Frank Sherlock, a mostly self-taught poet born and raised in Philadelphia, will be the city’s official poet for the next two years.
“I can’t find words to express the gratitude that I have for this city that raised me, beat me up a few times, and still reveals Philadelphia’s Otherly Love,” said Sherlock standing next to Mayor Michael Nutter at the announcement in City Hall.
Sherlock grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and studied poetry at Temple University, but never received a degree. His poetry is often collaborative. His last published volume of poetry, “The City Real and Imagined” (Factory School, 2010), was written with the local poet CAConrad. The two went on several self-guided walking tours of Philadelphia; each wandering began at LOVE Park.
Sherlock’s poems envision Philadelphia as a hard and generous place. This excerpt from “You Can Feel Good About” (2012) written for photographer Zoe Strauss, proclaims beauty is for those whose hearts are staunch and determined.
“You can feel good about I-95 when you take a walk underneath Feel good about rocking black lip liner Your shirtless muscle pose is something you can flex & feel good about You can feel good about life in this ditch since you know that your future starts here You can You know you can feel
“You can feel good about the love of your life in a snapshot left on a boxspring A gun & a bun in the oven is something you can feel good about You can feel good about beating the Giants You Yes”
As poet laureate, Sherlock would like to start a program called “Write Your Block,” which would encourage people to write about their neighborhoods.
“I approach poetry as a cartographer,” said Sherlock. “Mapping and remapping your surroundings according to your personal memory and associations and histories that you’ve heard.”
Sherlock is the second poet laureate of Philadlephia. Sonia Sanchez, a poet of much great stature and recognition was the first. Sanchez’s national reputation lead Mayor Nutter to create a poet laureate position in the first place.
To ensure that position’s longevity — that it would not go away when Sanchez left — a process was created to determine future poet laureates. A committee was established to send out a call for applicants and vet the responses.
“By setting up a real process of how you become the poet laureate — from Sonia Sanchez to Frank Sherlock, to see the real diversity of what poetry is in this city shows the tip of the iceberg,” said Beth Feldman Brandt, poet and director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, who served on the selection committee. “There are many, many poets out there that could be the next poet laureate.”
Sherlock was not nominated for poet laureate — he applied. Feldman-Brandt said ultimately he was chosen for his deep connection to Philadelphia, his collaborative approach to poetry, and his commitment to civic engagement.