Sonia always puts the words a place called before your name. Girl, you’ve been called so many names. Been called out of your name, too. Philly. Illadelph. 215. Killadelphia. You are corner stores and cranes, murals and museums, litter and Love Park.
Here at USDAC Central, we are over the moon with pride and admiration for Chief Rhapsodist of Wherewithal Yolanda Wisher, who on February 5th was named Philadelphia’s third-ever Poet Laureate, succeeding Frank Sherlock (2014-15) and Sonia Sanchez (2012-13). The lines reproduced here are excerpted from Yolanda’s Poem “A Love Letter to Philadelphia.” You can watch her reading them on WPVI-TV news.
And then I started to really hear you, came to love you beyond pity and promiscuity. Fed you black beans and Jean Toomer’s “Georgia Dusk” at Toviah’s Thrift Store out West. Sat straight-backed in a plastic chair—room M18 in the Bonnell Building of CCP—while you coaxed a soprano out of me, and I sang—yeah, I sang—“Thank You, Lord” with your sinners and your savers. I caught your spirit.
This is doubly thrilling because Yolanda, whose association with the USDAC began two years ago when she was chosen as a founding Cultural Agent, has been curating and coordinating the 2016 Poetic Address to the Nation. This is the culminating gesture of our People’s State of the Union National Action, in which people across the U.S. share stories revealing the state of our union. You can read hundreds of #PSOTU2016 stories right now at the Story Portal.
I was searching for a pyramid in you, Philly. But pyramids don’t grow here, and that’s alright. Poems do.
The Poetic Address is made up of sonnets contributed by a remarkable group of invited poets, and story poems created by Philly-based poets in response to the stories uploaded as part of #PSOTU2016. Accompanied by music and supplemented by youth poetry, it will be performed live at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia beginning at 7:30 pm EST on Saturday, February 20th. If you’re going to be in Philadelphia, be sure to reserve your tickets now. And everywhere else, you can catch the livestream on FreeSpeechTV.
Here are Yolanda’s remarks on being appointed Poet Laureate:
It is a breathtaking honor to be selected to serve as our city’s 3rd Poet Laureate, following in the footsteps of Sonia Sanchez and Frank Sherlock. I’m proud of my city: here we have a post that affirms POETRY as a vehicle for civic engagement and expression.
I walked these Philly streets as a teenager, writing poems on the train down from North Wales and on the steps of Bennett Hall at Penn and UArts. One night in Old City at a poetry reading on 2nd Street, I fell in love with a man who became my muse and my bass player. A few years ago we gave birth to a little boy poem named Thelonious together in Germantown. Philadelphia has been my summer crush, my sister-friend, has become my home.
I step into this position spinning from the love of the unsung poets without laurels who raised me, the teachers who guided my life as much as my lines, and most importantly, my mother, Yvonda, who made countless sacrifices and knocked down more than a few walls so that I could be a writer. Born in Philly, I returned sixteen years ago in search of a poetry community. I found it, and it has shaped and inspired me.
I hope to grow that vibrant and powerful community of poetry and poets during my tenure as Laureate, and I will invite all Philadelphians—poets or not or just wishing to be—to help me write the poems that tell our city’s story. I’m not wasting any time getting started! My first invitation to all of y’all is to join me for the live-cast of the Poetic Address to the Nation, an event I’m hosting at the Painted Bride Art Center on Sat. Feb. 20th. The Poetic Address to the Nation is a State of the Union Address that weaves a multitude of voices across the U.S. into a poem, collaborative composed and performed by some of our nation’s and city’s most talented poets. Please visit psotu.us to learn more.”