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Rockford Poets Laureate To Champion The Art Of Poetry And Spoken Word


Rockford is getting not just one, but two poets laureate -- an adult and a youth.

The adult poet laureate position will be a two-year position, and probably one year long for the youth. Rockford Area Arts Council (RAAC) Executive Director Mary McNamara Bernsten said the committee is still working that out. But, she said, people may start nominating poets next week.

To be qualified for the positions, candidates must have lived in Rockford for at least one year. Adult candidates must be at least 18 years old by Oct. 23, 2020. Youth candidates must be aged 13-17 by that same date.

McNamara Bernsten said the poets laureate will appear at public functions. She gave examples like Stroll on State, high school and college graduations, and the swearing in of officers in the police and fire departments.

"You may be reading poems at ceremonial events," McNamara Bernsten said. "You could at the unveiling of a new building or bridge. You could be at city council meetings or other public meetings."  She continued, "You are to champion the art of poetry and spoken word in the city, in person and on social media." 

Besides the RAAC, there are two more collaborating agencies responsible for selecting the poets laureate; Rockford Public Library and the Mayor's Office. But McNamara Bernsten said they are also reaching out to people in the literary community for input.

"We will speak to groups like the Rockford Writers' Guild and get their input on who would be an excellent addition to the committee," McNamara Bernsten said.

As for youth candidates who may need ideas about how to pursue poetry, McNamara Bernsten pointed to Poetry Out Loud. The RAAC has hosted Poetry Out Loud recitation competitions for 15 years. She said, "We are hoping the establishment of this youth poet laureate will encourage students and teachers to commit to participating in this wonderful program." She continued, "It adds to a student's experience with public speaking, presentation skills, and confidence building."

The nomination process opens on April 8 and the deadline is June 1. Semifinalists will be interviewed in August and the official announcement will be made in October. The adult poet laureate will receive a $2000 honararium for the two-year position. The youth poet laureate honorarium is currently $500 if the position is a two-year position. To learn how to nominate, visit the RAAC or RPL website.