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Poet Laureate credits Calla High teacher for his inspiration

When Andrew Bell was introduced to poetry at Calla High School, he knew he was onto something special.

He just didn’t know it would lead to honors and titles and recognition at the highest artistic levels in California’s State Capital.

This past week, Bell – who writes and performs under the moniker Andru Defeye – was named Sacramento’s newest Poet Laureate for his consistent and ongoing contribution to bringing poetry and the power and verse and rhyme to the masses.

The fact that he’s your typical Poet Laureate is not lost on him and has made the experience since being named all the more surreal.

“To be recognized by my peers in this way is huge for more than just myself because I don’t come from an academic or traditional background,” Bell said. “Most poet laureates historically are in their 50s and 60s when they win this title and many of them are professors at universities or colleges.

“I’m 35 – barely old enough to make the cutoff and I graduated from a continuation school, so this is really wild. I’m incredibly honored and excited for the chance to serve the entire Sacramento community and do things a little different.”

And it was that time at Calla High that Bell said became the most pivotal in shaping how he viewed the world around him and his place in it – as a human being and as an aspiring writer that knew he harbored passions but didn’t fully understand yet how to focus them.

That was until he met Virgil Dughi – the first person in his life, he said, that took a genuine interest in his writing and helped propel him forward to other ventures (which included a stint as a reporter for this newspaper).

“He literally changed my life by calling what I was writing poetry,” he said. “If he would’ve called it journalism I’d be on my way to a Pulitzer, and if he hadn’t taken interest in what I was writing in his class I have no idea where I would be.

“Teachers are superheroes and Calla High had some of the most dedicated souls on the planet teaching when I went there. Often their work goes uncelebrated, but not today – I need those teachers who work with ‘at risk’ youth to know how much of a difference they actually make. Mr. Dughi changed my life with a few words and some poems.”

The announcement of Sacramento’s newest poet laureate means that Bell – who was named officially as Andru Defeye, the name he uses in all of his professional endeavors – will join the ranks of such esteemed poets as Dennis Schmitz, Jose Montoya, and Indigo Moor. It is a three-year term which means he’ll carry the title through 2022 before the Sacramento Metro Arts Commission chooses a successor.

In order to be chosen a poet had to submit an application to the commission and undergo a review process that included letters of recommendation, sample works, a personal statement, a list of accomplishments and a live reading of one’s work.

It’s that last category that Andru Defeye has been excelling in for more than a decade – organizing impromptu “guerrilla” poetry readings on Downtown and Midtown street corners, organizing flash mobs and other forms of community engagement, and hosting performances and shows meant to bring poetry in all of its forms to the wider public.

Bell, the son of Mark and Debbi Bell, has also been immensely active in Sol Collective – a non-profit that seeks to provide arts education to children in the community in a variety of ways.

And while the milestone he recently reached is something that he’ll carrying with him and cherish forever, Defeye says that the work he has set out to accomplish is far from over.

“I plan to push this art form forward and honor the work of those who came before me,” he said. “I have a plan to make poetry accessible and interactive for everyday citizens in each of Sacramento’s districts.

“I plan to focus on serving youth – especially youth from historically underrepresented community and helping to amplify voices often left unheard.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.