All May Enter

All may enter the realm of the poem. Poetry belongs to each of us, wealthy, super rich, middle class, working class, and poor. I think the shut out — middle class, working class and poor have a storehouse of poems yet to be heard. We are each rich with the beauty and purpose of words, if written words are available to us and we let their potential in. Literacy is a vital component of the power of poetry. It is a vital component of the people’s power. But poetry may be oral as were the first poems. Chants and ritual words sung as the tribe gathered. Poetry is the language of the heart, brain, body and soul. It moves as the spirit moves us — in rhythms, definite and distinct.

“Poetry is life distilled,” wrote legendary Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks (Il 1968 – 2000). In the realm of each poem, we find contained the nucleus of life itself, some truth that otherwise eluded us, but pulses in our daily lives, behind our eyes, on the edge of a smile or frown, laughter or weeping. Sometimes there is a word-picture that catches our breath and inspires us, an image that makes us see a-new, a cunning turn of language that makes us want to speak in tongues.

Poetry becomes more popular in times of turmoil and social upheaval, such as today. The motto of the Civil Rights Movement was “transforming hearts and minds.” What better way than through poetry? “We Shall Overcome” is a poem sung. People need poems to speak the powerful currents of ideas that impel us forward to push against the gray walls of the past. Poet Denise Levertov in her poem “Jacob’s Ladder” describes a man struggling up a ladder when “Wings brush past him. The poem ascends.” When we speak as poets, we are truest to our humanity and we assume a sacred task. We ascend as angels ascend. We put on our wings. Brown, White, Asian, Black we ascend as angels ascend.

Haki Madhubuti writes “Poetry has a way of attaching itself to strangers.” Yes, for inside the poem we are not strangers long, for poems speak intimately and immediately, one heart to one heart even in a crowd listening to loud mesmerizing Spoken Word poetry. Alan Shapiro writes, “reading poetry is an act of love.” We pour ourselves into the words and their meanings and music. They pour themselves into us as we read. We become lovers and healers as well. Some poets shape poems from their dreams. Poems come out of their dreams. And we give these dreams to a world that needs more “dreams and dreamers, songs and singers of songs,” if I may borrow from Langston Hughes.

“Poetry is life distilled,” as Brooks said, and we drink it and are revived and enabled to live our own lives with keener insights, more robust passion, and tender compassion and courage. Wherever we live — in city, town, countryside, rural area, we are revived by the power of poetry. All of us in Illinois and beyond restored in the realm of the poem.

I am honored and excited to follow Illinois esteemed Poet Laureates Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Kevin Stein. Illinois has a rich poetic history and promises more truth and beauty, brimming with life. In the realm of the poem, all are welcome.

Booking the Illinois Poet Laureate

The Illinois Poet Laureate promotes access to poetry for all Illinoisans. In her role as Illinois Poet Laureate, Ms. Jackson will present readings and conversations about poetry across the state. Through our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, non-profit organizations throughout Illinois can book Ms. Jackson to give free public readings and presentations on her work for a $75 application fee, which can be waived for organizations experiencing financial hardship. Through the Road Scholars Speakers Bureau program, Ms. Jackson is available for 5 presentations per year. Please review the criteria for eligibility for participation as a Road Scholars host organization.

Ms. Jackson is a key figure in the Black Arts Movement and is the author of Voo Doo/Love Magic (1974); Witness! (1978); Shango Diaspora: An AfricanAmerican Myth of Womanhood and Love (1980); Solo in the Boxcar Third Floor E (1985); Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners (1993); And All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New (1998); Where I Must Go (2009); It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time (2015); Roads, Where There Are No Roads (2017); A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks (2017); Comfort Stew (2019).


Book Angela Jackson by arranging a date and time with Zerline Thompson, Programs and Grants Coordinator,  via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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Upcoming Poet Laureate Events

Lawson Prize

The Dr. William and Mrs. Rosemary Lawson Poetry Prize for College Undergraduate and Graduate Students is now open. The award is $1,000.

  • Deadline for submissions: January 15, 2022.
  • The winner will be announced in June, 2022.

Submissions should be typed and of no longer than two pages. The Poet’s name, return address, and email address should appear in the right-hand corner of the page with the heading “Lawson Prize.” Please send all poetry submissions to:

Illinois Humanities
Attn: Lawson Prize
125 S Clark St Ste 650
Chicago, IL 60603

The prize, underwritten by Dr. William and Mrs. Rosemary Lawson, is sponsored through the Office of Angela Jackson, Poet Laureate of Illinois.

About Road Scholar & Poet Laureate Angela Jackson

Angela Jackson, the fifth Illinois Poet Laureate, is an award-winning poet, novelist, and playwright who has published three chapbooks and four volumes of poetry. Born in Greenville, Mississippi and raised on Chicago’s Southside, she was educated at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. We are proud to have the Poet Laureate in residence with Illinois Humanities.

