A unique way to reach poetry lovers during pandemic

by Len Lear
Posted 12/31/69

When Trapeta B. Mayson came to the U.S. as an eight-year-old child with her family in 1975 from Liberia in sub-Saharan West Africa, she could not have possibly imagined that she would become a social worker and award-winning poet.

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A unique way to reach poetry lovers during pandemic

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When Trapeta B. Mayson came to the U.S. as an eight-year-old child with her family in 1975 from Liberia in sub-Saharan West Africa, she could not have possibly imagined that she would become a social worker and award-winning poet. (Liberia underwent a civil war between 1989 and 1997 that killed about 250,000 people.)

Mayson, a 2002 Pew Fellow in poetry and winner of a 2007 Leeway Foundation Transformation Award as well as two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grants, has published her poetry in journals like The American Poetry Review and The Margie Review. Her work has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize, and last year she was named the Philadelphia Poet Laureate for 2020 and 2021. For the past 10 years, she has lived in Germantown at the Greene Street Artists Cooperative.

But like almost all creative people, her life was upended by the pandemic. “Most of my readings and events were canceled,” she told us last week, “and I wasn’t able to continue teaching. I continued to work full-time and make my art full-time, but it was difficult. As far as my Poet Laureate duties, I continued to represent the city the best way I could by participating in virtual events and even creating a video project called 'Unity and Descent' with former youth Poet Laureate, Mia Conception.”

Trapeta started writing her own poetry in the fifth grade and first published in the mid-‘90s. “I wanted to tell the truth in poetry,” said Mayson during a previous telephone conversation. “I didn’t care what anyone thought.”

Mayson, 53, “finally started accepting” herself as a writer in her mid-30s. After graduating from Little Flower Catholic High School, she attended St. Joseph’s University for a year. She left school, worked for two years and then enrolled in Temple University, where she earned a BA in political science in 1993. Two years later she earned a master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College.

Mayson's career as a social worker has paired her with youths in varying situations from pre-school to college age. For two decades she has also taught writing and poetry workshops and creative writing courses. She has published two books of poetry, "She Was Once Herself" and “Mocha Melodies.”

She also has two collaborative CD projects with local musician Monnette Sudler. One is called “This is How We Get Through.” The duo recently performed a show live-streamed at Allens Lane Art Center.

But Trapeta felt this was not enough, so she recently came up with the idea for something called the “Healing Verse Philly Poetry Line.” She wanted to reach people she would normally communicate with at in-person events in libraries, community centers, etc., but could not do so because of the pandemic. In addition, many in her target audience do not have access to Zoom or podcasts, so she created a novel way to reach them.

“I pursued the idea of the Healing Verse Philly Phone Line to reach more people and raise awareness about mental health through poetry. I conferred with some great friends/muses/fellow artists and threw around some ambitious ideas about bringing poetry closer to people. When the pandemic came, I allowed myself time to thoughtfully plan out my ideas about the Healing Verse Project.”

Because she works full time, Trapeta had to do much of this work in the evenings and on weekends. “I had lots of support from the Free Library of Philadelphia Poet Laureate Committee. It’s a labor of love. Mental well-being is difficult to maintain in these highly stressful times, and I’d always wanted to connect poetry more deeply to mental well-being. While I realize that many of us need deeper supports, poems and the arts, in general, can be healing.”

Healing Verse Poetry Line allows everyone to hear a new, hopeful poem on a weekly basis. Poets from across the region will be featured throughout the year. Get your poetry fix every Monday by calling toll-free 1-855-POEMRX2 (1-855-763-6792). Mayson’s poem, "In This Season" was the first featured work. A new poem is featured every Monday. Writing Wellness workshops and readings, led by Mayson, will also take place virtually in the coming months.

More details at healingversephilly.com or trapetamayson.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.

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