Illinois Poet Laureate Shares Mission And Personal Story During Virtual Conversation

Apr 22, 2021

The newest Illinois poet laureate shared her early years and upcoming goals for the position on Thursday in a virtual conversation. 

Angela Jackson interlaced poetry and dialogue during the “Understanding Our New World” live stream discussion with Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director John Shaw.

She talked about her early years in Illinois as well as the Chicago native who inspired her.   

“I had seen a film in high school of Gwendolyn Brooks,” she explained. “And I still remember first seeing her and thinking, ‘she's a Negro like me. She lives in Chicago like me,’ so I remember that made an impression upon me.” 

Jackson said Brooks used language in the same way Billie Holiday sang: "Every note meant something. Every word meant something."

Jackson said she plans to have her ambassador poet laureates go to schools, rehab centers, prisons, and other places. 

“And do short term residencies of two to five days," she explained. "And do communal poems or competitions, poetry slams -- whatever gets the people stirred up and fired up.”

Jackson said a book will be the result of whatever poems are created from this.  

She also mentioned that inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s performance brought more attention to poetry.

Jackson stated that the nightmare of the pandemic stifled her desire to write and she only wrote a few poems. She said she couldn’t articulate much about the disease.

“The only thing I could say about COVID was, ‘Something so small, we cannot see, brought the world to its knees.’ And I couldn't say anything else. Yes, is too much,” she shared.

Jackson is suggesting that poetry is here to keep us alive and to clarify things when they are murky.  

She was appointed the fifth poet laureate of Illinois last November. This discussion between Jackson and Shaw can be found on the institute’s YouTube channel later this week.  

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.