Natalie J. Potell

Natalie J. Potell 

Natalie J. Potell has been named the Prince William County poet laureate for 2018-2020, announced The Prince William County Arts Council.

The Manassas resident and Fairfax County firefighter was crowned at the Black Box Theatre at the Woodbridge NVCC Campus last month.  The two-year term was previously filled by Kathy Smaltz of Nokesville.  

"Writing has been in my blood since I was a child,” Potell wrote. “Words, phrases, sentences just burst into my head like rain water through an open window, and I have to jot them down.  It is how I capture and understand the beauty and the tragedies of life. 

“Working as a firefighter and as a teacher has shown me both the vulnerabilities of age and the importance of honor.  These serve as a constant source of inspiration to me.  I strive for my writing to be an honest snapshot with a powerful voice.  Poetry is, and will always be, my first love in life.  It is what I gravitate toward.  Even in the novel and children's books I am working on, the language and conversations held within are driven by this beautiful poetic force within me."

As poet laureate, she plans to spread her love of poetry throughout the county by combining "...the artistry of a beautifully written and unexpected letter with the joy of reading a great poem." 

Potell said that she believes writing letters has become a lost art.  Her project is a tribute to her recently deceased pen pal and the stacks of memorable letters he left behind.  She recalls the joy of receiving a letter from him after living through a harsh Antarctic winter. 

Potell proposes to choose a different poem, by different authors, every day and mail it to two randomly chosen county residents over the next two years. 

She hopes this "...simple act of art might change the course of a person's day — add a lightness to their step."      

She plans to wholeheartedly work toward spreading the love of poetry within the Prince William County area while she endeavors to finish her first complete book of poems.  

Other candidates for the county distinction included Bennie Herron, Chalet A. Jean-Baptiste, Cherryl T. Cooley, David Wayne Martin, Jennifer Budlong Cole, John Dutton, Katherine M. Gotthardt, Kim Bois-Miller, Kitra MartinDavis and Tom Basham.   

Nominations underwent a review by a panel of judges after a competitive nomination process.  Potell was chosen from among the 11 nominees based on her submitted poems and her poetry project involving the community.  The poetry project will be a tribute to her recently deceased pen pal and the memorable letters he left behind.  She proposes to choose a different poem, by different authors, every day and mail it to two randomly chosen county residents for two years.  

John Dutton, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Belville Middle School, was awarded a special project trophy for his poetry events titled “Spilled Ink.”

  Dutton hosts this open-mic event for the written word every fourth Friday at Jirani's in Manassas and every second Friday at Lakeside Cafe' and Grill in Lake Ridge.  

All attending nominees at the crowning ceremony were inducted into the Poet Laureate Circle in recognition of their writing talent, community spirit and personal commitment in promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry. 

The Prince William County Poet Laureate initiative began in 2014 when Robert Scott and Alexandra Hailey were crowned for a two-year term.  The Prince William County poet laureate serves to promote an awareness of poetry and to heighten appreciation of the art form and will forge a meaningful connection between poetry and the community by participating in public gatherings, initiating engaging dialogue with residents, and by undertaking a project which makes poetry more available and accessible to people in their everyday lives.  Candidates must be 18 years or older, have lived in the area for two previous years and must maintain residence in the Prince William County area during the full term to receive an honorarium of $500 a year. 

 For more about the Poet Laureate Circle, contact Alice Mergler at mergleralice@gmail.com.

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