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Oregon’s New Poet Laureate Talks Rap, Revolution and Finding Poetry’s Place in This Current Historical Moment

Anis Mojgani understands why kids these days might not find poetry relevant to their lives. He’s now in a position to change that.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Anis Mojgani is a true believer in the enduring power of poetry. After all, he's managed to make a living out of it over the past decade-plus, authoring five books, winning two national slam competitions and appearing on both HBO and NPR.

But if kids these days, or of the last few generations, don't find it relevant to their lives, he understands why.

"The overwhelming majority of our relationship to poetry is being handed a few poems throughout our schooling that were very old, very archaic, and probably didn't speak to the majority of us," says the 42-year-old New Orleans native, who first moved to Portland in 2004, "particularly if you were of color."

Suddenly, Mojgani—the son of Black and Iranian parents—finds himself in a position to change that relationship. In late April, Gov. Kate Brown named him the state of Oregon's 10th poet laureate, and part of the job involves finding new ways to make poetry resonate with average Oregonians.

And as a critically hailed "geek genius" who's equally familiar with the work of Run the Jewels and Lucille Clifton, Mojgani appears uniquely qualified for the task.

WW spoke with Mojgani about assuming his new role at a pivotal moment in American history, how hosting the annual Verselandia poetry competition proves the form can still be a vital form of expression for young people, and the coded language of comparing rap to poetry.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.