Black Atticus is Knoxville’s Fourth Poet Laureate

Joseph Woods, 'Black Atticus,' City of Knoxville Poet Laureate, September 2023
Joseph Woods, ‘Black Atticus,” City of Knoxville Poet Laureate, September 2023

Joseph Woods has always had a way with words. This skill has been a good thing at times; at other times, it’s gotten him into trouble. It’s a good thing this time, as he has earned the title of The City of Knoxville’s Fourth Poet Laureate. Before this gig, a few of his titles included the founder of Park City Printing and Graphic Design and Po’Boys and Poets promoting slam poetry, co-founder of Good Guy Collective, bringing artists together to create and produce music, and he is a poet, hip hop artist, and speaker.

Joseph, most familiarly, goes by the name Black Atticus. As a teen, he loved to write, but his words, though creative, were often destructive. In his freshman year at Miles College in AL, he was introduced to slam poetry. It was love at first listen. He learned more about making his words powerful and authentic, but also with some humor to allow the truth to be heard. He went on to win the first Apollo night there and found a passion for the spoken word that has anchored his creative endeavors since then. It was there that he learned he cannot live fully without this art form as part of his life.

Returning to Knoxville, where he was born and raised, he connected with a group called the Carpetbag Theater and even began his own downtown slam event nights called Poboys and Poets. This has branched off to other cities. He will be given an award this fall in Nashville for bringing spoken word poetry downtown there. He has won several “Best of” awards for his work and feels honored to have a voice in the community.

He is now working on his first solo album called RAP-Rhythm Assisted Poetry. He says rap is tied to rhythm, and poetry is the natural rhythm of conversation. He weaves these two together. His family has Gullah Geechee roots, and he believes this is one of the reasons that he has skill and talent as a hip-hop artist and a poet. The movement and flow of that language was something he grew up hearing when he visited his grandmother in the Carolinas.

He has found inspiration in the mythical Sankofa bird, which represents knowing where you are going; you must know where you have been. The future is riding on the back of the past. He has embraced this mentality and is now focusing on doing work for himself that brings him fulfillment. He believes discovery happens when we do the work for ourselves. He feels the weight of a desire to grow and transform, believing that change should affect you and that you shouldn’t be the same once you are through the journey.

Sankofa Bird

What is a poet laureate, and what do they do in Knoxville? “The Poet Laureate serves as a public voice of Knoxville, creating city-specific works and participating in literary outreach and educational programs. The Poet Laureate is encouraged to nurture appreciation of poetry and literature by conducting public readings, workshops, lectures, and presentations in neighborhoods, schools, colleges, universities, and other public settings in geographically diverse areas of the city.” One of the things he wants to do in Knoxville is listen to business owners, makers, and individuals and learn. He wants to take the words they use in their day-to-day work that may not be familiar to the masses and share them with the community in a format he has yet to determine.

Black Atticus tells me he is honored to be the poet laureate for the next two years. He believes he is ready for the leadership and responsibility that comes with it. He is grateful for the open doors this has given him and looks forward to speaking truthfully and opening minds. When I asked him what goal he had for his time as poet laureate, he said it was “healing.” Healing, he said, doesn’t always feel good during the process, but the process is necessary to become healthy. Joseph ‘Black Atticus’ Woods wants to be a voice for healing in our world, starting in Knoxville.