Poet For All

City’s youngest poet laureate celebrates no limits

By Jessica Laskey
April 2024

When I caught up with Andru Defeye, the city’s youngest poet laureate, he was prepping for Sacramento Poetry Day, held last October.

“I want the entire city of Sacramento to know it’s Poetry Day,” Defeye said. “From kids in schools to the contest to the gala—however we can blow this up.”

Poetry Day was created in 1986 by the late Mayor Anne Rudin. But it hadn’t been celebrated at scale in years. After being named poet laureate in 2020, Defeye (pronounced “defy”) resurrected the event in 2022 with an Academy of American Poets Fellowship.

Last year’s Poetry Day included the creation and dissemination of free poetry curriculum to more than 250,000 students in area schools and cash prizes. There was a citywide poetry collection and ceremony honoring community voices.

Defeye went even bigger in 2023, in part to honor his father, a poet, preacher and Defeye’s “hero” who died last June.

“I was admittedly struggling with a lot of grief, but one of the last things my father and I talked about was my big plans for Poetry Day,” Defeye says. “We had billboards all around town and we did a gala with a Michelin-star restaurant catering for the poets, which they deserve. Poets often get no support or resources, which is also why we go so big with the awards.”

Much of Defeye’s artistic life has been about building up fellow artists. After living in San Francisco, he moved to Sacramento in 2009 for a slower pace. He became Sol Collective’s director of communications and, in 2014, founded Zero Forbidden Goals, a support system for creatives that innovates and advocates through guerilla art activations.

When a shooting outside Ace of Spades made it nearly impossible for hip-hop acts to get booked in local clubs, Defeye and Zero Forbidden Goals staged art flash mobs in protest. A hotline told audience members where to meet for pop-up shows in defiance of the hip-hop ban.

Zero Forbidden Goals created National (Guerrilla) Poetry Month, a video series on YouTube featuring people performing poetry in unlikely locations. An open mic event in Oak Park came next.

“I’m always trying to bring art into places where it wasn’t and highlight it in places that it is but isn’t being given attention,” Defeye says.

If this seems like a circuitous route to poet laureate, that’s the point.

“It used to be a lifetime achievement award,” Defeye says of the laureate title. “But for me, it wasn’t academics or institutions that got me here, it was the people. They actually had to reformulate the rubric because it was built for published poets. I didn’t have that, but I had 100,000 YouTube views.”

Since taking over as laureate, Defeye made the poetry community more inclusive. He pressured Sacramento Poetry Center to diversify its board and offer more opportunities for youth and people of color and the LGBTQ community.

He’s continuing Zero Forbidden Goals’ activations, including The First Church of Poetry, a weekly gathering in McKinley Park, as well as other activities for National Poetry Month in April.

“This is a working title,” the poet laureate says. “Anytime I can use this title to advocate for poetry and the arts and push a poet forward, then I do that. I feel like I was put in this position to open some doors and shatter some ceilings for whoever’s coming after me.”

For information, visit Defeye’s Instagram @andrudefeye and sacpoetrycenter.org.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Previous profiles can be found and shared at InsideSacramento.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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