ROCHESTER — The newest poet-in-chief in Rochester has big goals for Minnesota's third-largest city.
Jean Prokott, a Century High School English teacher and author, was named last week as the city's third poet laureate since the post was created in 2012.
Prokott frequently writes about Rochester, including poems about geese, the Corn Tower, and works of art at Mayo Clinic. Her "Prose Aubade Ending with Lipstick" was included in "Bright Light: Stories in the Night," a collection of poetry and artwork from poets in the region funded by the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council.
Now she's taking her talents across the community, where she aims to get residents more involved in noticing their surroundings and expressing themselves.
"I want to get people hopefully writing in the community and finding the voice that they have," she said. "Maybe a little workshop, or write an image, just share something just to inspire their thoughts as well."
Prokott is a longtime southern Minnesotan with college degrees from Minnesota State University Mankato and Winona State University. She's garnered some state and national accolades for her work and in 2021 published her first poetry collection, "The Second Longest Day of the Year."
"She brings a tremendous amount of talent and passion into the role," Mayor Kim Norton said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have writers and poets like Jean in our community."
Poet laureates are more than just a flowery name, however. They're commissioned by governmental bodies to raise awareness about poetry and literary arts.
Former Mayor Ardell Brede appointed Jane Belau as the city's first poet laureate in 2012. Susan McMillan was named Rochester's second poet laureate in 2019 after Norton was elected. Poet laureates now serve four-year terms concurrent with the mayor's term of office.
Yet Rochester's poet position is unique among Minnesota communities. Minnesota has had an official poet laureate since 2008 — and unofficial poets since the 1930s — but few cities have created similar positions.
St. Paul named Carol Connolly its first poet laureate in 2006. That same year, Duluth chose Barton Sutter as its first poet laureate.
There was a renewed interest in poetry after poet Amanda Gorman delivered her work "The Hill We Climb" at President Joe Biden's inauguration in 2021. She later delivered another piece, "Chorus of the Captains," at Super Bowl LV that year.
"When you say poetry, you get kind of a lot of groans from people, and then you get a lot of excitement from other people," Prokott said. "It's a really weird curve when it comes to poems. Like, love or hate — there's no middle ground."
Prokott said she's excited to show Rochester is more than just a medical hub as the city's arts and culture scene continues to grow in step with its increasing population. She's still working on her plans as the city's newest poetry ambassador, but Prokott hopes to continue her predecessor's work holding poetry readings around the city. She also hopes to make poetry more accessible to people and break misconceptions.
That could start in her classroom, where she'll soon hold a poetry unit for three weeks this month for Century High School students. They may even write a poem or two about geese.
"It's just identifying those landmarks that speak to all of us in different ways," she said. "I think that's really exciting to find and to explore, and then to read those poems to the community."