Ashley Cornelius wants to give a voice not only to her younger self, but also to anyone lacking a strong representation in their cities. The award-winning spoken word poet is the new Pikes Peak Poet Laureate. She was chosen by the Pikes Peak Library District and plans to use her two years in the role to bring visibility to poetry in the region.
"I want to be at city council. I want to be at building openings. I want to be at board meetings," she said.
Cornelius grew up in Colorado Springs. She said her childhood has helped shape her writing, much of which focuses on her identity as a Black woman living in predominantly white spaces.
One piece, titled "Defy Silence," brings up a stereotype of Black people as loud, redefining loudness as something other than the volume of one's voice and as a way to make up for years of oppressed silence.
Ashley Cornelius performing Defy Silence
"[Growing up] I didn't really have a lot of people who look like me. I didn't have a Black teacher until I got into college," she said.
Her poetry leans largely toward free-verse format and she has been recognized both regionally and nationally for her talent. Cornelius has performed her poetry at TEDx Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community College, the Colorado Springs Women's March, and the Denver Public Library. She was the Colorado Springs Independent Best of Artist in 2019 and was recognized by the Colorado Springs Business Journal as a Rising Star in 2021.
She also uses the medium in her career, using poetry therapy for youth in her role as a counselor with Denver Health.
"At a young age, I realized if I created poetry, then I could protect myself in my experiences," she said. "And as I grew and started working with youth and doing poetry therapy, I saw the transformative and healing powers [of poetry] and that I could reach someone who had a completely different experience through poetry."
Cornelius leads Poetry719, a local Colorado Springs organization that hosts events that focus on people of color and marginalized communities.
"[Poetry] is a message and experience...and a type of medicine that so many of us need," she said.
Ashley Cornelius performing Big Bang Expansive
During Cornelius’s two-year term as poet laureate she plans to work closely with the Pikes Peak Library District to build a literary arts community through poetry by developing an appreciation of written and performance poetry. As the first person to fill the role since 2017, Cornelius said she hopes to inspire others and create a legacy that will keep the program going.
"What I want is for people to see me as someone who is not academically a poet and is just a person in that community and say, I can be that. I can do that," she said.
The Pikes Peak Library District is hosting a celebration to welcome Cornelius from 6 - 7 p.m., Saturday October 23rd at the Knights of Columbus Hall: MacLaren Hall. The event will feature performances by local poets and past poet laureates.
More, on the Pikes Peak region
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