Though she’s only called Santa Fe home for three years, poet and former magazine publisher Janna Lopez has already claimed the city’s Poet Laureate Ambassador position—a sort of liminal appointing that’ll tackle some of the big job’s duties until a new one is named in January. Lopez has also hit the ground running with various writing workshops and the Postal Poetry project, whereby anyone might email her a theme on which she’ll base a poem and then send it to the recipient of their choice—for free. Lopez also begins a new series of weekly creative writing workshops this month (6 pm-8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 7. Free. Iconik Red, 1366 Cerrillos Road, (505) 428-0996), all in the name of making poetry more accessible and palatable. You can learn more at janna-lopez.com, or you can simply read these-here Qs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)
Before we go any further, what exactly is a poet laureate ambassador? What would you like to accomplish in the role?
I would like to meet people where they are and open up poetry as something that is surprisingly inspirational and exceptional and inclusive. I’m working in four areas: community outreach; educational outreach; tourism and hospitality outreach; and organizational outreach. I’m working on all four silos at all times. Today, I did a sixth grade workshop on poetry at Acequia Madre Elementary, and it was wonderful. Tomorrow I’m doing a training with [nonprofit] Gerard’s House for grieving children to help their staff with welcoming people through poetry and helping them engage with grief…in a meaningful way.
What can you tell us about your Postal Poetry project, and how do people get involved?
Since my whole thing is about meeting people where they are, and I feel like writing letters in general is a lost art form, I’m using an art form as a way to transfer connection, and that feels very powerful to me. I think about the people who are shut in, sick, in grief or alone, and for them to get a piece of mail that has been custom crafted—to make a true connection? Meeting them where they are feels so wonderful and potent.
All they have to do is email me their address, their name and a theme that they want [to firstname.lastname@example.org]. The first one I got, I was given ‘Vesuvius and Pompeii,’ for a theme, and I wrote this really cool poem. The themes have been interesting. The idea, too, is that I want to compile all the poems I create for everyone in the community and make it a free downloadable PDF. It’s all free—I’m just here to serve. I want people to be open to poetry, I don’t want them to think it’s all just old, dead white men.
Speaking of which, in our earliest correspondence, you said that ‘poetry has been on a pedestal too long.’ Can you expand on that thought?
I think the ways poetry has been historically taught have been a very institutionalized, educationally related endeavor, and people don’t see themselves in a lot of poetry that has typically been offered in a classroom setting. So they get turned off. And I’m the same way! I didn’t get into poetry until my 50s. But again, you meet people where they are and offer interesting poets, different poets, so they can see themselves a little bit and put their arms around it. You can fit your arms around it if you kick it off the pedestal. Poetry is hard enough, it’s diversionary enough, it’s separatist enough, elitist enough. But really that’s only, like, maybe 10% of the poetry that actually exists. When you read that one poem that says all the words to the feelings you can’t name, all of a sudden it feels so alive.
I think we want to express, we want to explore, we want to create, we want to be curious, and if we can get out of our own heads and judgements and creations about what it’s supposed to be, there’s a whole new realm. I worked with the kindergartners at Acequia Madre, and there was a kid in the class who said. ‘I’ve never been able to write well.’ That’s a seedling opportunity. She could probably carry that belief with her for the next 50 years, and trust me—I work with people like that all the time, with nightmares of red pens, teachers, opinions and people telling them how it’s supposed to be. When you poke your little tender head out of the sand, it doesn’t take but one footstep to shove you back for life. But I want to be elevating the nature of poetry as a cultural art form in Santa Fe. We’re known for visual art, contemporary art...my intention would be to raise and elevate the national recognition of Santa Fe’s capacity to inspire poetry. I want poetry in the conversation about art in Santa Fe straight up at the top.