Alexandria Welcomes Its Next Poet Laureate

KaNikki Jakarta is Alexandria’s newest poet laureate. (Photo courtesy of KaNikki Jakarta Mix)

By Amanda M. Socci

ALEXANDRIA, VA – On March 19, the Alexandria Commission for the Arts appointed Alexandria resident KaNikki Jakarta to be the city’s next poet laureate. Jakarta started on April 1, at the completion of previous poet laureate Wendi R. Kaplan’s three-year term.

Alexandria’s Poet Laureate Program

The Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities oversees all artistic projects in the city. The Commission for the Arts serves as an advisory body to the Office of the Arts.  The Office of the Arts’ website states: “The role of the City’s Poet Laureate is to promote appreciation of poetry as an art form; to encourage creative writing and reading of all forms of literature; and to promote literacy through poetry.”

Presenting KaNikki Jakarta, Poet Laureate

KaNikki Jakarta is an award-winning performance poet who has toured the U.S. and U.K. She brings experience with 26 years of writing and almost two decades on the poetry scene. After her appointment, Jakarta gave an acceptance speech that included a humorous background on her home state of Alabama and traveling to Washington, D.C., where she saw poetry as performance art. She moved to Alexandria because she loved our city from the start.

Jakarta knows what she wants to do for the next three years. Poetry with diversity is “something I always wanted to do,” she said. “[Her term as poet laureate] will be inspirational, and we’re going to have a good community,” she added. “I hope to achieve a level of collaboration that recognizes poetry as a vehicle to bring people together from all walks of life and all walks of art.”

Jakarta is active on social media and a frequent contributor to Monday open mic nights at Busboys and Poets bookstore and restaurant in Arlington, and poetry readings at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray.

Previous poet laureate Wendi R. Kaplan is seen reading poetry during her regular monthly poetry readings at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray. (Photo courtesy of Wendi Kaplan)

Farewell to Wendi R. Kaplan

Outgoing poet laureate Wendi Kaplan began writing poetry at the tender age of five. She came from an artistic family and noted, “My mother’s family read poetry and my father’s family sang songs. It was only natural that those two would find themselves in my poetry.”

Previous poet laureate Wendi R. Kaplan is seen reading poetry during her regular monthly poetry readings at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray. (Photo courtesy of Wendi Kaplan)

Kaplan has a master’s degree in social work and is a social worker, psychotherapist, and certified poetry therapist, a program of the Colorado-based International Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy.

Kaplan says nature is the fundamental source of inspiration for her poetry, stating “things [in nature] give me perspective and hope.” She often finds herself reciting the old adage about finding the pearl in the oyster as an analogy for how she navigates toward positive and uplifting things in all she does, but particularly in her poetry.

Kaplan was surprised to have been named Alexandria City’s poet laureate in 2016 because “I’m a little shy. It’s a hurdle I’ve had to overcome [in implementing the city’s vision of what a poet laureate is supposed to do].” But Kaplan successfully carried out her tenure by hosting over 61 poetry readings, building bridges and creating a community among people of different cultures, colors, religions, and backgrounds.

The Poet Laureate Program going forward

At the Arts Commission meeting, Office of the Arts Director Diane Ruggiero noted that her staff is studying the poet laureate programs of other states to ensure that Alexandria’s program is the best it can be.

“We are looking around the country to see what people are doing with the poet laureate program. Many places don’t have them,” said Ruggiero. “We want to make sure our process is as good as it should be. [Any changes made to the city’s poet laureate program] will be for poets going forward after KaNikki,” she added.

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, the Office of the Arts and KaNikki Jakarta will host a Poem in Your Pocket reception on Friday, April 12, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Athenaeum, 201 Prince Street and, a Poetry Slam, Friday, April 26, 6 p.m.- 8 p.m.  at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA.  Formal program for these events begins at 7 p.m., light refreshments will be available, and these events are free and open to the public. The City Council will present a proclamation at its public meeting April 9 to acknowledge Wendi R. Kaplan’s contributions and formally introduce KaNikki Jakarta.