If you are looking for the future of poetry, look in Philadelphia. Young people in this city love poetry—writing it, reading it, and performing it on stage. Even as poetry readership is rising across the country, there is a creative beat happening here that is all Philly.
Here at the Free Library this summer, we got a sample of this poetic energy as we read through applications for the city’s 2018-2019 Youth Poet Laureate. We were wowed by the talent and moved by the passion of the young poets who are already contributing to the city with their words.
Having read applications, interviewed finalists, and wished we could name a dozen laureates, the Free Library is pleased to announce that Wes Matthews has been selected as the 2018-2019 Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate. Wes is a gifted writer whose language is tuned to the city while looking beyond it, whose poems will welcome you with one word and unsettle you with the next.
Here are the opening lines of his poem "Ode to City Stars, or on Fear of Darkness":
The only things I can show you here that are not
the spots where a man fired his gun & missed his target
or where a boy broke his leg playing street football or hopping a chainfence
is everything you can already see–
Wes was born in Detroit and began writing poetry at age 10. He is a two-time Brave New Voices competitor, a 2016 TEDx speaker, and winner of the 2018 Philly Slam League All-Star Poetry Slam. His work can be found in Detroit Free Press, Eunoia Review, Dreginald Magazine, and more.
As Youth Poet Laureate, Wes will receive an educational scholarship and the opportunity to be mentored by the city’s current Poet Laureate Raquel Salas Rivera. In addition to showcasing his work at readings and events throughout the year, he will also design and lead a special community project that promotes poetry and civic engagement.
Wes succeeds the 2017-2018 Youth Poet Laureate Husnaa Hashim, who brought her powerful voice to venues around the city. Her year as Youth Poet Laureate culminated with the publication of her debut chapbook Honey Sequence, available from Philadelphia-based publisher The Head and the Hand Press.
The Free Library has managed the Philadelphia Poet Laureate program since 2017. The program is housed in the Free Library’s Center for Public Life and guided by a governing committee comprised of poets, educators, and arts-organization professionals from around the city. Both the Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate are civic positions that recognize exceptional poets who also demonstrate commitments to the power of poetry to engage and inspire people throughout Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. For more information about the Philadelphia Poet Laureate program, check out www.freelibrary.org/poetlaureate.