Knoxville Poet Laureate Rhea Carmon will join vocalist Michael Rodgers, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and other musical ensembles, including Indigenous Vibes and Drums Up, Guns Down, in a tribute concert honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The concert is on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 3 pm at the Tennessee Theatre. Admission is free.
Dubbed RheaSunshine at an early age by her mother, Carmon, a Detroit native, overcame serious health issues in her childhood. She came to Knoxville to receive a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science from UT followed by a master’s in Mathematics Education. She is currently a middle school math teacher as well as a teaching artist for Tennessee.
Cityview: When did you discover poetry and how did it impact your life?
Rhea Carmon: I discovered poetry in the third grade. We were required to memorize Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and I was hooked because he told a story so powerful and so moving with only a poem. I immersed myself with black poet greats and knew that I wanted to be a poet.
CV: Who are some of the poets that have influenced your work? What is it about about their work that moves you?
RC: Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, E. E. Cummings, and Amiri Baraka. I love the way they captured their personal stories in their poetry. I have always tried to share my life and story through the poetry that I write.
CV: You have overcome multiple health challenges. What wisdom do you have to share from that experience?
RC: Honest writing has saved my life. It is healing and gives me the space to release stress, pain, and worry.
CV: How has being named Knoxville’s poet laureate impacted your life or career or experience as a poet?
RC: Being the Poet Laureate of Knoxville has been a remarkable experience. Through this position, I have met people and made connections that I would have never made without the office. I have increased the amount of commissioned work that I am producing on a yearly basis, and I have been able to impact the lives of young people which is my passion. As Poet Laureate, I was able to complete a dream of performing a spoken word symphony, created a Youth Poet Laureate program, and will bring the Southern Fried Poetry Slam to our city.
For more information about the tribute concert, visit knoxvillesymphony.com.
Learn more about Rhea and her work at rheacarmon.com.