JoAnn Balingit on the Enduring Power of Poetry

The former poet laureate of Delaware now serves as the state coordinator for Poetry Out Loud, which holds state finals at Dover High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27.


JoAnn Balingit of Newark stood as Delaware’s poet laureate from 2008 to 2015. Today, she remains dedicated to educating youth on the importance of poetry, and serves as the state coordinator for Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest. The contest’s state finals take place Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Dover High School.

On the most rewarding part of being Delaware’s poet laureate:

Being able to bring poetry into people’s lives—people who weren’t aware how much they’d enjoy it.

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On memorizing poetry:

It’s so satisfying to have that poem to use, to share or to comfort. Poetry has made a lot of my life and relationships richer, if not possible. Just following that love has made a lot possible that I didn’t think would be.

On gaining inspiration:

When I take a walk in the woods, I might come back and write about a sound or rhythm. I might get inspired by a line that I read in someone else’s poem—I usually read before I write. I might want to respond to something in the news or tell a family story. It depends.

On the importance of poetry for younger generations:

Students are coming to the works and identifying with them, and learning to love poetry in the authentic way in which it’s meant to be received—which is loving a poem because it speaks to you. You identify with poetry because it touches you and your own experience in some universal way. Students are communing with language and emotions and a kind of knowledge that they didn’t know was available to them.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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