Carrboro was the first town in North Carolina to have a local poet laureate and 20 years later is still continuing that advancement of poetry during National Poetry Month.
National Poetry Month is celebrated annually in April — and the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are both celebrating this year. National Poetry Month was first launched in April 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.
“The town of Carrboro has been a poetry-loving community since at least going back as far as 2002, when we established the poet laureate,” Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said.
He said he has always loved poetry and enjoys sharing and celebrating it with his neighbors.
“It’s been an arts-loving town for a long time now," Seils said. "Whether it’s poetry or the visual arts or music, it’s just been a place where artists, musicians and others have found a home. I don’t know what to attribute that to — obviously, the proximity to the University has a lot to do with that."
Liza Wolff-Francis, Carrboro’s current poet laureate, will be involved in a line-up of events in April to celebrate the month in Carrboro.
Wolff-Francis said eco-poetry is important to her, especially since Earth Day is also celebrated in April. On April 22, Earth Day, Wolff-Francis will be at the Carrboro Farmers' Market for a seedling giveaway and community poem event.
During her tenure as poet laureate, Wolff-Francis said she is trying to get poetry out in the community in whatever way she can.
"Anybody can write a poem, and probably people have many, many poems within them," she said.
Wolff-Francis also said she wants people from neighboring communities to participate in local poetry events.
Seils said while his short-term goal is to have an inspiring poetry month, his longer-term goal is the success of the Town's annual signature event, the West End Poetry Festival, which is held in October.
Chapel Hill also has a poet laureate — Cortland Gilliam currently holds the role. Melissa Bartoletta, the communications coordinator at Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, said her department works closely with the poet laureate.
This month, Chapel Hill Community Arts and Culture is partnering with the Chapel Hill Public Library to amplify poetry in the community.
Hosted by Gilliam, "The Poet is a Verb" is an open mic event that will take place on April 27 at 6 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
"I think a lot of people, when they think of the library, just think of arts, digital and written resources, so it’s really exciting when we can bring things to life like this," Hannah Olson, the marketing and communications coordinator at the Chapel Hill Public Library, said.
Olson said the library has made poetry booklets and displays in the past, but the presence of a poet laureate has facilitated increased engagement with poetry.
Bartoletta said Gilliam has also worked with former Chapel Hill poet laureate C.J. Suitt to create a new poetry work that will be unveiled as an artistic design on a Chapel Hill Transit bus shelter. The art is being designed by local artist Wutang McDougal as part of the Art + Transit program.
"Certainly, Chapel Hill has an arts-loving community as well,” Seils said.
The two Towns will also be hosting a few events together to celebrate the month.Wolff-Francis and Gilliam will be at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on April 6 to speak about the role of poetry in the public realm.
"Poetry is a way for people to be heard," Wolff-Francis said. "People are able to use their voices in ways that they might not otherwise."
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