Her collections of poetry include Voo Doo/Love Magic (1974); Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners (1993) which was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award and the Chicago Sun-Times/Friends of Literature Book of the Year Award; And All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New (1998), nominated for the National Book Award, and It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time (2015) that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the Pen/Open Book Award, finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and a finalist for the Milt Kessler Poetry Prize. She received a Pushcart Prize and an American Book Award for Solo in the Boxcar Third Floor E (1985). Jackson’s next book, More Than Meat and Raiment, is scheduled to be published in 2022.

Angela Jackson Headshot
photo by Betty J. Jackson

Angela Jackson has also written several plays, including Witness! (1978), Shango Diaspora: An AfricanAmerican Myth of Womanhood and Love (1980), and Comfort Stew (2019). Her first novel, Where I Must Go (2009), won the American Book Award. Its highly anticipated sequel, Roads, Where There Are No Roads (2017), won the 2018 John Gardner Fiction prize. She is also the author of the significant biography A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks.

She has received the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, TriQuarterly’s Daniel Curley Award, Illinois Center for the Book Heritage Award, Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Fuller Award, Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent from Chicago State University, the Academy of American Poets Prize, and grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council. She was a twenty-year member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC) Writers Workshop, succeeding the late Hoyt W. Fuller as its Chair.

Her poetry and fiction have been published in many journals and anthologies including: Triquarterly, First World, Black World, Mississippi Valley Review, River Oaks Review, Black Review, Black Collegian, Black Creation, NOMMO, Obsidian, Callaloo, Chicago Review, Cumbaya, Hoodoo 7, River Styx, OBAsong, IAC/RTA Poetry on the Busses, Poetry in Motion, Storyquarterly, Okike #17, Essence, Eyeball, Lyric, 15 Chicago Poets, Prairie Voices, Second Set, Real Things, Boomer Girls, Breaking Ice, The Writer and the World, Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth, Celebrations, In Search of Color, Beyond the Frontier, 360 A Revolution of Black Poets, Chicago Works, Smokestacks and Skyscrapers, A Country of Her Own, Chicago Stories, Southside Stories, Black Renaissance Noire, Penguin Academics African American Literature, and The Best of the Pushcart Prizes among others.

Learn More and Follow Ms. Jackson

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About the Illinois Poet Laureate

State of Illinois Poet Laureate Page Banner

Angela Jackson is the is the fifth Illinoisan to hold the title of Poet Laureate, an honorary position selected by a committee of experts and subsequently appointed by the Governor. Former Illinois Poet Laureates included: Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Kevin Stein.


What Is a Poet Laureate?

You may be wondering what is a poet laureate and what does he or she do? To answer both questions, some background information is necessary. In the beginning, medieval universities were fond of crowning with laurel any student admitted to an academic degree. Those students showing particular skill in Latin and in forms of versification were awarded the special degree “poet laureate.” Gradually, that title attained a more precise application. By the late Middle Ages, the custom developed to bestow a crown of laurels to poets showing distinctive achievement, Petrarch receiving such an honor in 1341. In fact, the root word “laurel” is still visible in the phrase “poet laureate.” At the same time, many ancient kings established the practice of maintaining a poet within their realms to poeticize familial and military accomplishments.

The modern office of the laureate was established in seventeenth-century England. Then, the laureate’s primary duty was to sing the praises of royalty and to celebrate their state occasions, to be, as it were, a court poet. Thankfully, that role was abolished in the early 1800s. In America, our state and national laureates have been asked to devise their own programs for promoting the art of poetry among the populace.


Donate to the Illinois Poet Laureate

The Illinois Poet Laureate is in residence with Illinois Humanities. If you would like to make a restricted donation to support the Poet Laureate you can do so here. Please indicate in the optional comment field at the top of the form that this gift is “for the Illinois Poet Laureate.”


Learn more about the Illinois Poet Laureate position at illinois.gov.


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About Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Since 1997, our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau has invited Illinois writers, storytellers, historians, folklorists, musicians, and living history actors, among others, to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people throughout our state. It also enables local nonprofit organizations – including libraries, museums, arts councils, historical societies, civic groups, and many others – to present free-admission cultural programs of high quality to their communities for a modest fee.

Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau roster typically features speakers hailing from many different communities across Illinois who offer presentations on topics in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, theater, film, music, politics, and other subjects that pique one’s curiosity and surprise the intellect. The breadth of these offerings reflects our conviction that the humanities can help us to examine the world in all its varied shades and discover in it the remarkable, the strange, the fantastic, the tragic, the humorous, and the beautiful.

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