By Evan J. Cutts
Boston, MA — In honor of National Poetry Month, Color Magazine got in touch with the City of Boston’s current and former poet laureates, Porsha Olayiwola (2019-2023) and Danielle Legros Georges (2014-2018). As poet laureates, these women of color forward the legacy and history of Boston’s poetic tradition through literary advocacy and creative community outreach. Although the City of Boston’s Poet Laureate program is just over ten-years-old, the city’s poetic lineage is much older.
“I am proud and pleased to be part of this legacy [and] history which I’d like to consider as having started in the 18th century with Phillis Wheatley, writing as a black woman and earlier as a black girl in Boston,” comments Legros Georges. “As a Bostonian, Wheatley corresponded with all sorts of Bostonians (as well as folks beyond Boston, and on the national and international stage of her times). ”The role of Poet Laureate requires the ability to draw on a multiplicity of inspirations and experiences, and Black women certainly move through many spheres by their lives and creating in the world.”
During her four-year term Legros Georges, who is also a Professor at Lesley University, collaborated on such initiatives as the “Raining Poetry Project” (2016-18) and City of Notions, A Boston Poetry Anthology (2017). Having passed the torch and with plans to stay in touch, Legros Georges encourages Porsha “to [continue] being her wonderful self and to time be mindful that she can occupy a representative role. Make time for [your] art in all the busyness that accompanies the role and enjoy the wonderful opportunities that accompany it, too.”
Porsha Olayiwola, who officially began her new role on January 1st, 2019 is a Chicago native, who has settled down roots in Boston. Porsha is MFA Candidate at Emerson College and co-founder of House Slam at the Haley House Bakery and Cafe, Boston’s first Spoken Word venue. As a Black, queer, feminist poet Porsha’s writes “infra-politically to tell the stories that are silenced, erased, or difficult to release from the tip of the tongue.” Color Magazine is excited to share our conversation with Porsha Olayiwola below:
Color Magazine: When you tell your story, what is one thing you hope your audience will remember?
Porsha Olayiwola: There are two desires, whether named or unintentional, I think drive the after-feelings of my writing. I hope readers can see me when they read my work, or get a very small, carefully constructed, glimpse into what it is I am feeling, thinking, or experiencing. The other hope is that they see themselves.
CM: What keeps you invested in poetry as an art form? As a form of communication and community building?
PO: What keeps me invested? Everything. Nothing. What I mean to say is, what would I be doing if I weren’t writing, reading, teaching and organizing poetry spaces? I have no idea. I am in awe and in inquiry of the craft as well as what it can do to change folks as individuals and whole communities.
CM: What are two unique aspects of Boston’s poetry community that move you?
PO: Boston has so many great writers, both historically and presently. The history and lineage are so phenomenal, I think all us who identify as writers and poets feel fueled to step into our own poetic inquiry, craft, and drive.
CM: Your take is certainly supported in the City of Notions Anthology, which collected Boston-inspired poetry from the likes of Patricia Smith, Margaret Atwood, and Chen Chen. Now that you’re Poet Laureate, what are your greatest aspirations or goals the four-year term?
PO: There are so many goals and aspirations. I am extremely excited about starting the youth poet laureate program, for one. But I think what gets me most excited is providing programming that will allow the varied writing communities in Boston to intermingle, learn, grow, and provide resources to and for one another.
To keep up with Porsha’s poetry and plans as Poet Laureate, follow her online at http://www.porshaolayiwola.com and @PorshaOlayiwola.
Watch Porsha Olayiwola read her poem Unnamed: