Among 2019 Caesura Festival’s roster of musicians and poets, multi-talented Yolanda Wisher was poet-in-residence. Yolanda was Montgomery County’s first poet laureate (1999) and Philadelphia’s 2016-17 poet laureate. Throughout her career Yolanda has focused on writing, performing, teaching and mentoring young poets. She creates through many modalities: poetry, visual arts, singing and musical collaborations. I’ve been privileged to see her work her magic teaching students in Philadelphia schools. Recently she shared some updates and links to her work.
Current poetry news, honors, projects you want to share?
I have poems forthcoming in the Southern Indiana Review as well as an anthology of Black poetry published by Broadside-Lotus Press. I’m working on the seventh edition of Yolanda Wisher’s Rent Party at the Rosenbach to be held in the spring of 2020. I’m looking forward to teaching poetry to high school students in Colorado for two weeks in February.
Want to talk about any current themes you are exploring?
How strangers can and do become family. How family members become strangers. I’m also writing about the summer I was thirteen, staying with my stepfather’s family in Gray’s Ferry and walking across the University Avenue Bridge to take poetry and biology classes at Penn.
How did MCPL experience affect you as an artist?
I was only 23 years old when I became the first MCPL, so it changed my world and helped me to grow up as a writer. It gave me a deep sense of affirmation and responsibility about being a poet, and it provided me with multiple platforms to develop my expertise as a speaker and performer. Joanne Leva was such a nurturing and supportive leader and guide during that time. She believed in me the way my own mother did.
Goals going forward?
To (ad)venture into different genres. To keep playing with other disciplines like painting and dance and music to see what they do to the way I write poems.
Advice to young poets?
Read promiscuously. Fill up a beautiful journal with random, deep and/or silly thoughts, then get another journal and do it again. Be your own best champion. Imagine yourself 80 and writing.
Speak to the value of how poetry impacts the community, or your poetry in particular?
I think poetry can be a vital part of any community. It is an engine of truth and self-expression. It’s one way we can get to know a person from the inside out. At this moment, locally and nationally known poets are bearing witness to the world’s joys and its injustices. These poems will one day be precious for what they preserve, but they are also a powerful antidote to a despair that would try to swallow us all right now.
Bio, links, poems and artwork
https://www.thetinymag.com/yolanda-wisher: Multiple poems, typewriter poems, and watercolor art.
https://www.utne.com/arts/ballad-of-laura-nelson-poem-ze0z1908zhoe: “The Ballad of Laura Nelson.”
www.philadelphiacontemporary.org/ljam: The website of a new poetry and music podcast she created.
Yolanda Wisher is the author of Monk Eats an Afro (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) and the co-editor of Peace is a Haiku Song (Philadelphia Mural Arts, 2013). Wisher was named the inaugural Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1999 and the third Poet Laureate of Philadelphia in 2016. A Pew and Cave Canem Fellow, she has been a Writer in Residence at Hedgebrook and Aspen Words. Wisher taught high school English for a decade, served as Director of Art Education for Philadelphia Mural Arts, and was the 2017-2018 CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Wisher founded and directed the Germantown Poetry and Outbound Poetry Festivals and currently works as the Curator of Spoken Word at Philadelphia Contemporary. She regularly performs a unique blend of poetry and song with her band The Afroeaters and is part of the first cohort of artists with studios at the Cherry Street Pier on the Delaware River Waterfront.