Midpeninsula Post

Meet Santa Clara County’s poet laureate

(Courtesy Khang Nguyen)

Every artist brings something new to the table.

San Jose resident Tshaka Campbell, Santa Clara County’s first Black Poet Laureate, focuses mainly on three ideas: the Black and African American experience, unity and humanity.

But, what does “humanity mean?” 

“[Humanity is] about understanding that we’re all one; we’re all from the same,” Campbell said. “One thing that threads through my work is our humanity.” 

Supporting his words of unity, Campbell plans to organize and be a resource for literary activists during his two-year term that extends through the end of 2023, giving youth in Santa Clara County a place and way to share their voices.

Campbell explained that especially with the pandemic — something that has potentially taken a heavy toll on children with “no vessel to expel it, to talk about it, to share” — it is important to provide an outlet.

Campbell also said he wants to extend poetry to more audiences, noting that with poetry events, “you tend to see the same people who are interested in the work and the art.” This falls in line with his goal to bring the different communities in the county together under “the umbrella of poetry.”

But Campbell said it himself: “You tend to see the same people who are interested.” If only one demographic of people are interested, how can Campbell hope to spread poetry to more audiences? His answer: the human connection.

“It’s really about trying to connect with the audience and write about things that they can relate to directly or see through you,” Campbell said. “I look at it as if you have a blank canvas and you’re painting imagery with words. If you can do that, you’re automatically bridging those gaps.”

Campbell said he wants to spread poetry because he believes that not only does it have the power to connect, but Campbell has also seen firsthand the positive impact poetry can have on people. Earlier in Campbell’s career, he saw how poetry inspired a woman to view her life from a new perspective.

“She had cancer,” Campbell said. “She said the show and the book gave her inspiration that this wasn’t the end. She went and joined the rowing team, and she cites it to hearing me that night and putting her in a different space.”

While talking about the power of poetry, it’s also worth mentioning how the art form keeps history alive. Part of a poet’s purpose, according to Campbell, is to “be the purest form of documentation of what was happening at the time.” 

Rather than going to history books, Campbell said that poets can provide the most unbiased representation of the events and people’s emotions regarding them.

Yet in the end, Campbell highlighted how as a poet he hopes to help people “listen different.”

“The purpose of a poet, I think, is to agitate, is to make people think, is to have them leave the room with more than they came in with,” Campbell said.

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