All Pittsburghers are Poets is not an alliterative catchphrase but rather, a new program launched by City of Asylum. The idea is to declare an Official Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, as well as a Youth Poet Laureate, an Emerging Poet Laureate and an American Sign Language Poet Laureate.
“We find poetry in so many art forms, and it can be often overlooked,” says Erin Roussel of City of Asylum, the North Side venue, bookstore and refuge for writers persecuted around the world.
“Our first writer-in-residence was a poet from China. Since then, we’ve had our annual jazz-poetry event in September, where jazz musicians and poets collaborate,” Roussel says. “This seemed like an opportunity to renew our commitment to that genre, and it seemed like a good fit for the county, given that there are a lot of poets who live here. There’s a lot of activity in the poetry community here, and this is an opportunity to bring them together.”
The ambitious project–which starts with four Poet Laureate programs instead of just one — is open to anyone who lives in Allegheny County.
“Given our position as the largest writers’ sanctuary program in the world — and the headquarters of the International Cities of Refuge Network — we have a reputation in the literary world as one that welcomes international writers,” says Roussel. “But City of Asylum has also always engaged with the local writing community. We have a long history of literary programming … For us, this was a hole that we were just happy to fill.”
The Official Poet Laureate of Allegheny County will be announced in April by the County Executive’s office.
The Emerging Poet Laureate is open to a poet who has consistently been working on their craft, and is a part of the local community but doesn’t have a regional or national reputation yet, explains Roussel.
City of Asylum is also working with New York-based Urban Word on the Allegheny County Youth Poet Laureate Award. That award is for teens ages 13 to 19 who write poetry or rap or perform spoken word.
“They’re invited to send us five poems and let us know about themselves, and how they connect their art-making to their neighborhood, school, community, and how they try to make Allegheny County a better place to live,” says Roussel.
The last category is for someone proficient in American Sign Language (ASL) so the submission is via video.
“We’re really looking forward to incorporating ASL interpretation at all of our events, and really trying to bring the hearing and hearing-impaired communities together, Roussel says.
While the Poet Laureates will have plenty to do, some of their activities are up to them.
“Our hope is to work with other organizations throughout the county to bring poetry to other cultural events,” says Roussel. “To not only host poetry readings, but to try to have poetry read at the symphony, at theaters, at the library, in coordination with other art forms. We have this history of having jazz artists collaborate with poets, and we’d like to expand that. That way, we can help familiarize the residents of Allegheny County with the poets that live in their neighborhoods.”
“All Pittsburghers are Poets” received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).
Much depends on the laureates selected, notes Roussel, and if they have specific visions or missions or projects. Interested? Email here.