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All May Enter

All may enter the realm of the poem. Poetry belongs to each of us, wealthy, super rich, middle class, working class, and poor. I think the shut out --- middle class, working class and poor have a storehouse of poems yet to be heard. We are each rich with the beauty and purpose of words, if written words are available to us and we let their potential in. Literacy is a vital component of the power of poetry. It is a vital component of the people's power. But poetry may be oral as were the first poems. Chants and ritual words sung as the tribe gathered. Poetry is the language of the heart, brain, body and soul. It moves as the spirit moves us --- in rhythms, definite and distinct.

"Poetry is life distilled," wrote legendary Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks (Il 1968 – 2000). In the realm of each poem, we find contained the nucleus of life itself, some truth that otherwise eluded us, but pulses in our daily lives, behind our eyes, on the edge of a smile or frown, laughter or weeping. Sometimes there is a word-picture that catches our breath and inspires us, an image that makes us see a-new, a cunning turn of language that makes us want to speak in tongues.

Poetry becomes more popular in times of turmoil and social upheaval, such as today. The motto of the Civil Rights Movement was "transforming hearts and minds." What better way than through poetry? "We Shall Overcome" is a poem sung. People need poems to speak the powerful currents of ideas that impel us forward to push against the gray walls of the past. Poet Denise Levertov in her poem "Jacob's Ladder" describes a man struggling up a ladder when "Wings brush past him./ The poem ascends." When we speak as poets, we are truest to our humanity and we assume a sacred task. We ascend as angels ascend. We put on our wings. Brown, White, Asian, Black we ascend as angels ascend.

Haki Madhubuti writes "Poetry has a way of attaching itself to strangers." Yes, for inside the poem we are not strangers long, for poems speak intimately and immediately, one heart to one heart even in a crowd listening to loud mesmerizing Spoken Word poetry. Alan Shapiro writes, "reading poetry is an act of love." We pour ourselves into the words and their meanings and music. They pour themselves into us as we read. We become lovers and healers as well. Some poets shape poems from their dreams. Poems come out of their dreams. And we give these dreams to a world that needs more " dreams and dreamers, songs and singers of songs," if I may borrow from Langston Hughes.

"Poetry is life distilled," as Brooks said, and we drink it and are revived and enabled to live our own lives with keener insights, more robust passion, and tender compassion and courage. Wherever we live --- in city, town, countryside, rural area, we are revived by the power of poetry. All of us in Illinois and beyond restored in the realm of the poem.

I am honored and excited to follow Illinois esteemed Poet Laureates Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Kevin Stein. Illinois has a rich poetic history and promises more truth and beauty, brimming with life. In the realm of the poem, all are welcome. 

Angela Jackson to Serve as Fifth Illinois Poet Laureate

Acclaimed Chicago Southside Native to Fill Position Left Vacant Since 2017

First Lady MK Pritzker today announced the selection of Angela Jackson as the next Poet Laureate for the State of Illinois. Jackson is the fifth Illinoisan to hold the title, an honorary position selected by a committee of experts and subsequently appointed by the Governor.

Jackson is an accomplished and award-winning poet, novelist, and playwright, who has published three chapbooks and four volumes of poetry. As Illinois’ next poet laureate, Jackson will work to promote poetry at the state and national level and had a poem published in today’s New York Times to celebrate Thanksgiving. She will join only four other esteemed poets who have previously held this coveted title. The first Illinois Poet Laureate, Howard B. Austin, was named in 1936. The three other poets who have held the title are Carl Sandburg (1962-67), Gwendolyn Brooks (1968-2000), and Kevin Stein (2003-2017). In June, Gov. Pritzker posthumously named John Prine an honorary Poet Laureate.

“Illinois has a proud history of poets who have given us reason for hope in dark times, offered poignant insight into our own humanity and delivered profound social critiques, and as I considered the nominees to be our next Poet Laureate, all of these qualities were important in making the final choice,” said First Lady MK Pritzker, Honorary Chair and Final Judge of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate Search Committee. “Members of the committee nominated astounding talents from our state, and I’m grateful for their work. After spending countless hours reviewing all the nominees’ works, I’m confident that Angela Jackson will continue to be a bright shining light of wisdom, inspiration and connection as she promotes the power of poetry.”

“I am honored and excited to have been selected to serve as Illinois Poet Laureate,” said Angela Jackson. “Legendary Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks said, ‘Poetry is life distilled.’ I hope to bring to Illinoisans poetry that they can relate to, be lifted by, and find their lives illuminated in. Poems bring us to ourselves and poems bring us together.”

In June, the Governor and First Lady Pritzker announced the formation of the 2020 Illinois Poet Laureate Search Committee to fill the position that has been vacant since late 2017. The committee, comprised of poets, writers, and academics from across the state, reviewed nominations submitted by the public and recommended three finalists to be the state’s next Poet Laureate.

“Illinois has a proud history of influential poets and I’m proud to continue this tradition by formally appointing our state’s next Poet Laureate,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Angela Jackson is an acclaimed poet and writer and her expansive breadth of work has already inspired so many. I know her words will have a profound impact on the residents of our state as well as the next generation of aspiring poets.”

“Angela Jackson’s poems dwell in fervid topographies of family and myth, heart and tongue,” said previous Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein. “Her lines bristle with the melody of conversation and soulful blues, her voice unwaveringly human.”

Jackson was born in Greenville, Mississippi and raised on Chicago’s Southside and educated at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. She was a 20-year member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) Writers Workshop, succeeding the late Hoyt W. Fuller as its Chair.

Of Angela’s volumes, Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award and the Chicago Sun-Times/Friends of Literature Book of the Year Award. And All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New was nominated for the National Book Award. It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the Pen/Open Book Award, a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and a finalist for the Milt Kessler Poetry Prize.

Jackson has received the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, a Pushcart Prize, the Illinois Center for the Book Heritage Award, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fuller Award, and the Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent from Chicago State University. In additional to her poetry, Jackson’s novels and plays have also been widely recognized and she has received two American Book Awards.