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Orlando's newest poet laureate Shawn Welcome reflects on the power of the spoken word

Shawn Welcome. Photo: Matthew Peddie / WMFE
Shawn Welcome. Photo: Matthew Peddie / WMFE

Orlando has a new poet laureate. Shawn Welcome was approved by the city council on October 11th. For the next three years he’ll be working to promote poetry and literature to the city’s residents and visitors. 

Welcome is primarily a performance poet or spoken word artist, and he writes poetry with the intent that it be seen and heard. 

In the role of poet laureate, Welcome hopes he can help broaden the definition of what poetry can be in the minds of the public. 

"People have different ways that they experience poetry. And so whether it is on a page, or they...watch poetry being performed in an open mic setting, you know, it just hits people differently. And I think, being a performance poet, I have an opportunity to broaden how people think about poetry because it's not only on the page, it's spoken as well."

Welcome says he started out writing acapella raps in high school, before discovering he had a talent for writing and performing. Welcome later developed a program for youth who were incarcerated at Orange County's 33rd St. jail, and in 2006 he founded Diverse Word.

"I had just come back from National Poetry Slam, and had been exposed to a national stage where it is very much mixed and diverse and of course, my crews name was 'Diverse Elements', so it just made sense, I was like, 'I'll call it Diverse Word,' you know," says Welcome.

Welcome says he wanted the open-mic night to be "everything I imagine that poetry can be, where it's really a mixed bag of age, race, gender, class, whatever it is."

Watch Shawn Welcome perform "Reasons Why" at the WMFE studios:

"The empowerment of speaking your worldview, creatively speaking your identity, creatively sharing your pains, and your hurts and your victories and your encouragement, and all of the things that make up the human experience, the confidence that comes with that translates into other arenas of your life," says Welcome.

As well as helping broaden people's understanding of what poetry is, Welcome hopes to start something that lasts beyond his 3 year term as poet laureate.

"There's a lot of opportunities that whatever it looks like, the end goal is that our city would say, Hey, this is important. This is important enough to take time out to do this extravagant thing."