LAS CRUCES – New Mexico has named a new poet laureate. And she hopes to hit the ground running.
Lauren Camp assumed the role as the state’s poet laureate on Sept. 1, becoming the second laureate in state history. She replaces the state’s inaugural poet laureate, Levi Romero, who served since January 2019. The poet laureate program is coordinated through New Mexico Arts and the New Mexico State Library, divisions of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
“I am humbled and grateful to serve as New Mexico’s second Poet Laureate,” Camp said. “I fell in love with New Mexico 28 years ago when I first entered the state, and I put down roots immediately. Thanks to New Mexico I have blossomed into my creative expression — first in visual art and then in poetry. But here I have also learned that my creative abilities grow best when I work to supply others with enthusiasm and tools to amplify theirs.”
In 2014, companion memorials in the New Mexico House and Senate requested that the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs develop a “New Mexico Poet Laureate position and program to foster a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry and to highlight the importance of poetry in the life of ordinary and extraordinary people to the creation of the New Mexico Poet everyday Laureate position.”
Lack of funding, however, prevented the recommendation from being implemented. Ultimately, SB 536 of the 2019 New Mexico legislative session — signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on April 5, 2019 — allocated $107,000 to the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs for the creation of a state poet laureate program.
This made New Mexico the 46th state to offer an official state poet or state writer position.
“I feel very strongly that poetry can be for anybody,” Camp told the Sun-News, “whether that means they can write it or they can find themselves in a poem — either one of those or maybe both. But I feel like poetry as form and a genre and a community has welcomed me so fully.”
When asked by the Sun-News what advice Romero would offer Camp, he said he hopes she’ll be able to take advantage of loosened COVID-19 restrictions and be able to hold more events around the state — something he wasn’t able to do as much as he would’ve liked.
“During my tenure, we had to rely on gatherings on Zoom,” he said. “She’s got this wonderful space over at the State Library — the Poet’s Room — and I think that I would really like to see how that space can be utilized for workshops and gatherings of poets and poetry, and really just to celebrate what it is a poet laureate, in terms of being able to connect with community in person and traveling across the state. And engaging with other poets … which I was not able to do.”
read more: A Poetry of Remembrance: Read New Mexico’s inaugural Poet Laureate Levi Romero’s poem
Romero was on the four-person committee that selected Camp as his successor.
Camp said she hopes to bring poetry, as an art form, to a broader audience during her three-year term.
“My vision for this three-year term is to help people in every county — all ages, perspectives, and skill levels — to see the shared human experience in poetry,” Camp said. “I also want to encourage the poetic voice of New Mexico residents, especially those who don’t know that a poem can reflect their own story. I welcome collaboration ideas from organizations that want to connect poetry with science, community projects, the environment, the arts, and other directions.”
Camp also said that there is a freedom that exists in poetry that isn’t as prevalent in other forms of writing or other art forms.
“Poetry is a gift, and I think poetry is also a freedom,” Camp told the Sun-News. “There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write a poem. I came to poetry … through visual art, but before that, I came through a career in writing — as a magazine writer and editor — and there was a ‘right’ way to do those things. With poetry, it’s your way. It’s each person’s way. It’s a gift to get to write it that way, whatever way is unique and individual to you, but it’s also a gift to give it to somebody.”
Camp has published five poetry collections — Took House, her most recent, received the American Fiction Award in Poetry and was named a Distinguished Favorite for the Independent Press Award. One Hundred Hungers won the Dorset Prize and was also a finalist for the Arab American Book Award, the Housatonic Book Award, and the Sheil Margaret Motton Prize. Turquoise Door: Finding Mabel Dodge Luhan in New Mexico was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. She has also enjoyed a career as a visual artist, which saw her portrait series The Fabric of Jazz travel to museums in ten cities.
Camp said the challenge of poetry is connecting with audiences in unexpected ways.
“I think the poet’s challenge is to describe any thirst, curiosity, grief, or wonder that matters to them so it delivers a new understanding,” she told the Sun-News. “This requires a willingness to write from outside the familiar. I find this both an awkward and a wonderful place. Rather than settling to the tried and true, poetry gets to revel in the sideways perspective, the surprising language and syntax — and in doing so, share something very human.”
Camp lives in a rural community in northern New Mexico, outside Española, and has taught through the state’s Poetry Out Loud program and her own community workshops. She also teaches for Hugo House and Hudson Valley Writers Center.
“I’m going to be looking for — and open to and welcoming — bringing poetry to the unlikely spaces,” Camp said.
Camp and Romero are this week’s guests on The Reporter’s Notebook Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and many of the places you find your favorite podcasts. It also airs in Las Cruces on KTAL-LP Community Radio at 9 am Tuesdays and at 5 pm Thursdays. You can listen any time at www.lcsun-news.com.
Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, [email protected] or @DamienWillis on Twitter.
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