Soon Prince William County will Have its own Poet Laureate.

| February 23, 2014 | 0 Comments | Arts & Entertainment

Tackett's Mill Center in Lake Ridge provided funding for the Prince William Art Council's Poet Laureate program. (Photo by Ryan J. Dent)

The Prince William Arts Council, in cooperation with Write by the Rails (WBTR), the Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, is now seeking creative writers to apply for the position of poet laureate. The poet laureate will act as ambassador and educator between the arts community and the county.

The position of county poet laureate comes with a stipend; a budget and the responsibility of bringing the county and cities of Manassas and Manassas Park together through experiences with poetry.

According to the nomination guidelines, “The Prince William Poet Laureate is expected to promote local resident’s awareness of poetry and heighten appreciation of the art form,” and, “forge a meaningful connection between poetry and the community.”

June Forte, adjunct professor of Communications and Theater at Northern Virginia Community College, is the member of the Arts Council and WBTR who is heading the laureate program.

Forte said that Prince William would be the first county in the Commonwealth of Virginia to have a poet laureate. However, she said the position is common in counties within states such as California and Pennsylvania.

Most people understand the concept of poet laureate, based upon past national poet laureates such as Maya Angelou and current Virginia Poet Laureate Sofia Starnes, which is why the arts council decided to begin with that position. However, Forte said in later years they might choose to select instead a writer laureate from another genre of writing, or even residential artist to serve the community.

However Forte’s vision for Prince William’s poet laureate is even more unique than the familiar concept; and she envisions Prince William’s laureate doing more for the county than simply reading poems at public events.

“That isn’t what we’re looking for; it’s not just an honorary thing. We’re looking for someone to build a sense of community, to take the project to the street and bring poetry across the diversity of Prince William and across the social and economic strata,” Forte said.

She believes the most important role of the laureate will be to inspire and encourage others in the community, which is why the inclusion of a community project is so important.

“We’re asking [applicants for the position] to come up with a project. We’re looking for them to come up with a creative project that we want to do,” Forte said.

She wants the process to be inclusive and merit based, which is why the poetry and project portion of the application will come before the judges even glance at resumes.

“As we gather the submissions, there will be no name,” she said.

After several poems and projects have been selected as superior among the batch, only then will the literary judges look at the candidate’s resumes. At that point, she cannot promise that well-regarded writers in the community might sway the judges, but the idea is to keep it as objective as possible.

She also hopes the individual chosen for the position is someone who can unite the entire community. The poet does not need to have a published book, nor even a college degree and there is no age requirement either. It all comes down to quality poetry and a vision for the community.

“We’re looking for something that’s fun, not highly academic,” said Forte, who explains that when she was growing up poetry seemed stiff and formalized, but today young people recognize poetry as hip hop lyrics and combined with a myriad of other art forms.

“We want to touch people who don’t like poetry, or think they don’t like poetry,” she said.

Arts Council President Sheyna Burt said that vision of what the poet laureate could be is exciting to her because it fits in with the current Art Council’s members’ vision of their purpose in the larger community.

Burt said there is a perception that the art council exists to promote the members’ own projects, but she and her members want to change that. She said the primary purpose of the council is to offer opportunities for community members to connect with local artists and writers, and to bring more art experiences to the community.

Burt said that making Prince William an art friendly community contributes to a rich cultural fabric, and also draws economic development to the area. In that way, it is beneficial to local business owners, the tax base and the community at-large, not just art aficionados.

The position of poet laureate comes with a stipend of $500 per year for the two years of service. According to Fort, that is the award money for the laureate to spend as he or she wishes. Additionally, he or she will receive a budget of $1,500 to be overseen by the council.

The funds for the laureate have all been donated from new Tackett’s Mill Center in Lake Ridge, which hopes to a hub for performing, visual and literary arts on the eastern side of the county.

However, Forte said that since she announced the laureate program, other organizations and individuals have come forward offering to help fund the project, thus she is hopeful they will have funds to continue in coming years.

The Arts Council will be working closely with Write by the Rails members, literature and writing teachers and professors, and other knowledgeable persons to help select the best person for the job.

Applications are due by May 10. The nomination guidelines can be found here.

 A spokesperson for the Tackett’s Mill Center said the theater mentioned in the previous version of the article has not yet signed a lease at the center, and the center itself is underwriting the Poet Laureate program. 


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