Berks County’s finest poets vie for The People’s Poet Laureate title and $1K prize

On Friday, April 26, four of Berks County’s best poets will compete to take the title of The People’s Poet Laureate and a handsome cash prize of $1,000. The poetry slam will be a four-round bout of the bards that will take place at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers in Reading City Hall.

The contest is a project of the Reading-based community engagement organization Barrio Alegría, and the slam is free and open to the public. The finalists were selected by a panel of judges who read over written manuscripts, listened to audio files, and watched recorded performances from poets all over Berks County.

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Anthony Orozco is the current Poet Laureate of Berks County and the director of operations at Barrio Alegría. He said the contest is a daring and defiant event, meant to advance poetry and poets in the area.

“Poets laureate are tasked with moving the artform forward,” Orozco said. “When it became apparent to me that there was no movement or motivation to hold another poet laureate contest anytime soon in Berks, I knew I couldn’t let that stand.”

Orozco was named Poet Laureate in 2021 for a two year term. But there was no action taken last year to name a successor. Orozco said that even though his achievement as the first Latino to hold the title is historic, there is no reason for him to deny other artists the opportunity to be celebrated as the best in the county.

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“Poets are often paid with a pat on the back and ‘exposure,'” Orozco said. “But poets are extremely powerful and essential artists in our community who translate the ineffable and help us express feelings and experiences that no one else can express.”

The four competing finalists are John Zabala, also known as the recording artist Soul Papi; Adrian Perez-Roman; Aries Franklin Ortiz, also known as the Poet Smiley; and Madelyne Snader. Each poet comes with their own distinct writing and delivery style, sure to make the competition an exciting and unpredictable contest.

The finalists will be judged on their original works in front of a packed council chambers. Judges for the slam include Noah Ayala, who represented Reading and the United States in the Ditet e Naimit International Albanian Poetry Festival in 2018; Arleny Pimentel, an arts activist and founder of Barrio Alegría; and author and Nuyorican Poets Cafe slam winner David Nazario.

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