When they get that moment, you can grab some of the meat to actually make the poem become great."

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Credit Marshall Terry / WFAE
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Jah Smalls and Rose Zukiewicz

His first customer of the day is Rose Zukiewicz of Huntersville. Smalls strikes up a conversation by asking her about Lake Norman’s traffic. 

"I still take [Interstate] 77 down when I come here to volunteer," Zukiewicz said.

"I’m praying for you," Smalls said. "I do not like 77.  I just wanted to let that be stated."

From there, he shifts the conversation by asking Zukiewicz to talk about something special in her life. 

"When my granddaughter was born," Zukiewicz said. 

Her name is Josephine.

Smalls then asks a few questions about Josephine. Where does she live? Bozeman, Montana. What’s her favorite color? Pink. How did she end up with that name? She’s named after her great grandmother. 

Smalls jots all this down before composing the poem longhand. He then turns to the typewriter, which the library chose to use to give the poems a handmade feel. After a few minutes, he’s done and reads the poem out loud to Zukiewicz — who is nearly in tears when it's finished.

Smalls feels satisfied.

"It feels good to know that I put something together that made somebody else feel good based on the information they gave me," Smalls said. "It’s great. It’s one of those things where you’re like ‘yes, I’ve done it for today. I’m feeling good about myself.'"

The library says the "Poet is In" has gotten such a strong response that it may extend the program into May.