This weekend, Philadelphia’s poet laureate will host her first poetry event since earning this accolade. Yolanda Wisher will deliver a national Poetic Address to the Nation.
This is a gig she committed to well before she was named the city’s poet laureate. The Poetic Address to the Nation public workshops were held in 100 cities across the country. The story circles prompted people to send messages they would want the next President to hear, and to describe how they feel they belong in this country; or, as the case may be, how they feel they do not belong here.
Those stories were then uploaded to a central online portal, accessed by selected poets to use as material for new work. Those poets include Cathy Linh Che, LaTasha Diggs, Denice Frohman, Ross Gay, Bob Holman, Margaret Randall, Tanaya Winder, and the current poet laureate of Los Angeles, Luis Rodriguez.
Their poems and selected stories from the story circles will be performed this weekend at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia’s Old City, during an event hosted by Wisher.
“There’s no one poem that can speak the state of the union. There’s no one poet that can hold that voice,” said Wisher. “It’s really an amalgam — a stew is a good metaphor — of a lot of different voices.”
Wisher, herself, is working on her own poem for the occasion. “I will hopefully finished it by Saturday,” she said.
Most of the poems will be sonnets, a form with a strict structure traditionally used for poems about unrequited love. Here’s a taste of what Wisher is working on:
This sonnet is a porch upon which I want to writeThis little ditty in my cityThis little sonnet for America, our union, our state, our countryThe blue bonnet and the red rage and the white liesBut I’d be so damned mad, I’d be so damned saddenedAll the time.
“I grew up on porches in Montgomery County and Philly,” said Wisher. “Stoops and porches were these places of community, a stage where you could perform your identity, your family, and your community politics.”
This is the second Poetic Address to the Nation, coordinated by an artist organization called the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture — which is not actually a government agency. The poems will be performed only in Philadelphia, and streamed live over the internet. Many of the participants of the story circle workshops are coordinated their own viewing parties in their respective cities.