During Carrboro’s ‘Poetry Month,’ poet laureate Celisa Steele reflects

Jonathan K. Rice (left) is a poet, artist and editor of the annual publication Kakalak, which celebrates poetry and art in the Carolinas. Along with Beth Cagle he was one of the featured poets at a poetry reading at Flyleaf Books on April 14, and is seen here speaking to the audience. Of that event, Rice said, “This has been one of the best open mics I’ve ever heard.” (Staff photo by Grant Masini)
Jonathan K. Rice (left) is a poet, artist and editor of the annual publication Kakalak, which celebrates poetry and art in the Carolinas. Along with Beth Cagle he was one of the featured poets at a poetry reading at Flyleaf Books on April 14. Of that event, Rice said, “This has been one of the best open mics I’ve ever heard.” (Staff photo by Grant Masini)

Celisa Steele didn’t arrive in Carrboro expecting to become poet laureate.

She surprised even herself when she was awarded the position after applying three years ago. Since then, Steele has learned more about who she is and has gotten to know the thriving community of poets in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

“As I approach the end of my term, I know so much more than when I started,” Steele said. “I feel like we have an incredibly rich writing scene — it just takes time to get to know people. And the fact that I still meet new poets and find out about new venues regularly speaks to that richness.”

The Carrboro Arts Committee is responsible for selecting the town’s poet laureate, a volunteer position. Steele said there are some guidelines that come with the position, but it was designed to be broad and open to interpretation.

“For me, there were three main priorities: being active in Carrboro’s West End Poetry Festival, promoting poetry at Carrboro Day and reaching out to younger poets and the next generation that can help poetry grow in Carrboro in the future,” Steele said.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said Steele has been excellent during her tenure as poet laureate.

“She’s always been available to help us mark occasions, to promote events — even writing poems in order to do so,” Lavelle said. “She’s also really helped me to be aware of the importance of poetry in our community. I’m also asked to speak a lot and now I try to incorporate poems into my remarks as well. It’s a neat way to mark an occasion.”

The community of poets Steele has gotten to know came out in full force on April 14 at a poetry reading and open mic event at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. Beth A. Cagle, an award-winning poet and editor who lives in Charlotte, was one of two poets who headlined the event.

“The readings at Flyleaf have always been great,” Cagle said. “It appears to me [the area has] a strong writing community, and an abundance of talented writers.”

Cagle said she believes integrating more poetry and art into communities is up to the individual.

“Often you get a wide range of writing ability, and that’s OK. Writers who don’t give up are practically life-long learners,” Cagle said. “You can’t write and not learn something — you can’t write in a vacuum.”

Cagle said for her, the process of writing, sharing and getting critiqued has helped her deal with many challenges she’s faced in life, from chronic illness to divorce.

“It’s not only helped me to face those challenges and deal with them, but to feel a sense of triumph in getting my sense of joy back in life,” Cagle said.

Celisa Steele’s term as Carrboro’s poet laureate will end in June after three years, but her legacy will remain. Carrboro’s mayor designated April as poetry month in Carrboro this year.

“It’s really valued by the community,” Lavelle said about poetry. The town is accepting applications and nominations for the next poet laureate.

“We have a really bright poetry and spoken word community, and the poet laureate adds something special to that.”

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Author of the article

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Grant is a UNC-CH sophomore journalism major from Clayton, serving as a staff writer for the Carrboro Commons. He also serves as the spring 2016 Durham VOICE and Carrboro Commons social media editor.