SISTAH JOY APPOINTED FIRST POET LAUREATE OF
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND
On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, the Prince George's County Council voted unanimously to establish The Prince George's County Office of The Poet Laureate. It is with great pride and humility that I announce that I have accepted the appointment of Prince George's County Poet Laureate for a 3 year term. The Office of the Poet Laureate operates under the Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council and is tasked to bring greater awareness, appreciation and support for poetry while serving the poetry community and the community at large through the literary arts.
“I look forward to working to provide opportunities for poets, from beginner to established poet, and to helping ensure we establish a solid foundation for poetry throughout the county. I also look forward to building bridges between generations and cultures as well as between the poetry community and those for whom poets speak. Helping to create an enhanced poetry experience in Prince George’s County is an incredible opportunity, privilege and responsibility; one that I’m excited to work toward over the next three years.”
- Prince George’s County Poet Laureate, J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford
Prince George's Suite Magazine
*The above graphic appeared in the Summer 2018 print issue of Prince George's Suite Magazine, an award-winning lifestyle publication that publishes four times per year. The magazine reaches nearly 30,000 readers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
POETRY OFFERS EMPOWERMENT, HEALING AND CONNECTION. For me, poetry opened a door...
Early in life I felt ill-equipped to grapple with the realities that life handed me, let alone express my views or feelings about the direction my life had taken. I would later find that poetry offers empowerment, healing and connection. For me, poetry opened a door. This door opened wider with each poem I wrote. It would become a portal to places more peaceful, meaningful and rewarding than those my life, to date, had required me to travel. I decided to write poetry that inspires, empowers and engages readers of all ages. Beyond writing poetry, I discovered that presenting, reading and performing my poetry best enabled me to bring others to these wondrous and enlightening places as well. I came to understand that poetry could offer a way to both express my views, concerns and questions, and also allow me to invite others to do the same.
Poetry addresses a need, yes, in the poet, but more significantly, in society as a whole. Through poetry we document -- whether to celebrate or lament the past; herald or anticipate the future; or express dreams of what could be. Poetry gives voice to the soul, and in doing so, can build bridges over obstacles and between cultural, political and generational chasms. It can bring peace by creating understanding, awareness and insight. Ultimately, poetry allows spirits to take flight and soar. Whether through bookings, live presentation of poetry or books, poetry allows our story, the poet's truth, to be told. I believe this is a good and necessary thing.
© by J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford
When the world echoes sounds that would keep us down
Poetry sends back refrains that say
Let me lift you
Let me give you insight to light your way
Cope with life's inconsistencies
Comprehend that uncertainty paves the road we all travel
Let me share ancestors' truths
With youth and elder alike--
Share with true seekers answers that empower
Let not the fear of this hour
Rob the world this cherished light
Or deny tomorrow it's victory
This is the charge of poetry
For this she shall ever reign supreme
For a lesson on relevence and connection, this poem, "The Discovery of Connectedness" was inspired by my participation in multi-discipline workshop conducted by classical musician/conductor Daniel Bernard Roumain at the U. of MD's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The issues of relationship and connection, both cultural and generational, were significant in the musically-oriented collaborations.
The Discovery of Connectedness
© by J. Joy “Sistah Joy” Matthews Alford
When we see ourselves
as but a mere, yet mandatory, speck
traversing the conduit called time
we appreciate the necessity and beauty of destiny.
We begin to comprehend
the need for purpose and direction.
Uniquely created, we each somehow complete
the montage of the universe.
Such awareness can, ...perhaps, entice us
to dance more rhythmically,
whether to the symphonic melody of Opera,
the syncopated rhythm of Jazz
or the pulse-driven beat of Hip-hop
To dance is the thing!
Ever learning new steps--
ever bending, stretching, reaching
at once forward, but also embracing
the offerings of ancestors,
valuing each signature-driven step
dancing toward the discovery of connectedness
required to complete the masterpiece.
