A Kalamazoo College alumna has undertaken a position noteworthy of recognition in April, which serves as National Poetry Month.
National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. It has since become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers and poets celebrating poetry. And now, Dani Badra ’08 is the poet laureate of Fairfax, Virginia, a role she relishes given that she provides her fellow Fairfax residents with a way to pursue optimism and faith in life through the written word.
“Poetry helps provide a deeper meaning to both difficult and beautiful and beautifully difficult things,” Badra said. With the difficulties, for example, “I think of the poem Amanda Gorman read at President Biden’s inaugural address that people across the nation remember. She was reading a poem days after the insurrection right where it happened. At that moment, her poem provided some meaning, some deeper thought that gave people hope, and helped us reinterpret where we are as a nation.”
Badra appreciates the way that the poet laureate position speaks to her creative side. Fairfax established its poet laureate position in 2020 through ArtsFairfax, a nonprofit organization designated as the county’s local arts agency. Since then, a chosen community member has served as a literary arts ambassador, promoting poetry in the county, region and state. She was selected for the role last October and will serve until 2024.
Supported through funding from the county, Badra has established a Poetry in the Parks program. In April, as a part of Arab American Heritage Month, she is conducting a poetry reading followed by a ghazal workshop to create an awareness for the lyric poems, which are common in Middle Eastern culture. She will conduct more poetry readings in June for Pride Month, in August for a Poetry Beneath the Stars workshop outdoors, and in November for a guided poetry workshop conducted by a naturalist at a local wetland area.
Additionally, Badra is creating “poetry plaques” that she hopes will be used as a long-term resource. Plaques placed in nature often have information about flora and fauna, but these will have a poem related to the region or the area’s environment.
“They will include a poem, a bio of the poet, some writing prompts for people to engage in and a QR code where county residents can submit their own writing inspired by that location,” Badra said. “We’re creating not only some environmental engagement, but some creative products as well.”
After graduating from K, Badra earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from George Mason University, where she was the poetry editor of So to Speak, a feminist literary and arts journal, and an intern for Split This Rock, a national network of socially engaged poets witnessing injustice and provoking social change.
Her poems have appeared in publications such as the Cincinnati Review, Guesthouse, Mizna and Beltway Poetry Quarterly among others. She also has led writing workshops at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, OutWrite DC and in high schools. She has been a featured reader for Split This Rock’s Sunday Kind of Love series, a judge for Brave New Voices in DC, and a participant in Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, a festival commemorating the 2007 bombing of a historic book market in Baghdad, Iraq.
Badra’s first chapbook, Dialogue with the Dead (Finishing Line Press, 2015), was largely inspired by her older sister, Rachal, who graduated from K herself in 2005, before passing from an undiagnosed genetic heart condition in 2012.
“When she died, I found a folder of poems that I didn’t know she’d been writing,” Badra said. “When I found them, I knew I wanted to publish them somehow. They weren’t really in a publishable format, so through them, I created a much-needed dialogue with her.”
Much like the chap book, Badra’s manuscript, Like We Still Speak (University of Arkansas Press, 2021), was inspired by her sister. It earned the 2021 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize. It was also named a semi-finalist for the Khayrallah Prize and listed in Entropy’s Best of 2020-2021: Poetry Books and Poetry Collections list.
“Like We Still Speak improves upon the ideas and polyvocal poetic forms behind Dialogue with the Dead and expands on them to include more voices, like my wife, and my mom and dad,” Badra said. K Professor Emerita “Di Seuss is in there, too.” She credits Seuss as playing a pivotal role in her development as a poet and expressed gratitude for the years at K she spent under her tutelage.
Badra works full-time as a technical writer and management analyst for Fairfax County Land Development Services, and she appreciates the opportunities that come with serving as a poet laureate.
“The poet laureate position appealed to me because it allows me the opportunity to pursue my heart’s passion,” Badra said. “In a way, I can also bring that same passion to other people in my community. I enjoy engaging with people as well as with these outdoor spaces. At the end of the day, people will take away from the programming what they do. I hope that I just inspire a group of people, however many that is, to want to walk around in nature and write about it.”