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Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County

City of Asylum is recognizing poets who have a growing history of published work and vision for civic engagement through poetry by naming an Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County and three Finalists. The Emerging Poet honorees participate in All Pittsburghers are Poets free poetry programming. The finalists serve as editors for the
All Pittsburghers are Poets: Poem of the Week series at Sampsonia Way Magazine. The Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County receives a prize of $1,000 and develops a poetry project during their term of service.


Workshop Series

Between Poetry and Performance is a virtual workshop series curated by Paloma Sierra, Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County. The series invites writers of all experience levels to reimagine poetry through theater and film. How can these two mediums help us reclaim our voices, speak our minds, and connect with others? How do we push our words into motion, and thrust poetry towards action?  

Join our featured writers and artists as they explore these questions.

SATURDAY, January 23, 2021, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
The Language You Live In with Takeo Rivera

The poet Sekou Sundiata once said, “the language you live in is where your poetry is.” Incidentally, that is also where theater lives, as well; as poet-playwrights such as Ntozake Shange, Cherríe Moraga, Velina Hasu Houston, and many others have brilliantly demonstrated, poetic theater is a powerful, potent performance form. Join English professor, playwright, and former slam poet Takeo Rivera for an exploration of the choreopoem theatrical form, its contours of vulnerability, and its potential for connection.

THURSDAY, January 28, 2021, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Storyboarding 101 with Andrew Edwards

Storyboarding is a vital step in the animation pipeline where an idea is transformed into a visual journey. Here key storytelling elements take shape, expanding and defining the narrative, becoming a guide for the rest of the production process. In this workshop led by Andrew Edwards, you will engage in the exploratory process of storyboarding. You’ll learn all the basics of how to take a prompt and hash out the timing, cinematography, and acting in order to create a clear, compelling story for your favorite projects.

SATURDAY, February 20, 2021, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Find Your Voice Find Your Power with Anya Pearson

Let’s breathe together. Then write. Then breathe again. This space is for what we have lost in human connection. There are others here who see in you the potential, the always potent potential, for painting the world with story–for reclaiming of your voice, your words, and your story through poetry. This online workshop led by Anya Pearson is designed to help you generate new material, refine an existing draft of a poem, or simply discover the permission to call yourself a writer. 

SATURDAY, February 27, 2021, 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Animating Poetry: Visual Narrative Toolkit with Remy Davison

How can visual design and motion enhance, augment, or reinterpret poetry? What do we gain, lose, or change when we move poetry from a written to audio/visual medium? In this workshop led by Remy Davison, we’ll explore different visual design techniques and how they intersect with animating poetry. This workshop focuses on the tactile process of creating visual narratives. While it’s tempting to start working digitally, we’ll get back to basics using storyboarding, color, typography, and timing to create new worlds within familiar poems. Participants will bring a poem by another writer to experiment with during the workshop. 

SATURDAY, March 20, 2021, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Writing to Find Inspiration with Paloma Sierra

When writing a play in verse, what comes first: the poems or the play? In this workshop led by Paloma Sierra, we discuss strategies to write and revise your next poetic play. We will use outlines and poetic forms to write two short scenes, and share our work with others. In this online workshop led by Paloma Sierra, writers from all experience levels are welcome.

MONDAY, March 29, 2021, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Turning Emotions into Visual Metaphors with Danny Cho

Participants select a poem they enjoy before the workshop to work on. Animator Danny Cho will share his process when animating poetry and guide participants in breaking the poem into sections according to the emotions the text evokes. Then, according to these emotions, Danny will lead participants in creating a series of illustrations and help ideate how to animate them.

Past Workshops in the Series

TUESDAY, December 8, 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
From Page to Stage with Jasminne Mendez

How is poetry for the theatre and performance different than poetry for the page? How do we write or revise a poem for the stage and what makes it “good”? These are the types of questions we will explore and discuss in this generative writing workshop, led by Jasminne Mendez. We will read persona poems and poems as monologues, and discuss ways to consider how to outline and write a play in verse. We will also discuss the technical elements of performing your work for an audience and share work generated in class with these strategies in mind. 

SATURDAY, December 19, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Choreopoems as an Avenue for Joy with Monica Prince

If poetry and theatre sit on opposite ends of a Venn diagram, performance makes up the overlapping circle. Most specifically, poetry and theatre intersect in the choreopoem, a term coined by Ntozake Shange in 1975 that refers to a choreographed series of poems presented as a play. In this workshop led by Monica Prince, we will engage with the choreopoem form by discussing what defines a choreopoem as well as writing performance poems that include dramatic elements such as costuming, stage directions, and physicality. Additionally, we’ll talk about performance’s capacity for social change and hopefully write something that brings us all a little joy.


Events featuring the Emerging Poets


Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, 2020-21
Paloma Sierra

Paloma Sierra is a Puerto Rican poet, playwright, and translator based in Pittsburgh. A writer with poetic and musical roots, Paloma has had her work developed by Poetic Theater ProductionsNuyorican Poets Cafe, and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama. Her verse dramas, poetry, and translations are published in Bridge: The Bluffton University JournalPersephone’s Daughters, and Sampsonia Way. Paloma holds a BHA in Creative Writing and Drama from Carnegie Mellon and is currently pursuing an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the same institution.

Read Paloma’s poem “BuT yOuR eNgLiSh Is So GoOd!


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
Fred Shaw

Fred Shaw is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University, where he received his MFA.  He teaches writing at Point Park University and Carlow University. His first collection. Scraping Away, was recently published by CavanKerry Press. A book reviewer and Poetry Editor for Pittsburgh Quarterly, his poem, “Argot,” is featured in the 2018 full-length documentary, Eating & Working & Eating & Working.  The film focuses on the lives of local service-industry workers. His poem “Scraping Away” was selected for the PA Public Poetry Project in 2017. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and rescued hound dog.

Read Fred’s poem “Curse.”


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
R/B Mertz

R/B Mertz (she/they) is a non-binary butch caterpillar very happy to be emerging in Pittsburgh. Mertz recently finished a memoir called Burning Butch, represented by Danielle Bukowski at Sterling Lord Literistic. Their narrative essay, “How Whiteness Kills God & Sprinkles Crack on the Body,” was published on the blog Mistress Syndrome and their visual art was exhibited at Boxheart Gallery’s 2017 International juried exhibition. Mertz teaches writing at Duquesne University and the Community College of Allegheny County and can’t stop won’t stop singing showtunes.

Read R/B’s poem “POEM AGAINST THE POLICE.”


Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County, 2020-21
grace (ge) gilbert

grace (ge) gilbert is a poet and lyric essayist from Upstate New York. Her work can/will be found in the Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, the minnesota review, the Penn Review, plain china, Anomaly Literary Journal, Pretty Owl Poetry, Maudlin House, Twyckenham Notes, Prometheus Dreaming, Vox Viola, storm of blue press, Sweet Literary Magazine, dream noir, & the Gandy Dancer among others. In her free time, she is likely listening to Elton John, eating takeout, and trying to keep her plants alive. grace is an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh.

Read grace’s poem “Meditations from my notes app or Meditations for Luca, who hadn’t even learned to roll over yet.”


Stephen Motika served as the Judge for Emerging Poet Laureate of Allegheny County. Stephen is the Director and Publisher of Nightboat Books, whose mission is to develop audiences for writers whose work resists convention and transcends boundaries, by publishing books rich with poignancy, intelligence and risk.


City of Asylum is grateful for support from the following partners:

This project received a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).
Sampsonia Way Magazine is a publication of City of Asylum in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.

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