Levi Romero, the inaugural New Mexico poet laureate, and the newly created New Mexico State Library Poetry Center are accepting submissions for a poetry anthology through July 1, 2021.
The long slog has included a lack of funding and the COVID-19 crisis, but the New Mexico Poet Laureate program and the New Mexico State Library Poetry Center are starting to flourish, with big plans forthcoming.
In 2014, New Mexico was one of four states in the country without an official state poet or state writer position. During that year’s state legislative session, two companion House and Senate memorials led to the creation of the New Mexico Poet Laureate position. But the program couldn’t get off the ground due to a lack of funding, according to Tim Donahue of The Poetry Center.
Five years later during the 2019 session, the poet laureate program received an allocation of $107,000, and soon named Levi Romero, who’s originally from the Embudo Valley of northern New Mexico, as its first poet laureate.
The bilingual poet (Spanish and English)—author of Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland, A Poetry of Remembrance, and In the Gathering of Silence—receives an annual stipend of $25,000, some paid expenses, and part-time staff support during a three-year term that began January 30, 2020. Romero, who is also an assistant professor in Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, was named New Mexico Centennial Poet in 2012.
The New Mexico Poet Laureate program is co-managed by the New Mexico State Library and New Mexico Arts, which are divisions of the Santa Fe-based New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
The additional funds from the 2019 appropriation led to the creation of The Poetry Center. Around the same time as Romero’s January 2020 appointment, Donahue started piecing together an actual center, which is a modest thirty by thirty-foot room inside of the State Library. But the pandemic put a halt to all of that. Donahue has teleworked ever since, and Romero’s elaborate travel plans to promote literacy throughout the state pivoted to virtual readings.
That didn’t stop Romero and Michelle Otero, a former City of Albuquerque poet laureate, from piecing together a poetry anthology. The two poets will co-edit New Mexico Poetry Anthology: Vol. 1, which will feature previously unpublished poems by scribes who have lived in the state for at least three consecutive years. The Museum of New Mexico Press is expected to publish the anthology, which is currently accepting submissions through July 1, 2021, in spring 2022.
Meanwhile, The Poetry Center is hoping to hold a grand opening sometime this fall. Due to space and funding constraints, Donahue said they won’t be able to build something as grandiose as The University of Arizona Poetry Center, which is housed inside of a 17,500-foot facility in Tucson. Instead, the New Mexico State Library Poetry Center will turn into more of a poetry-centric infoshop.
“We can’t build that kind of poetry center [like The University of Arizona Poetry Center]… so we’re going to be a poetry maker space,” says Donahue, who adds that the center will include printing equipment, audio recording stations, book-making materials, and typewriters. “People can come in and make poetry and walk out the door with poetry. We’d like a printing press, but we’re not there yet. Groups can come and use the space and we can have readings and workshops.”
Another goal of the New Mexico Poet Laureate program and The Poetry Center is serving the entire state. In a non-pandemic existence, Donahue says the poet laureate would have traveled to and held readings at many of the 125 statewide public libraries. In preparation for the state opening back up, Donahue says the center is working on sending kits to these libraries, where poets can make their own poetry books.
“It’s a unique state with a lot of different voices and a very unique oral tradition,” says Donahue.