Annapolis will be choosing a new poet laureate soon, and the last person to hold the position thinks the next artist could be someone from the spoken-word genre.
"I think the next laureate will probably be someone who comes out of spoken word tradition," said Temple Cone, the city of Annapolis’ first poet laureate. "I think spoken word draws people in in certain ways because it has such a powerful performance element. It's similar enough to other forms of performance that people feel comfortable with it. It can be a really effective entry point.”
Cone ,48, from Adelphi, MD is a professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy whose poetry is comprised mostly of rhyme and sonnets. He learned under another acclaimed poet, Charles Wright. As Annapolis' first laureate, he has also learned that holding the position can impact an artist and their work in ways they may not have considered.
While serving as poet laureate from 2018 to 2020, Cone said his work often related to issues impacting the public.
He has some advice for the next poet laureate regarding that--go to all the public events.
"Allow yourself to be moved, hurt, and made triumphant by them," he encouraged.
His own poetry turned from a private, inward exploration into work that reflected more of a public-oriented perspective during his time as poet laureate. He wrote almost a dozen works during the two years.
During that tenure, Cone became more aware of how his art might be impacting the social conscience of readers.
"I've been more curious about how the poems I write, meant to be read privately, may have some effect on how they (readers) engage directly with the world," he said.
Cone is not particularly political, he said, but interacting with the public naturally brought out issues of a political nature that he did write about. The current pandemic hadn't influenced his writing yet, but he did delve into other societal issues.
The poet said he felt like a lot of his poems ended up being a response to the callousness of the Trump administration.
"I felt like I got called on to speak to political moments," Temple said. "I just wanted to go at them with openness, curiosity...I tried to respond to them in a very human fashion."
Perhaps the worst and best of humanity was reflected in the Capital Gazette shootings of June 28, 2018. As poet laureate of Annapolis, Cone was called upon to create a work that could speak to the moment, and then do a reading.
"The signature moment (of my tenure) was the city-wide vigil after the shooting at the Gazette," he said. "That stood out as a powerful moment. I was very, very glad that I could do something. I think a lot of people felt cripplingly helpless."
Cone noted that poetry can help people grieve. He observed too that there was an abundance of poetry currently being written about the pandemic experience.
"It's part of the function of poetry," he said. "It's therapeutic. It helps them (poets) frame important events."
But poetry can also be reflective. He said looking back on this time in a few years from now through the poetry could be beneficial too.
"Poetry is not journalism," he said. "Sometimes having distance from the experience allows for recollection that's important and considered."
Cone expects his experience as laureate to have a long-term impact on his art. Getting away from the regimented routine of being a professor, in a position where he is considered an expert all the time, was artistically refreshing for him.
"This completely knocked that base out from under me," he said.
He encouraged those who follow in the position to embrace the unknowns of what being Annapolis' poet laureate can mean.
"I think if taking a position like this doesn't unsettle you in good ways, you maybe weren't going into it with the right spirit," he said.
"The Day Would Be Remembered"
(read by the author at the vigil remembering Capital Gazette shooting victims. 2018)
The phones screamed all afternoon,
family calling family,
each lover their beloved one.
The blue sky was empty,
save a few clouds that held
no promise of cleansing rain.
For an hour, each heart swelled
with grief for a stranger’s pain,
then sank into silence,
lacking words to shield
a fragile innocence.
When crows at last had wheeled
home to the full-leafed trees,
life crept back in. Children
played baseball, the wheels
of a fallen bike spun
in the breeze, and those who lived
greeted others warmly.
The day would be remembered
as one when family
called family, each lover
their beloved one.
But none would forget, ever,
how the phones screamed all afternoon.
-- Temple Cone
The application deadline to become Annapolis' next poet laureate is Friday, February 26.
Poet Laureate Qualifications: In order to be considered for the position, applicants and nominees must either live, work, or attend an academic institution within the City of Annapolis; be at least 18 years old; and be distinguished in the field of poetry as demonstrated through a body of work, published or unpublished. The application deadline is Friday, February 26, 2021. Applications must be sent via email to email@example.com or via postal mail to the AIPPC, Pip Moyer Recreation Center, 273 Hilltop Lane, Annapolis, MD 21403.
Further information, including guidelines and an application/nomination form for the position, is available at annapolis.gov/678/Art-in-Public-Places-Commission. Submissions from poets from all walks of life and writing in all poetry forms are welcome.