I am proud to be among the citizens of Prince George's County that see themselves as change agents, working to advance the cause of freedom, equality and justice. Those of us who are poets and poetry enthusiasts embrace poetry as a viable avenue through which these ideals, for which Dr. King and countless others fought and gave their lives, change can be achieved. We see ourselves as change agents at a time when change is a pivital and critical force, one that is at times unifying and other times divisive. We are pleased that Prince George's County, by working in collaboration with The Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council, has joined the legion of cities, counties and states throughout the country to establish an Office of the Poet Laureate. Such an office can open doors of expression and opportunity for all, from youth to elder. Serving as a conduit through which voices can be heard, training can be provided, and the community can be served, the Office of the Poet Laureate will be a "win" and a window of opportunity for poets and non-poets alike.
The resolution was unanimously pass by the County Council on September 18, 2018. Let us all do our part to ensure this opportunity benefits all Prince Georgians and that the Office of the Poet Laureate becomes a vehicle to enhance the quality of life for all citizens in Prince George's County.
*The graphic to the left appeared in the Summer 2018 print issue of Prince George's Suite Magazine, an award-winning lifestyle publication that publishes four times per year. The magazine reaches nearly 30,000 readers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
This inaugural book of poems by Sistah Joy is formatted in 6 "cycles" including, social consciousness, coping with life, love/relationship poems, poetry for and about children, Haiku, and spirituality. The book includes an introduction by award-winning former Washington Post journalist, Dorothy Gilliam, who writes, "(Sistah Joy's) poems mourn and celebrate the black experience--from the homeland from which blacks were stolen, through their sojourn in the new land. The poems bring Alford's pain for the deep wounds of her black brothers and sisters into clear focus. Yet she stands proudly among those who see the survival of African Americans as evidence of their strength, not thei weakness."
*Visit the "Purchases, Bookings, …" page to buy more books by Sistah Joy
Sign up to hear from Sistah Joy about upcoming poetry events (some of which include Open Mics), new book releases, workshops and more.
Sistah Joy is one of several artists from Southern Prince George's County, Maryland that have joined their artistic and activist energies to create SCAA, the South County Arts Alliance. SCAA will bring together artist of all disciplines who will work to support artists and increase arts opportunities and experiences in southern Prince George's County. Visit the South County Arts Alliance Facebook page for more information.
SAVE THE DATE and join members and friends of The Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Poetry Ministry for their 2018 National Arts and Humanities Month Celebration with Featured Poet
ANDRE BRENARDO TAYLOR.
Friday, October 19, 2018 (6-9pm)
Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, 7707 Allentown Road,
Fort Washington, MD 20744
This celebration is free and includes an Open Mic. Refreshments will be served. Open Mic sign-up closes at 8:00. All ages welcome.
Invite Sistah Joy to YOUR event.
Poetry fans will read about it HERE!
Contact Sistah Joy at
Join Sistah Joy and fellow Prince George's County poets of the Poetry Poster Project for a reading and light reception at The Columbia Art Center,
6100 Farland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045
Saturday, November 10 (2-4pm)
This free event highlights the poetry of 6 premiere poets of Prince George's County and includes an Open Mic. *Short poems only.
A selection of poems from the Poetry Poster Project will be exhibited at the Columbia Art Center from
11/1/2018 - 12/15/2018.
As a poet I strive to share information and make positive change in situations where I perceive that need and opportunity intersect. I once had the opportunity -- the privilege of meeting and hearing Danny Glover speak. He was the keynote speaker at a panel discussion on the issues of race and religion. Through his words he imparted with great passion how he uses his crafts of acting and filmmaking to accomplish the significant work of, among others, chronicling history, bridge-building and healing communities. Those familiar with the social activist work of Mr. Glover know of the far-reaching and expansive nature of his work, so for the purpose of my remarks here, I’ll limit my focus to his work of inspiring others through his words. The occasion caused me to reflect on my efforts to use art, specifically poetry, as a means of impacting change in my community and in society at large.
