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New Mexico poet laureate will use $50,000 award to help communities write poetry

Lauren Camp, New Mexico poet laureate 2022-2025
D. Camp
Lauren Camp, New Mexico poet laureate 2022-2025

Last week the Academy of American Poets announced it is awarding a $1 million to the 23 Poet Laureates around the country. Each poet will receive $50,000 to put towards programs in their community.

Lauren Camp has been New Mexico's poet laureate since 2022, but it took time for her to find her way to poetry. Now she wants to help others find that path as well. She spoke with KUNM about her plans.

LAUREN CAMP: I came to New Mexico, almost 30 years ago now, and at the time, I was leaving behind a career as a writer, but as a magazine writer and then when I came to New Mexico, I was a freelance writer. I was nowhere near poetry, I didn't really even know exactly what it was, to be honest. I knew what poetry was when I was a kid, but I didn't know what it could be like for an adult. And when I came to New Mexico, I began making visual art, my medium was fiber, and at the same time, I also got involved in radio. I trained at KUNM. Then I did for 15 years, I did a radio show for KSFR. And both the visual art and the work in sound and music and all of that, sort of built in a kind of under painting almost, for how I was going to approach poetry. They taught me how I wanted to write. I didn't even know I was writing poetry, but I was. I was writing things to companion my artwork, and people kept calling them poems. So I started learning what that meant.

KUNM: How exactly did you become the New Mexico Poet Laureate?

CAMP: I applied! That's basically the short answer, but it was a long involved process. I sent in an application, a project, letters of support, and writing samples. And then I was interviewed by a committee and selected, by some miracle.

KUNM: You’re going to be working with the New Mexico Center for the Book and New Mexico Arts, could you elaborate on your partnership with them?

CAMP: The New Mexico Poet Laureate position is under the auspices of New Mexico arts, and the New Mexico State Library, which houses the Center for the Book. And so it's a partnership with both of the organizers for my position. So it means that I have the opportunity through both avenues to reach out to the arts organizations around the state and the libraries, because both those organizations are under the Department of Cultural Affairs. I can tap into their resources to deal with the communities they serve through libraries or through arts organizations.

KUNM: What are you going to do with the $50,000 that was awarded to you?

CAMP: I have a big project that I'm going to do. My intention is to lead free workshops at schools and libraries in various parts of New Mexico, especially rural and underserved populations. So more off the central corridor of New Mexico and out to the edges. And those workshops are partly designed so that the communities themselves and the participants in these workshops can give responses that I can build into poems for each community. So instead of me going to Deming, and writing a poem about Deming, I want the people of Deming to write the poem about Deming. But it's incredibly difficult to go to communities, especially to people who don't know that they could write and help them write a little that collectively, it becomes a crowdsourced poem. So it's not my language, but it becomes their language, building their poem about their home. I intend to do that around the state, getting responses from community members, and then the Palace Press, from the [New Mexico] History Museum is going to take those poems and make them into broadsides, which are basically like gorgeous posters of poems done on their letterpress, which is an ancient letter, historic press. And those broadsides will be gifted back to the communities. So they will house their own poems.

KUNM: How do you want this program to benefit these communities?

CAMP: I want people to see that their voices matter, I want people to be able to express anything about their communities. Because what I have found is that every one of those communities is A) interesting and B) different. And those, that's what these poems are about. They're about showing what makes each community intriguing, special and the only way to do that is from the people who live there. So I'm hoping that it benefits them in terms of having their communities represented, having their voices represented, having a chance to be expressive, and feel safe about it, having a chance to take some ownership over what they've created, and to be proud of their communities.

Mia Casas is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Journalism and Theatre at the University of New Mexico. She comes to KUNM through an internship with the New Mexico Local News Fund and is staying on as a student reporter as of fall 2023.
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