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North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Visits Western Carolina Writing Students

Lilly Knoepp
Western Carolina student Ladasha Funderburk reads her poem while NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and student Miller Earnhardt listen.

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate stopped by Western Carolina University this week to hear students share their poetry. 

Pam Duncan is an associate English professor at Western Carolina. Every year she starts her creative writing class with poetry. 

“I’m hoping that they will see that poetry can live in the real world. It’s not just limited to the classroom,” says Duncan. “I believe we all need poetry everyday.” 

This year, she got to introduce her students to a real working poet: Jaki Shelton Green,  North Carolina’s Poet Laureate. 

 “Very simply, I am the ambassador of poetry for states - and not just for poetry, but for all of the literary arts” says Shelton Green. 

The class sit quietly at their tables with laptops and earbuds the air conditioner is the loudest thing in the room.  When Shelton Green asks them to read their poetry a few hands raise. Miller Earnhardt is the first to read from behind their sticker covered laptop. 

“I am from gas station slushies, I am from hot concerte and a cool breeze,” says Earnhardt. 

After her poem, Shelton Green cheers while the rest of the class snaps. 

Credit Lilly Knoepp
NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green says this was not her first trip to Western North Carolina or the university.

Shelton Green told the class stories about her summers in Morocco, her work with documentary poetry and the time she put a hex on longtime North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms in the form of a poem:

“Prayer for Jesse. One: I will smear blood under your eye. Stand in the same dream with you and hear your secret screams...”

After class, Shelton Green shares that meeting with unexpected people is her favorite part of her work. 

 “All the changes that happen at the national level, policy making,  it does happen. But all of the changes, the real conversation, is the conversation that we have across driveways,” says Shelton Green. “Talking to our neighbors who look different from us.” 

Shelton Green is the first African American and the third woman to the poet laureate for North Carolina. 

Shelton Green also read selections and held a question-and-answer session at Western Carolina on October 30th hosted by WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Programs, Office of Intercultural Affairs and the Department of English.
Update: The article has been updated to reflect appropriate pronouns for all interviewees. 

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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