When writing, or more accurately, when contemplating a poem, I am often removed from my immediate circumstance. Situations arise that inspire me to reflect on a particular message and subsequently devise a message and writing approach to effectively accomplish work that I feel can enlighten, empower and inspire people that would read or listen to poetry. Often it is the very massaging of words, evaluating their tone, feel and impact, beyond their literal meanings that determine their selection for a particular poem. As was aptly referenced by a young poet during a recent literary discussion, the "shades and shadows" imparted by word selection make all the difference in the poet being able to harness aspects and emotions that would bring the listener to fully comprehend the intent and the universe of a poem. Just as in science-fiction movies, which seem to capture my attention more often than I care to confess, the universe of a poem is crafted by more than merely the word selection of the poet. The poem is gestalt, truly more than the sum of its parts. Yes, poets must carefully consider their word selection, but must also consider inference, tone, nuance, feel, implication, as well as, of course sequence, meter, rhythm, and when desired, rhyme. These are a few factors a skillful poet considers when writing. Ultimately, the buy-in of the reader is dependent upon their experience of the poem, which inevitably must factor in their experience of life as well as their relationship, and in many instances, their lack of relationship, to the subject presented.
Just as through films and movies where we vicariously experience or peek into worlds beyond our own, so the poet offers such insight and inspiration to those that would journey with them. Great responsibility comes with such an onerous task as impacting social change, imparting knowledge, and to the degree possible when one is so inspired, evoking empathy for people we shall never personally know or meet. It is for these reasons and more that poets must take time to, not merely write, but craft with great care poetry that withstands critique, analysis and discussion by literary and lay person alike. It is the mark of a valid poem, if that is not a redundancy of definition, to be embraced by those that appreciate it because it addresses a personal need, and fills a void that is often inexpressible. That same poem must withstand review and scrutiny by those that would take issue with its message. Truly such is the case for art of any type.
When yearning is quelled through art; when understanding is made clear and issues are made simple; indeed when bridges are built through the delicate lettering of scripted words, then mankind’s destiny can be both chronicled and championed through poetry. It is for these reasons and through these lenses that I view and attempt to convey issues of significance through poetry.
"From the Vault - Archived Advocacy Writings"
I am sometimes asked what advocacy through the arts looks like. While advocacy may take many forms, and causes are without end, one of my most passionate causes is our youth. Below is a transcript of my remarks at a community-based County Budget Hearing. I spoke in support of continued funding for the M-NCPPC's Expressions Talk Up, Not Down Teen Poetry Residency program.
Good evening. My name is Sistah Joy. I’m here to speak on behalf of the Expressions, Talk Up, Not Down Teen Poetry Residency Camp.
I’ve worked with the Expressions camp for the past 5 years, working with …about 150 teens over the years who have discovered new and constructive ways to deal with obstacles, roadblocks, and setbacks in life. This is done through an intensive, full 7 days of arts immersion, instruction and encouragement from professional poets and peer mentors, while working "hands-on" through skill building skits and word association techniques, with tough love and tender care from master poets, -- as well as a guidance counselor/professionally trained therapist and 4-H staff members. The program has recently been broadened to include a visual artist. Each team member is dedicated to helping the teens of Prince George’s County
The teens need and deserve this program. The county owes our teens, who will soon be voting of voting age, the opportunity to develop their social, public speaking and life coping skills in a positive environment.
One immediate obvious “report card” on the success of the Expressions Talk Up, Not Down teen poetry residency camp is the Poetry Hip Hop Choir. By a show of hands, who here has ever, over the past 5 years, attended the Poetry Hip Hop Choir? I invite you, if the funding continues, to come and witness first-hand, how our teens step up to the plate and present a program that is 100 per cent their creation. Many of them have never shared their poetry in a professionally produced program on a stage shared with professional poets; a show where they, the teens, are the stars; where they get to let their voices be heard about things that matter to them. We are planting seeds with the Expressions Camp, the blossoms of which are breathtakingly beautiful to behold.
