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Arts & Culture

Four Questions for SA Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla

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These days poet laureate Carmen Tafolla is busy doing readings, fostering education and putting together programs advocating poetry all while simultaneously working on a biography on Emma Tenayuca, a collection of poems and a children’s book. All of this contributes to the reason Gemini Ink plans to present her with the Literary Excellence Award during their annual Inkstravaganza. The Current was able to catch Tafolla during her busy schedule for a brief Q&A.

What does a poet laureate actually do?

Every poet laureate has six programs they are responsible for. One is of their own invention. There are five projects that the laureate has to create and direct. Getting people involved not only in reading and hearing poetry but the way I look at it, getting them involved in creating it as well. I wanted everybody from every ethnic group, from every language to recognize the poetry that they have around them in their songs, in their folk sayings, in the descriptions of their own lives.

Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve developed?

The first one that we started on is called SA Poet Source. It is a website that allows experienced, published poets to list their interests, their involvement, samples of their work and their experience working with different community groups. Number two was a poetry infusion school. We took a middle school and filled the hallways with poetry, I performed for the student body, I did an in-service training with the teachers and I did creative writing workshops with the kids. I wanted to reach everybody and that was really tough. Number three was La Voz de San Antonio which was a citywide spoken word contest. Number four is going to happen October 5. It’s called A Blessing of Our Beginnings. We’re going to have a choral reading of segments of poetry, by a variety of poets, talking about the different ways residents have lived in this city.

The last one will be a performance piece about San Antonio—a stage play, which involves performance poetry, music, dance and choral readings. It’ll involve a lot of performers in this city, not just me. When tourists come to this play, I want them to see something that is uniquely San Antonio.

How long have you been involved with Gemini Ink?

I was a board member in Gemini Ink in the late 1990s, I’ve taught classes with them, I’ve taken master classes there. I’ve collaborated with them. I even performed when Kinky Friedman was given the Literary Excellence Award. So I’ve done a variety of things for the organization. I feel honored and I feel that it’s going to be a very festive occasion for Gemini Ink supporters, literary supporters and for the community at large.

Why should poetry matter to San Antonio?

Well, we have a long tradition of storytelling in this town and a long tradition of poetic sensibilities. We are currently at a crisis level in terms of literacy. And poetry is the most compact and highest form of literature. It is a song of a people told in words. We want to empower the community and we want to allow San Antonio to self-actualize in full capacity. This will impact our level of literacy, education, self-actualization and, actually, our level of civilization. We’ll be a more cultured, a more civilized city.

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