North Carolina Arts Council
Writer, digital content creator, and spoken word poet
Since 2017, Ayanna has been a member of the Bull City Slam Team. She was crowned the Grand Slam Champion for three consecutive years. In 2020, after competing against 93 of the nation's top women slam poets, Ayanna was ranked the world’s second-best woman slam poet at the Women of the World Poetry Slam, in Dallas, Texas. In April 2021, Ayanna returned and was crowned the best woman slam poet in the world. She says she is passionate about “a(rt)dvocacy,” the merging of artistic storytelling and advocacy. Her work emphasizes social and economic justice, Black liberation and power, and women’s empowerment. Ayanna says her ultimate motto for her life’s work is this: “I don’t wish to be famous; I just want to be heard.”
I believe that poetry is a vehicle to take people on a creative storytelling journey. It's stylistic, it's metaphoric, it's articulation and expansion. Poetry, for me, has been a means to amplify voices and experiences, including my own—and that's important, because storytelling, in general, has always been about the bigger picture for me. What am I trying to say? What's the impact? So having a month that honors poetry is just a nod to the power it holds—a celebration of words and wit. And I appreciate it because it's an opportunity for folks nationwide to engage in this magical and meaningful art.
College Professor and former North Carolina poet laureate (2012–14)
Joseph Bathanti, former state poet laureate and recipient of the North Carolina Award in Literature, is the author of 19 books—most recently, a collection of poems, “Light at the Seam,” from LSU Press (2022). Bathanti is the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education at Appalachian State University, in Boone. He was the 2016 writer-in-residence at the Charles George Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Asheville, and cofounded that center’s creative writing program. “The Act of Contrition & Other Stories,” winner of the EastOver Prize for Fiction, is forthcoming from EastOver Press in the fall of 2022.
Poetry is a conversation, a praise song, often a very private, intimate one, that begins within us, that we ultimately feel compelled to share with others to articulate how we really feel, what we really see, what we really know. Poetry empowers us to tell our stories in the language most immediate, most primary, most sacred to us. It allows a vulnerability that leads to illumination—not only for the poet but also for the reader. Poetry connects all of us in shared humanity—the common experience of lived lives; of witness, welcome, and love—and underscores the abiding fact that stories can save us. Providing children with poetry, and allowing the joy and liberation of it to infiltrate our schools across North Carolina, is utterly crucial.
Award-winning poet and performance artist, cultural organizer, educator, scholar, and emcee
Dasan Ahanu is an award-winning poet and performance artist, cultural organizer, educator, scholar, and emcee based in Durham. He was an Alumni Nasir Jones Fellow at Harvard University’s Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute, resident artist at the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation/Hayti Heritage Center, and visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). He has performed across the country, appeared on national radio and television, published three books of poetry, been featured in various periodicals, and released numerous recordings. Dasan is the Rothwell Mellon Program Director of Creative Futures, a grant-funded initiative of Carolina Performing Arts, at UNC.
Poetry is such a valuable artistic expression because it allows writers to share their thoughts, observations, and ideas while affirming their self-determination in what they share. It is a catalyst for a conversation, it is the possibility of deeper understanding, and it is the opportunity to gain a new perspective. What National Poetry Month does is provide a time for folks to see how powerful the art form is, how close it is to them, and how many different ways it can show up in the world.