With Fiesta 2016 coming to a close, San Antonians still have other reasons to celebrate. One of them is that we have a new Poet Laureate, and I am so excited to introduce my fellow San Antonio Mom Blogs readers to her. Jenny Browne is San Antonio’s 2016-2018 Poet Laureate.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jenny for a few years since our daughters once attended the same school. And on Monday, March 28, 2016, I was proud to host an investiture ceremony at City Council Chambers recognizing her as the City’s third Poet Laureate.
San Antonio became the first major city in Texas to recognize and appoint a Poet Laureate, Carmen Tafolla (2012-2014) and then Laurie Ann Guerrero (2014-2016). Texas has had a Poet Laureate since 1932.
The position of Poet Laureate is an important one as it increases the community’s support and appreciation for the literary arts. I know Jenny, who is a wife, a mother of two, and a professor at Trinity University, will make us proud and I look forward to the initiatives she will set forth in her new role.
Although the month is coming to an end, April is National Poetry Month. I hope my recent Q&A with Jenny inspires us all to seek out poetry and share it with our families year round.
Q: How does it feel to go from popular professor to Poet Laureate?
A: I already feel extremely lucky to get to spend my days the way I do, namely reading and writing, and working with my students on developing their own poetic practices. So the opportunity to consider how poetry might speak more powerfully to people who aren’t studying it strikes me as a great honor and challenge. I’m especially interested in finding ways of talking through poetry to people who wouldn’t think of themselves as interested.
Q: What are your goals as Poet Laureate?
A: My opinion of San Antonio is that there are innumerable versions of San Antonio. It’s a place that inspires me and challenges me and whispers interesting things in my ear every day. I hope to use my position and the power of poetry to make these often vastly different experiences of and voices in our city more visible on one another.
Q: From where do you draw inspiration for your poems?
A: I think that writing poetry offers me the opportunity to continually become a person who pays better attention: to language, to human emotion, to the details of a place, to relationships with friends and strangers. If I’m doing my job, I find it difficult to not be inspired. It is a strange and wonderful thing to get to be a person.
Q: When you’re not writing, what are you reading?
A: I read a lot of poetry, of course, both contemporary and classic, but I also find great inspiration in non-poetry reading. I love books about science and history. This summer I re-read Darwin, and a book about neuroscience and memory. I also absolutely love reading cookbooks!
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I’m married to Scott Martin, who is also an artist (www.martinphoto.com) and I’m continually excited and surprised by the chance to live and learn with someone who experiences the world so visually. We live in a hundred year old house in the La Vaca neighborhood with our daughters Lyda and Harriet, who are 12 and 9. We like to travel, and had the chance to live part of last year in Chile and Mexico, and we all like to spend as much time as possible out in West Texas.
Q: Do your girls read/write poetry?
A: They do! I’ve tried to be low key about it, no pressure, but I think they’ve been around poetry so much that it’s not a big deal to them. Of course they write poems! Doesn’t everyone write poems? Both are really big readers, and that helps, and they also go to a school where they memorize lots of poems. I’m thrilled that they have this regular chance to get the music of language in their system. That book on neuroscience really convinced me that memorizing things is good for us, that we build new connections. I’ve been so inspired that I’ve been making my college students do it. They think I’m very old fashioned.
Q: Who was your favorite poet when you were a child? How about now?
A: Funny that one of the first poets I remember loving was Emily Dickinson, particularly the poem that begins, “I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too? Then there’s a pair of us don’t tell…” A good poem has always made me feel a little less alone with my questions and hopes and fears. Dickinson remains one of my very favorite poets to this day.
Q: What’s your advice on how to get kids to read and enjoy poetry?
A: Before going back to graduate school, and beginning to teach on the university level, I worked as a poet in the schools all over the state of Texas, and I found that kids of all ages really loved poetry, especially when they were allowed to make it for themselves. Poetry is short for starters. And it sounds good. And you can lie, kind of. I mean saying “my heart is a volcano” is technically a lie, but it’s also a metaphor that might feel more true than the truth. That’s what poetry gives us, a truer truth. Kids get that. I think that grown-ups need to get over their fear of not “getting” poetry and just spend time getting a little lost in it, fooling around, finding new ways to say something. On that note, a few of my favorite kid poem books are “Honey I Love,” by Eloise Greenfield, “Joyful Noise,” a fantastic book of bug poems in multiple voices, and also “This Tree Is Older Than You Are,” a book of poems from Mexico edited by Naomi Shihab Nye. Check them out!
Our local libraries are a great resource for books of poetry as well as events. Check them out at: http://www.mysapl.org/
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