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Prince George’s County Celebrates the Multigenerational Power of Poetry

National Poetry Month in April offers an opportunity to celebrate the value of creative self-expression. The poetry scene continues to evolve in Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford has served as Prince George’s County’s inaugural poet laureate since 2018. Sistah Joy began writing poetry as a class assignment when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Sojourn with Words is her program through which poets are invited and interviewed. It airs in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County on cable via CTV.

“Once we went virtual, there was no restriction on travel, which was a big consideration when you’re inviting someone into the studio to do an interview. We now have had poets from London, poets from Ireland, poets from California. Sometimes good things come from bad situations,” Sistah Joy said, explaining that opportunities for show guests expanded due to COVID adjustments.

“I was appointed in 2018 for what was to have been a three-year term. I was asked to stay on, so, now it’s been four and a half years, but my term is scheduled to conclude at the end of April 2023,” Sistah Joy said.

A selection committee will be making the decision regarding who will be named the next Prince George’s County Poet Laureate on the evening of Monday, April 24, 2023. A public reception will be held at the Hyattsville Branch Library, located at 6530 Adelphi Road in Hyattsville, Maryland at 6:30 p.m. The transition event that will also honor Sistah Joy. Event sponsors include the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council, the Prince George’s Memorial Library System and The Links, Incorporated, Willow Oak (MD) Chapter.

The poetry scene in Prince George’s County is not exclusively reserved for adults. Precious Foreman, 15, is following in Sistah Joy’s footsteps. She is the 2023 Youth Poet Laureate of Prince George’s County. Precious will be a part of the ceremony at the library.

Precious Foreman, 2023 Youth Poet Laureate of Prince George’s County
Photo credit: Shashi of Ssyfotos

“We’re just looking for ways that we can ensure that the voice of the youth in Prince George’s County is heard and they are given the platform that they are deserving of,” Sistah Joy said.

Precious, 15, has been homeschooled since she was in fifth grade when the pandemic led to students to attend virtual school. Her favorite subject is history. Precious is a fan of poetry and storytelling who would recommend that other teenagers write and read poetry.

“I would say around 2020, I was starting to write poetry and that’s when I read books of poetry. That really inspired me to continue creating my own,” Precious said. “I think that it is very important to just have somewhere where you can be authentic and be yourself, but also learn more about yourself.”

The young poet explained that she mostly writes free verse. She gains inspiration from everywhere, although the majority of what moves her on paper comes from herself and her family. 

“I love to write about women and Black girls growing up,” Precious said, specifically mentioning her sisters.

Precious’ opportunity to become the 2023 Youth Poet Laureate of Prince George’s County evolved after her journey began through www.dialect-usa.com and Patrick Washington. Competitive finals were held on February 25, 2023 in Prince George’s County. Scores were combined from various phases of the process. Although Precious won, youth poet ambassadors were also selected to represent various cities.

 “Everyone won a title that day,” Precious said. “We look forward to doing different things together throughout the year.”

Precious will tour and perform poetry at a different Prince George’s County Memorial Library System’s locations. She also hopes that she will venture out to work with other poet laureates in various neighboring areas.

Sistah Joy has proven to be an inclusive poetry leader who has served as an inspiring voice for individuals of all ages.

“I personally, and the Office of the Poet Laureate in general, are very thrilled to see young persons such as Precious and each of the youth poetry ambassadors, stepping up into positions of leadership within the County because that’s what it is. It’s a position of leadership and a position of service,” Sistah Joy exclaimed. “When we can mold our young persons in the way that demonstrates the power of poetry, and the ability that they have within them, they are more likely to become the leaders of society that will make a difference not just in this Prince George’s County, but in the country, even in the world.”

Visit https://pgcmls.info/event/8353322 to learn more about the free celebration of poetry.

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