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Calling All Young Poets — Share on Arkansas Youth Poetry Day

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  • Stacy Pendergrast
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Read to the end of this post for details on how youth may submit their poems to be featured in this event.

Last summer when fellow teachers and I coached kids at Arkansas PBS’ Say My Piece poetry slam camp, we told the young poets that poetry had the power to open doors.

You never know where your voice will carry, I told the kids. You never know who might hear you, I said.

Sure enough, someone was listening to the young poets: Jo McDougall, poet laureate of Arkansas.

Jo McDougall Arkansas Poet Laureate

McDougall, guest speaker at the slam event orchestrated by Arkansas PBS Community Educator Karen Walker, remembers the talent on display that night in studio C. Two poets from The Writeous, Victory Jackson and Chauncey Williams-Wesley, led as “slambassadors” and served as our opening sacrificial poets, wowing the poet laureate along with the judges and audience. Victory and Chauncey had mentored our ten young poets to deliver their poems with the spunk of professional slammers. One by one, each poet, ranging in ages from 11 to 16, stood in front of the mic and made a debut as a spoken-word artist. They spoke truth to power. They waxed about personal pain. They made us laugh and cry. McDougall made up her mind that night.

Say My Piece Slam participants

“I was truly excited and impressed when I witnessed young Arkansas poets performing their work. I knew then and there that our Arkansas youth deserve a special and official day,” McDougall said.

Over the next several months, McDougall began discussing her idea with me and other Arkansas poets. Then she approached Governor Asa Hutchinson. “I began the process of requesting of the governor a proclamation declaring a day to focus on youth poets,” she said. She succeeded. The governor signed the proclamation designating April 18, 2020, as Arkansas Youth Poetry Day. “It is now official—and it all started in the studio of Arkansas PBS!” McDougall exclaimed.

Competition Poster

In lieu of a face-to-face gathering, the inaugural Arkansas Youth Poetry Day will be <a href= https://www.facebook.com/events/214206959793856/>celebrated virtually on April 18</a>  at 10 a.m. on the Facebook page for the Wednesday Night Poetry Reading Series hosted by Kai Coggin, poet and Arkansas Arts Council poetry teaching artist. The Porter Prize Foundation and the Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance will sponsor the event designed by Jo McDougall, me (Stacy Pendergrast), Kai Coggin, and members of The Writeous Poets and their sponsors, Stacey McAdoo, 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, and Leron McAdoo, the Hiphoptimist. It takes a village, y’all.

Young poets ages 18 and under may submit video-recorded original poems to be shared on the Facebook virtual open mic. Those interested may contact wednesdaynightpoetry@gmail.com for guidelines. The deadline for submissions is April 17.

Stacy Pendergrast, an education and instruction specialist at Arkansas PBS, is also a seasoned haiku poet and teaching artist. She earned her Master of Education from Rutgers University and a Master of Fine Arts from Chatham University.