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Enjoy a collection of poetry and other word artistry curated by WNPR.

Why Poetry Matters Now With Hartford's Poet Laureate

Frederick-Douglass Knowles II
Petra Rolinic
Frederick-Douglass Knowles II

April is National Poetry Month. It’s a time to celebrate poets and their craft. So we asked Hartford’s poet laureate, Frederick-Douglass Knowles II, if he would share his talent and his thoughts about why poetry matters, especially right now. 

Knowles is Hartford’s inaugural poet laureate, named in 2018. He’s a professor of English at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich and the author of BlackRoseCity. He’s also a recipient of the Nutmeg Poetry Award and the 2020 Connecticut Office of the Arts Fellow in Artist Excellence for Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction.

Here is the poem he read during the interview.

How Many Fanatics In the Cosmic Realm of Roller Skating Actually Overdosed on Rhythm and Speed?

I laced my shiny black boots
and dashed to the boy’s bathroom
to christen fluorescent green
Zingers in lukewarm water,
assuring my wheels an extra grip.

Disco lights flickered like electronic
Christmas trees. Huge box speakers
dangled from the ceiling blaring
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller:”

It’s close to midnight,
something evil's lurking
in the dark, under the moonlight...

Vincent Price hypnotizes
ambitious roller boogies with
the funk of forty thousand years.

Saturday nights belonged
to the skate gods; we, obedient
zealots circling their shrine.

Wilbert rolled in reverse,
sporting blue Dickies
and a crisp white polo T
embroidered skate guard.
Though he never benched
anyone for speeding.

Phillip Marshall owned
the only pair of triple
jump-bar skates ever seen
in the Rose; shiny, crisp blades

reflecting psychedelic hues
of turquoise, green and gold
that mesmerized white girls
as they floated past waving
blonde locks of allure.

Pete fancied an old
wheel for a toe stopper;
cool, the way he’d cut
his ankles screeching
his plump frame to a halt.

An exhilarated Chanise
offered me five dollars
for a blind couples’ skate.
I did the math, two slices
of pizza, a coke and some
chips for two songs: deal.

Allison, was the economically
advantaged out of the group
who dished out her allowance
for Pole Position tournaments.

And I, was the Shoot The Duck King,
the undefeated Chipped Tooth Champ.

When Afrikka Bambaata’s
“Planet Rock” hit the turntable
we’d drop conspiracy theories
on who shot J.R.?

And wager how many laps
one of us could achieve
before Rolo, the by the book
guard, blew his whistle.

We ignored the shrieks.
No time for rules.
Only time for speed.

More whistle-blowing
and then, Rolo’s pointed
finger. His direct order
to get off the floor
and sit by the office.

Damn! I got kicked off again.
eight laps into “White Lines,”
Melle Mel’s prophetic hook
shouting to a skate feign on
the verge of od’ing to don’t
don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t
do it ba ba ba ba ba ba baby!

Too late.

During my 10 minute suspension,
I contemplated how many fanatics
in the cosmic realm of roller skating
actually overdosed on rhythm and speed

in a world of bliss and 80’s pop music?

Times up.
I pressed my black
toe stopper firmly
into the carpet,
assuring me a solid
thrust back onto the floor.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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