The Expressions Talk Up, Not Down teen residency camp is a proactive posture taken by the county. At the camp, the teens learn much more than poetry. They learn things such as public speaking, compromise, self-respect, support and encouragement for others and positive self-esteem. They learn how to constructively cope with stress and how to handle problems. They learn to appreciate cultures and values other than their own. They learn that no one can be successful in life if they merely focus on their personal problems and challenges, that it is important to be a functioning and contributing part of society, of the world. They learn that everyone has problems, but if we work together, we stand to resolve them more effectively because of increased synergy when positive forces come together.
I feel it is far better to offer this to our teens than to fall back on the too familiar position taken in too many scenarios where the lack of life skills results in retention in school, incarceration in the juvenile or ultimately adult prison system, or worse, death. This is no dramatization. The statistics bear out the facts. Our youth are not merely at risk, they are dying. When we get them at the Expressions Camp, they are dying for attention, love and support. There’s no reason we cannot give them what they want, need and deserve.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve witnessed turn-arounds and personal growth that is nothing short of miraculous. Some of our teens have grown phenomenally, returning to the camp as peer mentors, demonstrating to their peer teens and to themselves, that they have what it takes today to be leaders in America tomorrow. Almost without exception, at the end of the camp the teens ask if the camp can be extended.
Did I say the teens need and deserve this program? Also, the county needs this program. As one of the most affluent counties in the nation, there is no justifiable reason that we should not invest in the future of Prince George’s County. That’s what we do when we invest in our youth. Whether you believe the skills we provide should be received in their homes, or schools or churches, the reality is our teens are not getting what they need. And it’s not their fault. They’ve been handed a crazy mixed-up world, one I might add, they did not create.
America has become a nation of consumers. Capitalism is what drives everything. That means marketing from sun up, not until sun down, but until sun-up the next day. And what do you think is the message that marketing moguls go for first? You got it! Sex sells. And our teens have learned that lesson well. It’s not enough to tell them “Don’t do this or don’t do that, when they see at every turn, a sexually explicit ad or product enticing them and all would be takers to “Go for it!” If we are serious about Prince George’s County being a positive, progressive part of America, then we cannot afford the luxury of simply being in pursuit of the biggest house, the biggest ride, the brightest bling …the most of everything. “Everything, I can get and everything I can get away with.” That’s the message our teens are learning from us!
If this is the sum total of what Prince George’s County is about, then we can forget about playing games that ratchet up numbers that say how affluent we are and how many mega churches we have and how Maryland school (…buildings) are so great. That’s not going to matter when that brighter tomorrow that we all talk about and work for is denied the very people …yes imagine that, teens are people!, the very people who can help make that happen -- and, just a side note, the very people we should be doing these things for. But just like us, they have to be brought on board and given the tools they need to make positive things happen. If we don’t do this -- well, trust me, there are gangs and crews, as well as detention systems, prisons and graveyards, just waiting for them. Thank you.
Get to know me, my views and some of the ideas that concern or inspire me. Sometimes the topics turn up in my poetry. Other times they surface in my work as an activist who addresses issues through my art.
In my early years as a poet of conscience, I sought to collaborate with like-minded poets in sharing messages of social significance. In 1995, I founded the poetry group, Collective Voices. What began as a sisterhood of poets has today evolved into an ensemble of poets, no longer a sisterhood, but which continues to lift messages of social relevance. Collective Voices, whose members currently include Sylvia Dianne "Ladi Di" Beverly, Andre "Brenardo" Taylor and me, J. Joy "Sistah Joy" Matthews Alford, has written and performed our inspirational, motivational and empowerment poetry on radio and television; and has performed at local, national and international events. Collective Voices' international debut was in London, England in 1998. We are published individually and as an ensemble, and our works have appeared in numerous anthologies. We continue to perform, accept public speaking engagements and book-signing requests, facilitate poetry workshops and present our work before culturally diverse inter-generational audiences.
