Phoenix Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski and Shawnte Orion will be performing along with the new Clark County Poet Laureate Vogue Robinson this Friday at Nevada Humanities for the final Pop-Up Poetry Feature Series of the season. The annual feature series from The Las Vegas Poets Organization highlights poets during the First Friday festivities and broadcasts the performance on Facebook Live. Along with the poetry Nevada Humanities will be debuting a new art exhibit, "Viewpoints from Duckwater: A Collection of Contemporary Art by Native American Artist Jack Malotte."
VIM: I know Shawnte has been to Las Vegas. But what were both of your impressions of Las Vegas before arriving here?
Rosemarie: I’ve heard that Vegas is like Phoenix 8-10 years ago, that its art scene is really thriving, just beginning to reinvent itself. I love the kind of energy that only a “new city” or new-ish scene has. I’m guessing that everyone there is hungry for it (art, poetry, culture)…and, like Phoenix, eager to shed the stereotype of being a cultureless wasteland!
Shawnte: I always felt that Phoenix and Las Vegas were like siblings. Similar desert cities heavily oriented toward tourists and snowbirds. I know the people who actually reside in these places and work to create artistic scenes and communities are often overlooked and I was excited to meet them.
VIM : How is the poetry and literary scene in Phoenix and what do you think are its strengths and weaknesses?
Rosemarie: Well, we’ve been rebirthing ourselves for over a decade now, and despite some snags, we’ve done a pretty good job of building something that’s intersectional and multi-faceted. We have storytelling (on and off the page), slam and spoken word, less conventional page readings as well as academic readings. We’re intergenerational and multi-cultural, though there’s still room for improvement. We have to keep extending ourselves across the imaginary aisle, cross-pollinating, supporting other hosts and venues as often as possible.
Shawnte: It's vibrant and filled with a lot of impressive writers across a variety of genres and that constantly pushes you to work harder. But it's always difficult to extend relevance beyond the boundaries of the scene.
VIM: What were your first poetry experiences that inspired you to become a poet?
Rosemarie: I was a dancer for almost 20 years, and by high school, my passion for poetry was really developing alongside my passion for dance. By college, I was studying both dance and poetry and attempting to incorporate them into my scholarship, especially with regards to indigenous West African dance. I was fascinated by it, how it was a language both off and on the page, both historically and contemporarily.
By grad school, I was regularly writing poetry. Eventually, it was my battle with my son’s autism that became the foundation for my first collection. Poetry was simply a necessity at that point.
Shawnte: My high school French class worked with Jaques Prévert poems. Our teacher had us translate and discuss his work and I was captivated by how efficiently these small poems could convey big ideas. When I got out of high school, someone I knew for years suddenly had a couple of chapbooks published. I was surprised to learn that there were all these small presses out there publishing contemporary poets in today's world and the direction of my life shifted.
VIM: What are your current projects, plans?
Rosemarie: I’m currently finishing an “appendix” to my first collection, The Book of Emergencies (2014), which I refer to as a lyrical ethnography of autism culture. The appendix is called 17 Letters: An Appendix to Emergencies, and it’s a series of 17 epistolary poems written to my now 17-year-old son, who’s both non-verbal and intellectually disabled. The new edition of The Book of Emergencies, which will include the appendix, will be out later this summer.
I’m also hoping to find a publisher for my collection of flash fiction (written last summer when I was on hiatus form poetry). I’m not holding my breath, but a lot of the pieces have been picked up by journals, so you never know.
I’m also thinking about starting a new journal called Redaction.
I’m also hoping to put out a nationwide call for an anthology of street art poetics (in conjunction with other city laureates).
Shawnte: I've been working on a strange collaboration that I accidentally stumbled into with poet/photographer Jia Oak Baker. It involves poems and photographs and some artwork by JJ Horner that I found at a yard sale. It's bizarre and exciting and much easier to show than tell.
VIM: What can we expect from your features on June 2nd?
Rosemarie: Some autism, some dead birds and diseases, some politics/polemics, some poetry written in response to Tinder conversations. The usual fare. 😉
Shawnte: Probably some drive-through psychology, elegies for obscure Phoenix musicians, micro explorations of the Insta-phenomenon of clowns. I try to take high-brow concepts and graft them onto low-brow realities. Maybe I'm at the forefront of uni-brow poetics.