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Knoxville Poet Laureate


Writer, musician and playwright R.B. Morris – whose poetry often reflects on East Tennessee culture and history – is serving as Knoxville’s first Poet Laureate.

Morris, a Knoxville native, will create new works and perform readings in celebration of the 225th anniversary this year of Knoxville’s founding. He’ll also interact with schoolchildren, take part in poetry advocacy events and promote various community outreach projects.

Morris will serve up to two years as Poet Laureate, a new position created by Mayor Madeline Rogero. Nominations for the first appointee were considered by a committee of the Knoxville Arts and Culture Alliance. The selection committee forwarded its recommendation to the Mayor.

“I can’t imagine a more fitting selection for our first Poet Laureate,” Mayor Rogero said when she announced Morris’ selection in June 2016. “Like many in Knoxville, I have enjoyed and admired R.B.’s work for years. He has long shown a commitment to building and enriching our community, and this position will give him a platform to continue and amplify that work.”

Morris’ published books of poetry include “Early Fires,” “Keeping the Bees Employed” and “The Mockingbird Poems.” He has served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tennessee.

An excerpt of R.B. Morris reading James Agee's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. The reading was during the centennial celebration on June 21, 2015 in James Agee Park. The event was organized by Lawson McGhee Library. Video by Saul Young / Knoxville News Sentinel.

Click here for a larger view of the video.
As a singer-songwriter, he has released a half-dozen acclaimed albums and EPs, and his songs have been recorded by John Prine and Marianne Faithfull, among others. Lucinda Williams once called him “the greatest unknown songwriter in the country,” and Steve Earle said, “R.B. Morris is the reason I started writing poetry.”

“It's a powerful thing for Mayor Rogero to begin the tradition of a Poet Laureate for the city,” Morris said when he accepted the appointment this summer. “The legacy of the poets and writers who have come from Knoxville give the position great esteem and expectations from the start. It's a very special honor to be able to serve here at the beginning. I can accept it for all the poets and writers that are in our city now, and that includes all the great songwriters who are living and working here.”


• Narration for "Hymn to the Fallen" at Festival on the 4th
• "Poem for Mayor Rogero's State of the City Address"
"On the occasion of Knoxville's 225th anniversary"


R.B. Morris launches schools project
R.B. Morris with Terry Lynn Hursey, Principal of Belle Morris Elementary
During his tenure as Poet Laureate, R.B. Morris launched a project with Knox County Schools to celebrate the City of Knoxville through poetry. This project is based off an idea from Claudia Castro Luna - Seattle Washington's first civic poet - that was featured in this PBS News Hour story.

Submission Guidelines for the project are as follows: 
• RATIONAL - Coming together as a community, citizens and students of Knox County can share the rich history of our hometown.
• TASK - Submit an original poem or lyrical prose about your hometown and its impact on your life. Do you have a favorite place to visit? Is your church your second home? What places have left their mark on you? Are you new to Knoxville? Consider writing a two-voice poem comparing your former city to your new home. The format is open to all kinds of poetry, and the focus should be on your impressions of Knoxville in whatever way makes sense to you. Only students can submit poems.
• SUBMISSION - Send a clearly printed hard copy of your submissions to Shannon Jackson by the end of business on Friday, March 9, 2018. Use this cover sheet on your submission. Mail submissions to 912 S. Gay Street, Suite 1421a, Knoxville, TN 37902. Students submitting their work online will use the Canvas Course, Latitude 35, which also contains resources for both students and teachers as they explore poetry.
• MORE INFO - For more information contact Shannon Jackson, Executive Director of Curriculum/Instruction for Knox County Schools,  at 865-594-1114 or shannon.jackson@knoxschools.org.


Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by James Agee. Short excerpt read at the centennial celebration of James Agee Park on June 21, 2015.
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. Short excerpt from Chapter 1 read at the ribbon cutting of Suttree Landing Park on November 16, 2016.


Experience R.B. Morris' Agee Play at KMA
R.B.'s Favorite Passages
• R.B. Morris Official Website


• For events check out www.RBMorris.com

R.B. Morris in Performance