In September 2018, Prince George's County Maryland joined the United States, the District of Columbia, the State of Virginia, and other jurisdictions with establishing a poet laureate position. Port Of Harlem talked to the first person, Joy “Sistah Joy” Mathews Alford, to hold the Prince George’s position about the position and her goals as the poet laureate of the nation’s most educated and wealthiest majority-Black county.
Alford told Port Of Harlem that as the poet laureate, she helps “set the cultural tone,” for the community. Generally, she continued, “a poet laureate is the advocate for poetry and creates a platform for poetry and literature in their jurisdiction.”
“Sistah Joy is the voice and spirit of poetry in Prince George’s County. She has consistently written and promoted poetry in Prince George’s County for decades,” affirmed Bowie State University English and Creative Writing Professor Yao Glover.
Typically, Alford, who is known as “Sistah Joy,” elevates the cultural aspects of the county, which is just outside of Washington, D.C., by attending events around the county and reading poems or serving as a judge or mistress of ceremonies. “Other times, though not as often as I would like these days, I put a pause on everything else and write a poem,” she continued.
During her three year term, Alford hopes to spread her love for poetry across the county. “I am developing a Poet Laureate's Reading Series, which will run throughout the year,” she explained. The Prince Georges Arts and Humanities Council
series will be open to a “multi-discipline” of performers.
As we talked about the differences and similarities between poetry, spoken word, prose, and songwriting, the native Washingtonian who moved to the suburbs almost 40 years ago says the aim of a good poet is to provide listeners and readers “a new understanding or some type of revelation, which often comes through an unexpected twist at or near the end of the poem.” But even as poet laureate, Alford hopes that all “creatives” from multi-disciplines will participate in the Poet Laureate's Reading Series monthly events.