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KCS Students Map Community Through Poetry

Knox County students are being encouraged by Knoxville’s first Poet Laureate R.B. Morris to take part in creating an original collection of poetry about Knoxville through a project called Latitude 35: Navigating Knoxville Through Poetry and a process called poetry mapping.

Morris will visit Bearden Elementary School (5717 Kingston Pike) at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8, and work with a class of fifth grade students. During the visit he will model the poetry writing process, share some of his own work and provide guidance and inspiration to students as they write their own poems or pieces of lyrical prose about Knoxville or specific places in the community that are important to them.

The project is based off an idea from Claudia Castro Luna—Seattle, Washington’s first civic poet—that was featured in a PBS News Hour story. Castro Luna was looking for a way to create a snapshot of the rapidly changing city, so she asked people to write about specific locations that had meaning to them. The result was something called a “Poetic Grid,” or a map of the city illustrated through the voices and written words of the people who live there. Morris hopes to create a map of our own city, and share its rich history, through poetry.

All Knox County students, not just the class at Bearden Elementary, can participate. To submit work, send a clearly printed, hard copy to Shannon Jackson (912 S. Gay Street, Suite 1421a, 37902) by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 9 accompanied by this cover sheet. Students submitting their work online will use the Canvas Course, Latitude 35, which also contains resources for both students and teachers as they explore poetry.

A group called Literary Knox has done something similar in an attempt to bring Knoxville’s literary history alive by providing maps, biographies and contextual information from the lives and works of local authors Alex Haley, Cormac McCarthy, Nikki Giovanni and James Agee.