Poetry rarely makes headlines, but lately there's been some intriguing poetry news in Phoenix.
Poet Truth B. Told garnered the spotlight by buying up a big block of tickets to a Phoenix Mercury game. And Natalia Diaz, a MacArthur genius grant winner and chair of modern and contemporary poetry at ASU, used social media to announce she was withdrawing from a Museum of Modern Art project in New York, citing concerns about institutional ties to mass incarceration.
So, it's a good time to explore the bigger picture here, in terms of the local poetry scene.
Start by getting to know these poets, who represent just a sampling of the literary creatives doing meaningful work in our communities every day. If you see a poetry reading happening around town, check it out. It's a great way to dip your toe in the poetry water, and learn more about the people using poetry to take a deep dive into Phoenix's cultural, social, and political landscape.
Sean Avery explores how black masculinity gets projected onto the body, by combining poetry with theater and rap music. Their work includes skinnyblk, a multimedia performance that celebrates being black and gender nonbinary, while calling out racism and toxic masculinity. Avery hopes their work will prompt others to explore their own identity.
Raquel Denis is a poet and musician who also works to help youth find their own poetic voice. She is a press manager with Cardboard House Press, which creates bilingual publications exploring writing, art, and contemporary thought in Latin America and Spain.
Rosemarie Dombrowski was named the inaugural Poet Laureate for the city of Phoenix in 2016. She’s the co-founder and faculty editor for the Write On, Downtown student and community journal based at ASU’s downtown Phoenix campus. She's also the founder for a micro-zine press called Rinky Dink Press. Dombrowski also organizes community poetry readings, including a First Friday series in the Roosevelt Row arts district.
Natalie Diaz is Mojave, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Diaz is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and associate professor of English at ASU. She received a MacArthur genius grant in 2018. Her second poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, will be published in 2020.
Jack Evans has been writing for more than four decades, and has performed at more than 200 metro Phoenix venues. Evans is also a musician, and has written several works paying homage to musical legends. Many of his poems touch on dark themes, conveyed with sophisticated yet playful humor.
Alberto Rios was named Arizona’s first Poet Laureate in 2013. Rios is a Regents’ Professor at ASU, where he has taught since 1982, and holds the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English. His poem The Border: A Double Sonnet was featured during U2’s 2017 Joshua Tree Tour. Rios serves as director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU.
Tomás J. Stanton
Tomás J. Stanton co-founded Phonetic Spit, which promotes youth development and civil engagement through spoken word and hip-hop. Stanton also creates poetry experiences for youth and other community members through the Project Lit program at Mesa Arts Center.
Laura Tohe is Tsénahabilnii, born for Tódich’inii. Her literary works include an oral history of Navajo Code Talkers, a book on boarding schools, a chapbook titled Making Friends With Water, and more. Tohe wrote the libretto for Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio, performed by the Phoenix Symphony in 2008. And she was named Poet Laureate for the Navajo Nation for 2015 to 2019.
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Rashaad Thomas is a U.S. Air Force veteran who combines writing with scholarship and community activism. Thomas received the 2016 City of Phoenix Mayor’s Arts Award in Literary Arts. His work, which Thomas shares frequently in community settings beyond traditional arts venues, explores the politics of identity and systemic oppression.
Joy Young is a spoken-word artist who focuses on personal narratives exploring identity, social justice, and transgressing borders. She is co-founder and editor for Prickly Pear Printing, which specializes in work that celebrates bodies and narratives that are often marginalized or silenced.