By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent
Chinua Rhodes, who represents District 5 on the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) Board of Education, late last month proposed a resolution recognizing Sacramento Poetry Day throughout local schools.
The resolution passed unanimously Oct. 26 and is viewed by many as a positive step towards expanding opportunities for local poets and recognizing their contribution to SCUSD students.
“I’m proud to have presented the first resolution ever recognizing poets and the work they do to inspire and give voice to the voiceless to the Board of Education,” Rhodes, the board’s second-vice president, told The OBSERVER.
Andru Defeye, Sacramento’s current poet laureate, was appointed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg in 2020 and successfully applied for the American Academy of Poets Laureate fellowship, receiving $15,000 to carry out a poetry-related civics project. This year he led more than 20 poets and created a curriculum that was adopted by the Twin Rivers, San Juan, and Sacramento City Unified school districts.
“We also started collecting poems to document for a historic citywide Sacramento poetry collection and hosted a youth contest with over 250 entries.” Defeye said. “We got a resolution from the City of Sacramento that states they will be supporting Sacramento Poetry Day and declared Sacramento the poetry capital of California.”
Oct. 26 is an important day in the Sacramento poetry scene. It was on that date in 1986 when Landing Signals, a 244-page book and two-hour audio presentation of Sacramento Poets was released. In recognition of that achievement, then-Mayor Ann Rudin proclaimed Oct. 26, Sacramento Poetry Day.
Defeye hosted an award ceremony on this year’s poetry day honoring some of the city’s most valuable poets. “I wanted to personally honor the poets that make this city the poetry capital and each of the poets that were honored the other night have helped shape the landscape of Sacramento poetry, some of them for decades,” Defeye said. “It’s not an easy job. We are uplifters, counselors, motivational speakers, educators, organizers, writers and healers.”
Among those honored were Laura Andrews Cook aka “MmaMma Laura,” a local poet and spoken-word artist who has written and shared her work since middle school. MmaMma Laura is widely considered a matriarch of the Sacramento poetry scene.
Also honored was Chris Coon, known as “Coon the Poet,” who was born and raised in South Sacramento. At age 15, he was shot three times in a case of mistaken identity. Drawing strength from his experience, he dedicated himself to “inspiring, educating and opening minds through poetry and spoken word.”
The ceremony honored 10 poets; each performed a poem for the audience, which included District 4 Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, a longtime supporter of Sacramento arts.
“Art and culture enrich our lives,” Rhodes told the OBSERVER. “I’m excited by the possibilities this resolution will inspire.”