“…having [one] brings a kind of magic into every life–the real thrill of art; to me that is what this is about–not a fancy title, but the quickening feeling of how words can matter.”
When speaking about the role of San Antonio’s poet laureate, a title that still holds much ambiguity among the general population, Gemini Ink Executive Director Sheila Black describes the appointed poet as “A lightning rod for words and stories, an example of the power of words across the city.” Black is one of the city’s key literary leaders spreading love of the written word to all of San Antonio.
The title itself, derived from the ancient Greeks, refers to the tradition of placing a laurel wreath or crown as recognition for significant achievements in literature, the arts and public life. The U.S. Library of Congress started the tradition in the United States in 1937, while Texas has conferred the honorary title on a poet since 1932.
San Antonio became the first Texas city with a poet laureate when Mayor Julián Castro appointed poet Carmen Tafolla to the one-year post in 2012.
She was chosen after Gemini Ink worked in partnership with the city’s department for creative and cultural development, SA 2020, and the mayor’s office to make the city’s first selection of a poet laureate.
Tafolla, whose work is noted for its natural bilingual rhythms, has been praised for her he her own body of work and for her efforts to promote poetry, which include The Carmen Tafolla middle school focus on poetry immersion, the creation of a new website presenting a roster of community poets and the implementation of La Voz, a citywide spoken word poetry contest.
With her term nearly completed, there now is an open call to nominate San Antonio’s second poet laureate. The honorary position is expected to “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 will serve a two-year term.”
“I can think of at least several poets here in San Antonio who for very different reasons would make wonderful poet laureates,” said Black. “Nothing about the poets I am thinking of is all that similar–the way they imagine the world, the way they speak their poems, the vision they trace. Diversity is crucial to literary vision and excellence.”
The first year resulted in twenty-one nominations of local poets. Nominees included: Terry Lee Armstrong, Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Carol M. Siskovic, Jacinto Jesus Cardona, Gregg Barrios, Nephtali’ De Leon, Bonnie Lyons, Rod C. Stryker, Eduardo Cavazos Garza, Nicole Provencher, Carol Reposa, and Valerie Bailey.
A poet laureate selection committee chaired by Rosemary Catacalos, herself a poet and the former executive and artistic director of Gemini Ink, reviewed submissions and made recommendations for the inaugural selection. Catacalos assembled a committee comprised of four recognized poets from across the country (Francisco Aragon, Catherine Bowman, Cyrus Cassells, and Valerie Martinez). Gemini Ink hopes to assemble a second committee to review this year’s nominations.
The open nomination process will produce some surprises, no doubt, but outside perspectives are essentially for both nomination and selection. Gemini’s role is to facilitate the process and ensure objectivity to prevent the outcome from becoming a popularity contest.
Nominations will be accepted through January 7. Visit www.geminiink.org/nominate-poet-laureate to nominate individuals.
Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in professional writing and a minor in anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.