Aurora's got a poet laureate but Denver doesn't? You can bet the Big Blue Bear's butt on it
The highlight of Monday's luncheon for Imagine 2020, the city's first cultural plan in 25 years, was local slam poet and DU student Jose Guerrero, who'd written a poem about Denver for the event that included a memorable reference to the "Big Blue Bear's butt" and even more telling lines about how this city's kids want to express themselves whether in graffiti or poems. And when he repeated his performance before Denver City Council that night, the response was so strong you could imagine him being named Denver's poet laureate on the spot.
Just one problem: Denver no longer has a poet laureate position, even though poetry is on a roll in this town, which is home to numerous award-winning slam poets.
And although Imagine 2020 has many ambitious plans for how to push this city's cultural scene, resurrecting the poet laureate program is not one of them. (There will be a public presentation on Imagine 2020 at the McNichols Building at 4 p.m. today, if you want to hear more details.)
The city's poetry program, which included the laureate position, was cut in 2008 "when the city was requiring significant budget reductions from each department," says Daniel Rowland, spokesman for Denver Arts & Venues, which led the charge to create Imagine 2020. The last poet to hold that post was Chris Ransick, appointed in 2005 when then-mayor John Hickenlooper was in office. And although Imagine 2020 is full of ideas for how to celebrate this city's cultural scene, resurrecting the poet laureate post is not one of them.
But our upstart neighbor to the east hasn't hesitated to take a page from Denver. After the idea of creating a poet laureate for Aurora was first proposed last summer, the city's Quality of Life policy committee gave the concept the okay, and in late January, Aurora City Council gave unanimous approval to naming Jovan Mays Aurora's first poet laureate. A graduate of Smoky Hill High School, an award-winning member of Denver's Slam Nuba team and manager of Your Writing Counts, a poetry program for elementary-, middle- and high-school students throughout Denver, Mays will volunteer his time to serve as Aurora's poet laureate for two years, through December 2016.
His duties will include advocating for poetry, literacy and literature; participating in public readings; leading literacy and creative-writing programs in public schools; and penning original verses about the city: "I think that I shall never see/A new Aurora subdivision with a tree..."
But although the Aurora spot is filled, poets who like the public limelight have one more chance: Colorado is in the process of choosing a new poet laureate to serve as an advocate for poetry, literacy and literature throughout the state. Colorado became one of the first states to have a poet laureate when Governor Oliver Shoup appointed Alice Polk Hill in 1919; since then, five other people have served in the position: Nellie Burget Miller (1923-1952); Margaret Clyde Robertson (1952-1954); Milford E. Shields (1954); Thomas Hornsby Ferril (1979-1988); Mary Crow (1996-2010) and David Mason (2010-present).
Unfortunately, the deadline for applications was last month; Governor John Hickenlooper will make the final pick. To be considered, a poet had to be a legal, full-time Colorado resident for at least three years (which is more than Colorado requires from someone running for a public political office), then pass a background check and promise to remain in Colorado for the duration of his or her four-year term, which will start in October.
Is it too much to hope that Guerrero makes the cut?
Continue to read Jose Guerrero's poem about Denver.
By Jose Guerrero
As an educator
I often find myself arguing for the
Importance of art in our classrooms
I go on and on about it's potential to empower
Our youth and its
Ability to turn traumatic life experiences
Into beautiful pieces of art
For those who remain skeptical
I challenge you to take it up with the
Big Blue Bear and as
You stand there staring right into the
Big Blue Bears Butt
You will smile, and realize
That small moment of joy
Could be the most important lesson we could
Teach our youth
My love for art developed in the streets
Walking through the Westside of Denver
I saw some of the most powerful pieces of art
Written on the walls
The graffiti's vibrant colors reflected how
Most of us felt inside
Something about seeing names on the walls gave us a
Feeling of ownership we never
Obtained through mortgage contracts
Many of my friends would stay up all night searching for the perfect spot
A wall worthy of their masterpiece
They felt like little kids aligning alphabetical magnets
On the cities fridge
They wrote short poems on brick because
The schools failed to provide them paper
The art work never lasted very long but
For that short time they turned our
Alleys into art galleries and
Trash cans into anthologies
They are the seeds that birthed the roses that now
Grow on the Santa Fe Art District
Yet they were never cited in the government documents
I have witnessed art nourish a community in ways politicians could never imagine
Like the time a mural was painted across the street from the middle school
The mural a desperate cry to cease the fire
I watched gang members from opposing sets come together
Using the color of their bandanas to spray paint the words
A treaty attempting to end gang violence
There hasn't been a drive by on that corner since
I have listened to poets and Hip-Hop artists
Communicate and mobilize the people
In a language academia has deemed worthless
The same word grant donors use to describe our services
Like helping a kid get through a rough day
Isn't worth the investment
Because happiness has never been an
Accurate measurement of success
But you tell that to the little girl who feels
Unbreakable when she Hip-Hops
On The Dance Floor
Tell that to the queer teen who just came out to his parents
In a poem
Tell it to the young musicians who
Bounce the sounds of their
Parents arguing off their instruments
How many more messages on the wall
Must we see before understanding that art
Still peaks to the people?
Especially the youth
They are the future
Let's give them to tools to paint themselves a better world
Here's Guerrero delivering another one of his poems:
More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Thomas Hornsby Ferril's house is a part of history -- and could be history."
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