POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- Bettina "Gold" Wilkerson is spreading the word of poetry throughout Dutchess County.
Wilkerson, a resident of the Town of Poughkeepsie, was appointed the Dutchess County 2017 Poet Laureate out of 65 nominees. Wilkerson read her poetry at last week's State of the County Address and her job is to bring poetry to the community through a series of readings and events.
"It feels nice to be acknowledged in such a way," Wilkerson said. "I've been writing poetry my whole life."
Before transitioning to poetry, Wilkerson was a songwriter and a lyricist, writing all kinds of music, but particularly rhythm and blues.
"Poetry began to speak to me on a professional level," Wilkerson said. "This is what you needed to be doing."
Growing up in Washington Heights, Wilkerson spent her time writing by the Hudson River. When her family moved up to Dutchess, she decided to move up to Poughkeepsie, wanting to be connected to the Hudson again.
"It reminded me of my childhood," Wilkerson said. "All I needed was the water to bring out that poetic voice."
Wilkerson said she likes living in Poughkeepsie, praising the town for its embrace of multiculturalism and its abundance of sidewalks.
Most of Wilkerson's poetry is free verse and often addresses social issues going on in the world.
"This is our reality," Wilkerson said. "As individuals, we have the power to change. I don't sit down with a pen. I surrender to the process, I allow it to come to me. I'm moved by people's experiences and people's experiences outside of my own."
While Wilkerson has her regular spots where she reads poetry, she said she likes to take poetry to places where it is not usually heard, facilitating poetry workshops and engaging the community to find its voice. Wilkerson is currently working on a workshop around the word "peace."
"We don't use the word peace often enough," Wilkerson said. "It's just not in our daily vocabulary. If you don't use something, it's very hard to obtain it."
Wilkerson said aspiring poets should never be afraid to write or share their work.
"You have a voice," Wilkerson said. "There is no wrong or right. There's your voice, so just write."