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Paterson's Poet Laureate

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PATERSON, NJ- The City of Paterson has given birth to famous athletes, business leaders, actors, and now, a poet laureate.

Born and raised in Paterson, Talena Lachelle Queen told TAPinto Paterson that she has been writing since she was five-years old, and, as she grew older, realized that when it came to pursuing studies and a career in writing, she “didn’t have a choice.” The need to write, or to express herself through written words, has at times been impossible to suppress, Queen said relaying her feeling of being “annoyed” that one of well known works, Brown Girl, came to her at a less than opportune time and “asked her to write it.”

With her first poem published when she was just 14-years old, and extensive studies which include her being conferred a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington, Queen has used her gift to inspire and teach others. In meeting Queen for this story in the classroom where she teaches Language Arts at Martin Luther King, Jr. School it was easy to see how she has transformed that space into one that, as she said, “empowers kids to express themselves within the structure of an academic setting.”

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According to Wikipedia, the title of poet laureate dates back to the latter stages of the Roman Empire in 1315 and connotes that the person in the position will be expected to compose poems for special occasions. So while many of Queen’s poems have “haunted” her, choosing when and where to come out, she also has extensive experience commissioning poems as she has done for publications and festivals in places far from Paterson, such as Korea and Finland.

Having lived in Seattle for nearly 16 years, Queen exudes a pride in Paterson, and suggested that for a large part of the time she was away she “had a desire to be home.” Though her trips to her hometown were frequent, being away gave her an opportunity to experience life from a different perspective. Her immediate impact on her local community now that she’s back has been great, not just in earning the position of poet laureate, but also in her efforts to bring a love of reading, and through her leadership in the Little Free Library project, access to books for residents at 12 different city parks.

And while the position of poet laureate is a largely ceremonial one, those who know Queen best will not be surprised to read that she has no intentions of doing anything less than the very most possible to make it one that is meaningful to children and adults alike. Viewing it as a “community outreach position,” she is excited that because she is the first person to hold the title she has an opportunity to “make it what it is.”

Already, she has ambitious plans to create an event for Paterson’s youngest students where they can have a space to get on stage and use a microphone, looks forward to visiting young writers in their classrooms, and hopes that she’ll be able to show residents that through writing they can “do something they haven’t done.”

Many of her poems, Queen said, are “intentionally informational,” a tool she believes can also be helpful in bringing knowledge and education to individuals in a unique way. The position also, when seen as a celebration of poetry, shows that “Paterson recognizes that arts and culture are a part of the city,” and can be used to help stimulate economic development.

Artists “love to be together,” Queen offered, and have a tendency to want to share their works, making the position a tool to support tourism, perhaps through the establishment of events that attract writers from outside of Paterson, and through the creation of space for other artists that use a variety of mediums extending beyond poetry.

With the ink on the resolution that named Queen the poet laureate barely even dry, her commitment to the position, and the great potential she has expressed for the impact it can make on a city hungry for leaders seeking to build a more positive future, has already allowed her to achieve one of her goals, to “let them know she’s home.”

 

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