COLLECTIVE VOICES ON "THE POET AND THE POEM" FROM THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Listen at the link below to an interview of my poetry group, Collective Voices, by nationally renowned poet and literary icon, Grace Cavalieri as part of her series, "The Poet and the Poem". Grace Cavalieri's interviews and book reviews have appeared in various journals including The American Poetry Review. Her original "Poet and the Poem" series premiered on public radio in 1977. The series, which is recorded at The Library of Congress, is distributed on-line via podcast and is also aired through radio stations around the country.
In 2005 I was requested to co-produce and host a poetry-oriented program on the Prince George's County local access station. Since that time I have gone on to produce and host Sojourn with Words, along with the show's Executive Producer, Curtis Crutchfield, at CTV Studios in Largo, Maryland. The show has earned national recognition (2 Telly awards) for excellence in cultural programming and arts entertainment. Sojourn with Words airs in Prince George's County on CTV (Comcast Ch. 76 and Verizon Ch. 42) 2-3 times weekly. Poets interested in being featured should email me at Poetsistahjoy@aol.com with Sojourn with Words Poet in the subject line.
We are pleased to share that the latest Sojourn with Words episode featuring the Prince George's County Youth Poet Laureate, Michaela Lacy, has begun to air. Tune in to Sojourn with Words on CTV (Comcast Ch. 76 or Verizon Ch. 42) to check out this powerful young poet who is creating a buzz all over the region. Reach out to be in touch at Poetsistahjoy@aol.com if you'd like to inquire about her or my availability to present poetry at your event.
The current Sojourn with Words "encore presentations" schedule is Thursdays, 11:30 am & 6:30 pm and Saturdays at 6:30 pm. Tune in and invite your friends to tune in as well to join the Sojourn with Words family. To check for schedule changes or view the full CTV weekly program listing visit: pgctv.org/tv-schedule/.
Sojourn with Words viewers and poetry fans outside our viewing area may purchase DVDs of current and previously-aired episodes of the show by contacting CTV at http://pgctv.org/program-copies/.
Since 2003, I have served as President of the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Poetry Ministry of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington, Maryland. Ministry members are known as The Anointed P.E.N.S. (Poets Empowered to Nurture Souls). In 2016, I was named Poet Laureate of the Church, where I continue to lead the ministry through poetry-based service and community engagement.
Membership in The Anointed P.E.N.S. is open to members of the church and community poets who embrace and espouse the teachings of Christ. Activities include monthly Ministry meetings (3rd Fridays) as well as community and church poetry presentations, and 4 annual "Poetry & Praise Open Mic celebrations, which are free and open to the community. The Ministry also accepts invitations to minister at area churches, nursing homes and at community-based events. Interested poets and church officials may contact The Anointed P.E.N.S. at the Poetry Ministry Hotline, 301.265.8254; through the Ministry Facebook page, "Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Poetry Ministry;" or by email at Poetry@ebenezerame.org.
Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Poetry Ministry "Poetry & Praise" Open Mic services and celebrations take place at the church at 7707 Allentown Road, Fort Washington, Maryland, 20744.
2018 Poetry & Praise Open Mic celebrations, which take place from 6:00 - 9:00pm on 3rd Fridays, include:
February 16 - Black History Month Celebration
April 20 - National Poetry Month Celebration
June 15 - Juneteenth Celebration
October 19 - National Arts & Humanities Month Celebration
Dates are subject to change due to weather and church scheduling conflicts, so guests are encouraged to contact Poetry@ebenezerame.org for schedule confirmations. Official announcements (flyers, email announcements and social media postings) are available at least 3 weeks in advance. All Poetry & Praise Open Mic services are free and open to the community. A free-will offering is accepted. Celebrations most often include performances by the Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers. Refreshments (heavy hors d'oeuvres) are served. All ages are welcomed. Inquiries, comments and membership requests to join the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Poetry Ministry may be directed to Poetry@ebenezerame.org or the Poetry Ministry Hotline at 301.265.8254.
