The city’s new poet laureate assumed office last week with a promise to shine a spotlight on other aspiring poets.
Jane Ellen Ibur was officially appointed the third Poet Laureate for the City of St. Louis on April 12 in a ceremony and readings of stories and poems by arts leaders in the City Hall Rotunda. She will serve for two years until March 31, 2021.
“I’m not interested in how many poetry readings I can give,” Ibur, a resident of Tower Grove East, said during the event. “I’m interested in how many people I can push up to the microphone.”
Ibur said she wanted to reach out to a large variety of communities, like those who have lived with breast cancer, Latino women, and people who go to private schools and public schools. She said her job is to bring new voices to people who have never listened to poetry.
Ibur’s life as a poet began in middle school. After graduating from Webster University in 1973, she’s spent her life as a writer, teacher and promoter of poetry.
She is a founding poet educator for Community Arts Training program of the Regional Arts Commission. She also co-anchored Literature for the Halibut, a literary arts radio talk show on KDHX for 19 years. She also is the author of two collections of poems. Her poems have been in more than 50 literary anthologies and magazines.
The Saint Louis Poet Laureate Taskforce, Brick City Poetry Festival, and UrbArts hosted the event and swearing in by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Ibur has taught poetry for 40 years. “I teach in places like the county jail maximum security. I did that for over 25 years,” she said. “I’ve worked with veterans with PTSD.” She also worked at a homeless shelter for more than 10 years.
“I write a poem every day, and I’m on day number 2,633. I don’t know what I’m doing until I’m finished with it,” Ibur said.
The poet laureate was chosen by a task force led by Cheryl D.S. Walker.
“People could self-nominate, or the community could nominate people that they chose to, and then we had a pre-screening and interview,” Walker said. “She has a large tradition of being published, being community focused and driven, and we were looking for someone who had those qualities, as well as would use the position to further literacy, to highlight St. Louis.”
Speaking to those attending the swearing-in event, Walker said, “She’s amazing, she’s thankful, she’s engaging.”
Those who read poems and lauded Ibur included Eugene Redmond, the poet laureate for East St. Louis. He said Ibur is a sharing poet and a poet for all seasons.
As another city’s poet laureate, Redmond told those at the swearing in, “I want to welcome Jane to the fold, to the flock.”
Darlene Roy, Camryn Howe and M.K. Stallings also spoke or read poetry during the event.
“Jane was one of our teachers, guides,” said Pacia Elaine Anderson, director of the Brick City Poetry Festival. “You engaged a lot of spaces where children are welcome.”