City Of Aurora Appoints Its First Poet Laureate

Dec 19, 2019

The City of Aurora appointed its first ever poet laureate earlier this month. The new poet laureate is also a Northern Illinois University alumna. 

Karen Fullett-Christensen is most comfortable surrounded by books, like at the Aurora Public Library -- West Branch. She’s written around 3000 poems and has created several collections of her work. She shares these with close friends and family. She flipped through one of her many manuscripts and found a poem to read.

We went out to clean the riverbank,

Big black sacks, heavy gloves, sturdy boots.

To clear the bottles and cans and

Shoes and carts and

Tires and tanks and

Beds and cords and

Bikes and on and on and on.

What are we thinking?

Are we so rich that nothing warrants our attention?

The night before we saw the Dalai Lama smile.

That poem is called "Trash and the Dalai Lama." It was written April of 2008.

Fullett-Christensen started writing when she was 14 years old. She started by journaling which eventually turned into writing poetry. She says she was inspired by her English teacher.

“I brought things in to show to my teacher and he was very encouraging. If fact, I won a National Teachers of English writing contest,” she said.

And now she’s the first poet laureate of Aurora.

Fullett-Christensen said she wasn’t going to apply for the position.

“I was encouraged by some friends to change my mind and so I did. And when I saw the application, I changed my mind completely.”

She said the application had meaningful questions and it showed that the staff of the mayor’s office had done their research.

Fullett-Christensen is a retired city worker but retirement didn’t stop her work within the community. In 2013, she co-founded a local poetry group: A-Town Poetics. She credits this group.

“I think the work that A-Town Poetics has done in the community in terms of raising awareness about poetry, in terms of hosting some curated events, helped my name rise to the top.”

There were three other finalists.  Those finalists are now deputy poet laureates. They include Anthony Stanford, Quentin Johnson and Fermina Ponce. She says she plans to work closely with them.

“But I also hope, along with the three other people that are going to be a part of our poetry posse that we can reach out to organizations in the community.”  

She said her mission is to work with the city’s young people.  

“I’m hoping we can encourage kids to write. To not be afraid of writing to not be afraid by the notion of poetry."

Fullett-Christensen said poetry is her preferred platform because of its power.

In the poetry section of the Aurora Public Library -- West Branch, she admires the work of her role models.

“This looks like all the poet…well many of the poet laureates. So, Billy Collins one of my favorites. I love him because he writes about everyday life," she said.  Collins was the poet laureate of the United States between 2001 and 2003. 

“And while he was poet laureate, he created a program called 180 Days of Poems.”  She says she wants to incorporate something similar in Aurora. Fullett-Christensen will hold the title of poet laureate through April of 2021. An official installation ceremony will take place in January at Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School. This ceremony will include the poet laureate as well as the three deputy poet laureates.