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Feb 22nd
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Home People & Lifestyle Western Writers Blog The Important Role Poet Laureates Play in the West

The Important Role Poet Laureates Play in the West

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Many folks know that there is a national poet laureate position that rotates each year. The position is appointed by the Library of Congress, a tradition first begun in 1937 with the appointment of Joseph Auslander. The current poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey. Poet laureates serve from October through May of each year.

The post of poet laureate is not to be taken lightly. The poets appointed represent to the world the passionate, diverse field that makes up poetry in the United States. They are also involved in a variety of outreach projects that attempt to bring poetry into communities and from communities to the country.

poetryrememWhat most people not keeping tabs on the heartbeat of poetry are likely unaware of is the plethora of state and city, even county, poet laureates appointed to serve terms throughout the country. The posts are sponsored by city, state
, and county governments. These poets showcase the fact that poetry, and the creative arts, aren't just alive in our communities: they are thriving.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the West (I loosely define this as states west of the Mississippi River). Almost every state has a poet laureate position created, though not all states currently have a poet appointed. I'm sorry to say that New Mexico is the only state in the West that has not created such a position.

New Mexico has a fantastic poetry community, and the state recognized this when they named Levi Romero as the New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate. Having had the privilege of working with Levi on his most current book, A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works, which was published by UNM Press, I can say with confidence that naming him the centennial poet laureate was an excellent choice and a great example of work being written in New Mexico. Now the state needs to get on the ball and create a permanent poet laureate position.

While the state may be behind the times, many New Mexico cities are not. Santa Fe established its poet laureate position in 2005 and has had four poets in the position. Currently Jon Davis is serving a two-year term that will last through 2014. During National Poetry Month last year, Albuquerque and Silver City announced their inaugural poet laureates: Hakim Bellamy in Albuquerque and Bonnie Buckley Maldonado in Silver City.

These poets are not figureheads. An important part of these positions is civic involvement. Each city, state, and county have different requirements, but many of these poets are expected to hold readings, sponsor readings, and bring poetry into the schools and the community. As lovers of all art forms know, the work of bringing understanding and participation to the arts is never done. Luckily for us all, we're promoting something we love, so the work is worth it.

I have met the various poet laureates that represent New Mexico. I have met the poet laureate of Wyoming and have had the pleasure of chatting with the poet laureate of Tacoma, Washington. As National Poetry Month 2013 disappears in our rearview mirror (it occurs every April), I am happier than ever because I can say that poetry, in the West and in the United States, isn't just plugging along, it's singing with a voice that grows louder and stronger each day.

The West hums with words, and Western poets are a big part of the creative arts at every level-local, state, and national. The best way to show appreciation year round is to read poetry-read your local authors' work and work from all over the country.

Note here: To avoid a crazy overuse of adjectives I did not mention how talented the poets referred to in this blog are-suffice it to say, adjectives aren't good enough descriptors

People & Lifestyle