The City of San Antonio named Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, a popular spoken-word poet who performs regularly in the city, as its newest poet laureate Wednesday.

“Andrea’s work in the community is exemplary of the role of a poet laureate,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement announcing the appointment. “She has changed our community for the better with her words, her commitment and her authenticity.”

Sanderson joins prior poets laureate Carmen Tafolla, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Jenny Browne, and Octavio Quintanilla, but represents the first spoken-word poet to receive the appointment.

“Poetry has been silent for so long. … It’s time to speak it out loud,” Sanderson told the Rivard Report. “Simply put, when you open your mouth and you begin to express the energy of you putting the power of your words out, in this vibration of speaking, it’s gonna draw people.”

She said the perceived gap is closing between poetry written for the page and performance-oriented forms like “slam” poetry – staged live poetry competitions popular since the 1990s. The change has allowed poets like Anthony Flores, Christopher “Rooster” Martinez, and Sanderson to achieve wider recognition.

“They’re stepping into this more literary world and getting their footing, and they’re starting to be recognized,” she said. “There’s always been that divide between the academic and the performance [in poetry],” but the bottom line, she said, includes both forms. “It’s poetry.”

Sanderson released her first full-length album, titled She Tastes Like Music, in November and a companion volume of poetry, titled She Lives in Music, this year after winning the 2019 Artist Foundation of San Antonio People’s Choice Award, which helped fund the project. Her written work has appeared in The Texas Observer, The Raven Review Literary Magazine, and the Pariahs anthology published by Stephen F. Austin University Press.

Here’s some of Sanderson’s song, She Tastes Like Music, from the album of the same name.

During her two-year term as laureate, the people Sanderson hopes to draw to poetry are youth, with whom she has worked for 17 years in the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center.

“I want to definitely tackle this youth literacy thing. Yeah, I want to make poetry ‘lit,’” she said. “Young people like poetry. As soon as I go in a classroom and I started rapping or performing they tune in, and I can see the shift in their demeanor from ‘Who is she?’ to ‘My guard is down and I respect this woman who I’ve never seen before,’ and I can see the change in them.” When their poetry is validated, she said, they gain the confidence to express themselves.

In the City’s announcement, poet Jim Lavilla-Havelin said of Sanderson’s work with youth: “We’re talking about saving lives, changing direction, rescuing youth, one poet, one poem, one slam at a time.” Lavilla-Havelin was one of three people to nominate Sanderson for the position.

Sanderson said she also hopes to awaken poetic tendencies in people who have let them slip. “There are some people who have some dormant gifts in them, and they just need to be reignited. … When people get to middle age, they get so wrapped up in adulting and the responsibilities of what we have to do, they don’t make time for art and expression in their life.”

Her official investiture ceremony will take place in City Council Chambers at 6 p.m. on March 31.

Before then, the collaborative-minded “Vocab” can be seen performing with slam group the 210G’s at Breathe Lounge at 9 p.m. Friday for a $10 cover charge, and her band The Foreign Arm is scheduled to play at the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday afternoon.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...