Be in touch at Poetsistahjoy@aol.com and let me know what you think of my new website. Let me know what you'd like to see that's not currently posted. I'll display the most frequently asked questions, and my replies, so everybody benefits.
I will post my public upcoming events on this website. You can also obtain information about other poetry events (not just mine!) on my Facebook page, "Sistah Joy Alford" or my Business Facebook page, "Sistah Joy Alford - Poetry."
Each of my three collections of poetry are also available by contacting me directly at
P. O. Box 2073, Clinton, MD 20735.
Lord, I'm Dancin' As Fast As I Can - $15 (plus $2 shipping & handling)
From Pain to Empowerment, The Fabric of My Being - $10 (plus $1.50 s/h)
This Garden Called Life - Poems & Photography by Sistah Joy - $12.50
(plus $1.50 s/h)
*Discounts are available for bulk purchases of 10 copies more per title.
Sistah Joy has been commissioned to write poems for political and elected officials, community and church leaders, as well as persons revered by their family or friends. Commission Sistah Joy to write a tribute poem or to present a poem at your special occasion.
Sistah Joy has presented her engaging poetry at Federal and state agencies, military installations, businesses, churches, museums, libraries and more. Send your inquiry about Sistah Joy's availability for your event on line or by mail at
P. O. Box 2073,
Clinton, MD 20735
Sistah Joy participated in a North America UN (United Nations) roundtable discussion and poetry presentation on the power of poetry to address national and global hunger. The article below provides details about this significant discussion on hunger between 4 American poets and UN officials from countries around the world.
FURTHER, as part of this year's World Food Day the UN's FAO is sponsoring its WORLD FOOD DAY POETRY COMPETITION, a "hunger-themed" poetry competition. I am honored to promote the competition my on my website. The poetry competition is held in conjunction with the Poetry X Hunger initiative.
There is no entry fee. Poems in any form and tradition, with any or no geographic focus should be submitted as an attached pdf file via email to email@example.com by the firm deadline of midnight Sunday, September 9, 2018.
Sistah Joy joined poets Patrick Washington, Hiram Larew, Reuben Jackson, Alan King, Gowri K and host, Derrick Weston Brown, at the Hyattsville Busboys and Poets for the 2018 FOLA (Festival of Literary Arts).
PERFORMANCE, DISCUSSION AND OPEN MIC
This "reading/panel/open mic" moderated by former Busboys and Poets poet-in-residence, Derrick Weston Brown, and hosted by the PGAHC on 5/12/18, showcased the rich, diverse & multi-generational poetic legacy of the DMV, while also providing a critical look into the intersectionality of the written, spoken and social justice worlds.
Let me know what you'd like to see on my website by emailing me at Poetsistahjoy@aol.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Look for my new book, "Poets Don't Whisper" in early 2019. Contact me at Poetsistahjoy@aol.com or P. O. Box 2073, Clinton, MD 20735 to let me know if you, your church, community organization or business would like to discuss what it takes to host a book-signing or reading when my new book comes out.
Sistah Joy reads two poems, "A Tea Cup of Love" and "Tea Time with Family and Friends" dedicated to her 5-year-old granddaughter, Jordan, and her granddaughter's 4-year-old friend, Khadi. The poems were previously presented to the two young girls at a Sunday afternoon tea.
Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA) Executive Director, Terri Allen, presented the organization's prestigious Community Service Award to Sistah Joy in recognition for her extraordinary and continuing work in the community "in the areas of poetry, literature, spoken word and arts and humanities...as an author, advocate and activist, with dedicated service to Prince George's County Arts Community and the community at large... whose enthusiasm, diligence and commitment have not gone unnoticed."
Sistah Joy's fourth collection of poetry, Poets Don't Whisper, will be released in early 2019.
Sistah Joy is available for community, corporate and family celebrations, conferences, workshops and public speaking engagements. Feel free to contact her to discuss booking requirements, her availability for your events, book purchases or to request follow-up or clarification about information on this website.
Contact Sistah Joy on line at
P.O. Box 2073, Clinton, MD 20735