Home is more than four walls and a roof for David Gaines.
When Gaines won this year’s 21st annual Montgomery County Poet Laureate competition he knew it was something big – a validation of his voice, his work and his aspiration to serve others.
The 24-year-old from Lafayette Hill became poet laureate earlier this month and will officially transition in a virtual reading event on April 30.
A poet, writer, educator and performance artist Gaines spent a lot of his childhood in Philadelphia and considers it the region’s writing epicenter.
“Being intimate with so many writers and their struggles and plights if we are talking about poetry that’s where the energy is coming from. It comes from Philly outward,” Gaines explained.
He said the poet laureate honor is an affirmation of his career as a writer and performer.
“[Winning] means two big things: The first being [validation of] my personal writing goals…the second being community,” Gaines said.
Beginning in slam poetry venues, winning competitions, meeting people and networking, were all validation, too, yet while the live energy was invigorating, he said something was missing. “I knew my writing would need to be as evocative on paper as it was on stage,” Gaines explained.
Rooting his work, and philosophy in the idea that home doesn’t have to be a single place, is among the constructs Gaines uses to explore the world.
“Being poet laureate of Montgomery County lets me know… that home can be multiple things and community can stand in [for] multiple places,” Gaines said.
‘It doesn’t have to be a stationary thing or group- I’ve been building community everywhere I go,” he said.
Born at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Gaines has lived on West Oak Lane and in Texas.
All the more reason to expand the concept of what home is, and what community can mean.
i pray my death // is a swift benediction. // this body is a church // and life the longest service. // don’t let them say // i was raised in church // tell them, i was the church. -from David Gaines poem “genesis”
Giving back to the Philadelphia community is essential for Gaines, who recognizes the struggles of working toward a goal in the arts – especially as a poet.
He plans to feed the “energy” source in Philadelphia and beyond by working with young poets, and with those attending open mic venues and slam events.
He compared the cohort of young, as yet undiscovered writers to a central “fire.” Supporting their work and voices was essential to “pouring into that fire” to make a bigger fire.
As social isolation and restrictions resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic, known as Covid-19 have illustrated, finding community – and feeling at home, is essential to being productive and maintaining a sense of well-being and hope.
“Self-isolating does not mean you are alone or have to isolate from your loved ones,” he said.
Gaines went further, noting emotional distancing need not be a byproduct of social distancing. Face time, texting and phone calls are all ways to remain supportive and connective to loved ones, as is creating art through poetry.
“When we stop being connected to life, that is when we start to lose it,” Gaines said.
For some poets, restrictions and mandatory work shutdowns can create fertile ground to explore new work or revisit older poems. For others, it can cause creative blocks, leading to shutdown and feelings of frustration.
“When I get stuck it’s because I forget the bigger picture, and when I forget there are others struggling, too, and connect with them, we can hold each other up,” Gaines explained.
For more David Gaines poetry visit his website at davegpoetry.com, or follow him on social media at davegpoetry@instagram and davegpoetry@twitter