San Antonio’s New Poet Laureate: A Southside Writer Who ‘Works With Her Hands’

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San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero

San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero. Courtesy photo.

“That’s what you call religion.” Felix Padrón, executive director of San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development, seemed visibly moved by the acceptance speech of San Antonio’s new Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero.

April 1 marked the start of National Poetry Month and the City of San Antonio celebrated the occasion with the appointment of Guerrero at City Council Chamber as the second poet laureate to represent the city. She succeeds inaugural poet laureate Carmen Tafolla whose two-year term ends March 31.

Inaugural San Antonio Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla speaks at the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event at Gemini Ink. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Inaugural San Antonio Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla speaks at the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event at Gemini Ink in 2013. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

“Carmen’s accomplishments were genuinely extraordinary,” said Gemini Ink Executive Director Sheila Black. “She advocated for the value of poetry in our everyday lives in so many ways and through countless appearances across the city–at schools, at shelters, at hospitals and senior citizen centers. I can’t think of a single population Carmen did not touch through her work.”

Tafolla also created SA Poet Source, a website that lists the poetry resources of the city and turned her poems into short films that showcase some of the most creative filmmakers in San Antonio and present a multi-media appreciation of the power of a poem.

“Following in the footsteps of Carmen Tafolla will not be easy, but Laurie Ann Guerrero is an inspiring choice who will amplify the importance of literary arts in San Antonio,” said Mayor Julián Castro. “Her personal story and professional success will resonate with many San Antonians.”

The office of poet laureate in San Antonio is an unpaid, honorary position whose role is to promote the literary arts and literacy within the community and create a greater appreciation of the poetic arts through the reading and writing of poetry. The individual selected serves a two-year term.

The station of poet laureate originated in England in the 1600s. The title, however, dates back to the ancient Greeks and their tradition of bestowing a laurel wreath or crown on select individuals in recognition of  significant achievement in literature, the arts, or public life.

The office United States Poet Laureate was established in 1937. Many U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Denver and Santa Fe have a poet laureate program. Each municipality establishes guidelines and criteria for the selection of its poet laureate and their duties. Texas has appointed a state poet laureate since 1932. That post is currently held by San Antonio poet Rosemary Catacalos. San Antonio became the first Texas city to appoint a poet laureate in 2012.

Nominations for the 2014-16 poet laureate were solicited last November 2013 and a selection panel of writers from around the country selected Guerrero from a pool of seven nominees. Guerrero was nominated twice; one nomination was by Linda Harris, a writer and Guerrero’s composition instructor at Palo Alto College who encouraged her to apply to Smith College.

Guerrero, a 1996 graduate of McCollum High School, was born and raised on the Southside. Several years later, after becoming a wife and mother of three, Guerrero was accepted as a “nontraditional student” to Smith College where she graduated with a degree in English language & literature. She went on to complete an M.F.A. in poetry from Drew University in 2011.

San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero poses for a photo with her family in City Council chambers during her official appointment ceremony. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero poses for a photo with her family in City Council chambers during her official appointment ceremony. Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Guerrero’s chapbook, “Babies under the Skin,” won the Panhandler Publishing Award, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. In 2012, she won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize for her first full-length collection, “A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying,” which was then published by the University of Notre Dame in 2013.

“Guerrero writes in a language of the body, visceral, almost unbearably vivid, the language of a poet who knows how to work with her hands,” stated Martín Espada, author of “The Trouble Ball.”

Guerrero states, “I have written in an unfiltered way since I was little.” In response to being selected as the next poet laureate, she says, “It’s a huge honor and I look forward to how I’m going to grow and be a vessel for the community. I feel ready, supported, and excited about what lies ahead.”

In her acceptance speech she said, “The arts allow our youth to discover not only what is important about the world around them, but what is important about themselves as well.”

Guerrero will be participating in a number of local national poetry month events. The City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development, in partnership with local poets and community organizations, has produced a calendar to capture all the poetry events taking place in San Antonio during National Poetry Month. Printed calendars are available at the main and branch San Antonio Public Libraries or go to www.npmsa.com for the online version.

*Featured/top image: San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero. Courtesy photo.

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