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Tacoma Poet Laureate program changes hands

In 2011, Urban Grace will hand off to the Tacoma Arts Commission

Current Tacoma Poet Laureate Tammy Robacker

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The Tacoma Poet Laureate program has been headed up by Urban Grace Church for the past three years-shining a bold poetic light over many of the cultural events in venerable T-Town. But now, the bird that is the Poet Laureate program is going to fly free to a larger nest, aka the Tacoma Arts Commission. Starting just after the New Year, Urban Grace, the Tacoma Arts Commission, and the current Tacoma Poet Laureate Tammy Robacker will join forces to transition the program from the church into the hands of the Arts Commission.

"Urban Grace approached the Tacoma Arts Commission to see how we could partner," says Amy McBride, Tacoma Arts Administrator. "We hope an affiliation with the Tacoma Arts Commission will give it some more visibility and/or reach a larger audience."

Tad Monroe, poet pastor extraordinaire of Urban Grace points out, "As proud as we are to have had the opportunity to start this program and to cultivate it, we have also realized that we are limited in growing and strengthening the program because of our organizational capacity. TAC has the infrastructure, expertise, and resources to take it to the next level."

So far, Tacoma Poet Laureates have taken up the torch each April and stayed in office for one year. As the program transitions, the plan is to keep the Laureates in office for two years. Robacker is also involved in the transition.

"I'll be meeting with the arts commission, looking at ways to best support the poet laureate of Tacoma," says Tammy. "With some of the great administrative and creative support that the city offers through the Arts Commission, I think it will really keep the program strong and growing and vital to have them on board. The poet laureate is asked to be involved in a number of the city's arts events. It seems a natural fit that the two would come together to better support each other."

The call to new Poet Laureates will go out in mid-January 2010. Tacoma Arts Commission will be leading the call, and the winner will reign from April 2011 until April 2013. The Arts Commission plans to follow Urban Grace's model, which involves a community panel of poets and poetry fans as judges. Think Emily Dickenson as Paula, Walt Whitman as Randy, and Lord Byron as Simon. Submissions require work samples, a resume, essay questions, and discussions about how the artist would approach the role of Poet Laureate. Much to everyone's dismay, there is no swimsuit competition involved. The judges elect the next PL and in April there is a poetry party to crown the winner.

The Poet Laureate program grew out of Urban Grace Church's general dedication to the arts.

 "A congregation member at Urban Grace heard how local churches had created Poet Laureate positions in congregations on behalf of the larger community," says Tad. "I happened to love poetry and be a poet myself. It wasn't being done in Tacoma, and we felt like we had the resources and ability to get something going so we did."

Past Poet Laureates have been William Kupinse (2008-2009) and Antonio Edwards, Jr. (2009-2010). Poet Laureates are more than just a nifty title, too. They actually do stuff!

"They are charged with promoting and cultivating poetry in the community," says Tad. "They serve as ambassadors of poetry to the community. They read at various community events, in the public and private schools. They are charged with providing accessible workshops in the community and generally participate in developing programming related to poetry during their terms."

Poet Laureates generally come from an artistic background, for instance Robacker follows writing as her passion. She studied creative writing at the university level and has written for many local publications. As the poet laureate, she stays quite busy with poetry duties.

"In the past year," she says, "I've read at a lot of the open mics around town. I've also visited a lot of schools. I've been to Bellermine Prep, Evergreen State College, and Annie Wright. I did a really great poetry writing workshop with the teenage girls of Arts Connect through Hilltop Artists. I've been working a lot with the youth in Tacoma. I'm also teaching classes, and I just led a six month series of writer's workshops."

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