The Durham council members on Tuesday night will appoint the city’s first poet laureate.
Mayor Elaine O’Neal is expected to appoint DJ Rogers, a poet, spoken word artist, editorial writer, and essayist as the Bull City’s inaugural poet laureate, according to an executive summary released prior to the city council’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Rogers is a Triangle native and member of the acclaimed Chapel Hill-based Sacrificial Poets. He has taught poetry and facilitated poetry workshops in and around Durham for nearly a decade. His work has been published in Black Nerd Problems Magazine and Freezeray Press, according to the executive summary.
According to Freehorse Arts, Rogers has been performing poetry since 2010, and is a founding member of the UNC Wordsmiths and has been a teaching artist since 2013. He teaches Humanities at KIPP Durham and Advanced Language Arts Seminar at Art of Problem Solving in Morrisville.
If appointed, Rogers’s one-year term will begin on July 1 and end June 30 of next year. He will receive a $5,000 honorarium.
Bertha Johnson, Durham’s deputy city manager, noted that poet laureate programs promote opportunities for organizations and municipalities to formally recognize poets’ contributions to literary culture and society, while also providing educational opportunities to residents.
Johnson also noted that communities across the state now support poet laureates who serve as advocates for the literary arts through public readings, special events, and educational programming.
“In its inaugural year, the City of Durham Poet Laureate Program seeks to champion the art of poetry and spoken word in the City of Durham, and provide free, educational opportunities for residents,” according to the executive summary.
If appointed, Rogers’s duties will include championing the art of poetry and spoken word throughout the city, including engaging writers and readers of all ages in a variety of settings including schools, libraries, and community centers.
Structurally, the city’s poet laureate will “lead, plan and facilitate at least three (or more) community educational sessions” in addition to celebrating the Bull City’s “cultural heritage by participating in select literary and cultural events,” along with reciting poems “during ceremonial events, [city] council sessions, or other public meetings.”
Finally, the city’s official wordsmith will “create commemorative poems for historical or culturally important occasions.”
The city’s appointment of a poet laureate this week follows a proposal that was presented to council members a little over a year ago by a trio of Durham poets—Crystal Simone Smith, Chris Vitiello, and Dasan Ahanu.
As the INDY previously reported, Smith, then a visiting fellow at Duke University, kicked off the virtual presentation to the council with a series of slides that featured quotes from celebrated poes to explain why poetry should matter to the Bull City.
“Everyone is witness to the truths of our time, but it is the writers and poets who capture and record these moments,” Smith said. “They play essential roles in analyzing and critiquing government responses, documenting personal experiences, and inspiring us to imagine a better future.”
Smith pointed out that the Triangle already has two poet laureates: Fred Joiner in Carrboro and CJ Suitt in Chapel Hill.
At the presentation’s end, city council members agreed to reach out to the city’s cultural advisory board to help flesh out plans for a local poet laureate.
Months later, in August, members of Durham’s cultural advisory board recommended the appointment of a poet laureate “pilot” program. On April 4, the city’s cultural and public arts program issued a poet laureate request for qualifications and the nominating process.
According to the executive summary, on May 12, a selection committee of community members, writers, artists, and city staffers “reached a consensus to recommend poet DJ Rogers.”
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