Was it his New Jersey address? Perhaps. But Run-DMC’s Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons suspects that his failed bid to become poet laureate of Queens reflects a deeper cultural question.
“I don’t know if Queens is ready for a rapper as a poet,” Simmons said.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall announced Friday that Ishle Yi Park had been selected by an independent panel of judges to become the borough’s third poet laureate. Yi Park, author of “The Temperature of This Water,” will hold the unpaid post for three years.
A Korean-American born and raised in Queens, Yi Park was among 75 people competing for the position. But it was Simmons’ candidacy that created the most buzz, generating a debate about whether rap is a legitimate form of poetry.
Stephen Stepanchev, the borough’s first laureate, said no, while Hal Sirowitz, the Queens poet laureate from 2000 to 2003, said yes.
Sirowitz, however, said Simmons should have been disqualified because he no longer lives in Queens. To be considered, candidates must have lived in the borough for at least five years at some point and must write in English.
Simmons, who spent 37 of his 38 years in Queens before moving to Saddle River, N.J., last year, said he had no doubt that rap should be considered poetry. He said he wrote the words to many hits long before he set his rhymes to music.
“I didn’t hear no music when I wrote ‘Christmas in Hollis.’ I was just sitting there eating cereal with a pen in my hand,” said Simmons by cell phone from Maryland, where he was working on a voter registration drive.
Despite the setback, Simmons said he isn’t giving up. He said he hopes to one day become national poet laureate.