Through poetry, we see our world more clearly



Santa Fe New Mexican


Santa Fe can be a cacophony of confusion and controversy, but it’s also a place of poetry in motion. So much so, that we have our own poet laureate. Not every city in the United States has one. Some states don’t, either. New Mexico didn’t get its own statewide poet laureate until 2020, when Levi Romero became New Mexico’s first. Arthur Sze was the first poet laureate in Santa Fe, appointed in 2006. Come January, the position is open again, as Darryl Lorenzo Wellington finishes the stint he began in 2021. An uprooted Southerner living in New Mexico, Wellington has been a poet, journalist, playwright, performer and syndicated columnist. According to the city Arts and Culture Department, the Poet Laureate program, through honoring a poet, recognizes the place the art form has in the cultural tradition of the community. The poet reads original poems at ceremonial events, champions the art of poetry and the spoken word and encourages their appreciation. Key parts of the job can be reading poetry in public, whether to adults or school children; hosting workshops; working with arts education programs; and collaborating across disciplines. The city’s poet uses the spoken word to help us celebrate and, during hard times, mourn. The celebration of the written and spoken word is refreshing in our increasingly virtual world, where children spend too much time playing video games and not enough time reading. Adults watch TikTok videos and stream endless television shows, forgetting the pleasures of holding a book and drinking from its contents. The quietness in the written word can be soul-soothing. As for poetry, it is a way of exploring feelings — both for writer and reader — and for examining the world. The best poetry takes us outside of our comfort zone. We see the familiar with new eyes. It can improve vocabulary, memory, critical thinking and provide new experiences. In a poem, a few words — the right words — create vivid images that will linger. We think e.e. cummings got it right: “Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.” Poetry crosses cultures. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo used some of her time in the position to create “Living Nations, Living Words,” an interactive map highlighting the works of 47 different Indigenous poets throughout the country. Harjo, a member of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation, told Vogue magazine, “As the first Native U.S. poet laureate, I decided that my signature project should introduce the country to the many Native poets who live in these lands. Our communities innately shared and share poetry from before the founding of the United States to the present.” On the map, viewers can click and learn more about a Native poet, including hearing them read and discuss their work. Santa Fe resident Layli Long Soldier, a member of the Oglala Sioux Nation, is one of the poets featured. Like poetry should be, the map is a revelation of riches, a reminder poetry is universal to all peoples. As such, it should be celebrated — which is exactly what Santa Fe is doing.