The poet laureate of Philadelphia, Trapeta B. Mayson, has launched the Healing Verse Poetry Line (1-855-763-6792), a toll-free telephone line that offers callers a 90-second poem. A new poem will be featured each Monday throughout 2021.
In the context of a pandemic, a presidential election and a racial reckoning, Healing Verse "offers a glimmer of hope because all those things impact us spiritually, mentally," Mayson said. "And now, more than ever, we need spaces to process."
The focus is on "affirming poems," she said. Mayson's "In This Season" was the project's inaugural poem.
"In this season of shifting, of barrier-breaking, undoing, unearthing, uprising, leveling, you, beloved, may think yourself too small," the poem says. "But what a world you are! What sphere of shocking beauty and grace!"
Mayson said the idea of a poetry hotline came about last year during a pre-pandemic lunch with Yolanda Wisher, Philadelphia's 2016 poet laureate. Then, before Mayson had a chance to lay down the groundwork for any of her initiatives as the city's poet laureate for 2020-21, the coronavirus hit.
"I was trying to figure out how to reach the people that I normally interacted with at libraries, in community centers, in neighborhoods," Mayson said. "I'm a community-based teaching artist, and I wasn't able to touch people who don't have access to things like Zoom, YouTube and podcasts."
Growing up in the early 1980s, Mayson remembers sitting on the linoleum floor in her parents' kitchen, tangling her fingers around the yellow cord of the phone that was attached to the wall as she laughed with her friends.
During that time, "there was just a different reverence for taking the time to hear someone's voice on a hotline. It was a sacred process. It was a very community-, family-driven thing," she said. "I wanted to be creative with poetry and push people to participate in something that might bring about nostalgia. Although it might be old school, it has a wider reach."
A monthly schedule of upcoming poets will be posted on a website that Mayson hopes to have up before the end of January.
"We're going to have people you know and people you may not know," she said. "I want to make sure we have a very wide cross-section of ages, races, gender identities."
Mayson's own poetry focuses on the difficulties and triumphs of the immigrant experience. She is the author of "She Was Once Herself" and a chapbook, "Mocha Melodies." Mayson has received a Pew Fellowship in Literature, among other honors, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is an Emerging Writer's Fellow with the Aspen Institute.