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Knoxville Poet Laureate


Writer, musician and playwright R.B. Morris – whose poetry often reflects on East Tennessee culture and history – served as Knoxville’s first Poet Laureate 2016-2018.

Morris, a Knoxville native, created new works and performed readings in celebration of the 225th anniversary of Knoxville’s founding. He also interacted with schoolchildren, took part in poetry advocacy events and promoted various community outreach projects.

The Poet Laureate was a new position created by Mayor Madeline Rogero in 2016. 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.

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.”



Knoxville's 225th Birthday - 2016
• Poem for Mayor Rogero's 2017 State of the City Address - 2017
• Poem for Mayor Rogero's 2018 State of the City Address - 2018

Video from the Latitude 35: Student Poetry Reading event

Click here for a larger view of the video.

Latitude 35: Navigating Knoxville Through Poetry 
During his tenure as Poet Laureate, R.B. Morris launched a project with Knox County Schools to celebrate the City of Knoxville through poetry. More than 50 students from 20 Knox County elementary, middle and high schools presented original poetry work at the Latitude 35: Student Poetry Reading on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at the World’s Fair Park Amphitheater.
Read More About the Event


Wordscapes is an ongoing project of placing words into the cityscape in various mediums. Permissions have been granted to the city from President Carter, James Agee, Cormac McCarthy, Nikki Giovanni, and others for the use of their poetry to be displayed publicly.
View List of Suggested Wordscapes 

WideLens’ Walk With Me Series

Tennessee Theatre Video from the Walk With Me Series

Click here for a larger view of the video.
R.B. wrote poems about Knoxville for the WideLens' Walk With Me Series. This series included audio recordings of spoken-word with music and video in collaboration with Bob Deck. The series highlighted 12 different areas/items: Market Square, Gay Street Viaduct, Midday Merry-go-round, Rowboat Man, Krutch Park, Gay Street Bridge, Tennessee Theater, Bijou Theater, Knoxville Museum of Art, St. John’s Cathedral, The Bowery and Boyd’s Jig & Reel.
Learn more at KnoxWalkWithMe.org

One Generation
R.B. Morris created One Generation as a song portrait of four generations of the Morris family.
Listen to One Generation


Big Ears Festivals
R.B. Morris performed during the 2016 and 2017 Big Ears Festivals. He shared original spoken-word poems with music as well as passages by James Agee and Cormac McCarthy in addition to doing a literary bus tour reading.

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra

R.B. shared the stage with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on several occasion during his tenure as Poet Laureate.
• Festival on the 4th 2017 - narration for John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen
• Tennessee Theater 2017 – chosen passages of James Agee from Knoxville: Summer 1915 and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men to accompany the music of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland.
• Ijams Park 2018 – original music and poetry accompanied by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Knoxville Museum of Art
In 2016, R.B. Morris directed a production of the one-man play The Man Who Lives Here Is Loony, based on the life and work of James Agee.

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.
Laurel Theater
In 2017 and 2018, R.B. performed original music and poetry readings with guest musicians.

Knoxville Writers Guild
Poetry reading in 2017

Liberty Circus
Music and poetry performance in 2017 for benefit for Bridge Refugee

Flying Anvil
Poetry reading in 2018

East Tennessee History Center

Poetry reading in 2018

Suttree Landing Park Ribbon Cutting 
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. Short excerpt from Chapter 1 read at the ribbon cutting of Suttree Landing Park on November 16, 2016.