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College of Engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Poetry in Motion

Poetry in Motion

Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio's first poet laureate

In April 2012, The University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) own Carmen Tafolla was selected by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to serve as the inaugural poet laureate for San Antonio. Tafolla, senior lecturer and writer in residence in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies in the College of Education and Human Development, is enjoying all the aspects of the job that accompany the title, and says the position is more than she could have ever imagined.

“There are things I never expected [being poet laureate] that are exciting in a way a new artistic roll should be for a community.”

Carmen Tafolla

“There are things I never expected [being poet laureate] that are exciting in a way a new artistic roll should be for a community,” she said.

For example, the San Antonio Composers Association asked Tafolla if she had some poetry she felt should go to music. She did, and musicians are composing pieces inspired by her poetry.

'How much classical music has been created based on a very low income, San Antonian, Mexican-American experience?" Tafolla asked. "Really, how much classical music has been based on that? It is exciting!"

Members of the community will have the chance to hear the music based on Tafolla’s poetry during a February 2013 concert. Children from local elementary schools will have the opportunity to be involved too, reciting choral readings to the music.

According to Tafolla, the people of San Antonio have really claimed the new poet laureate position.

“There has been an endorsement of the community, a claiming, which I also encourage, I think that is great,” she said. “People walk up to me and say, ‘Are you OUR poet laureate?’”

Before receiving her new title, Tafolla was active in the community. She would attend a variety of events, but now when she attends public readings, the reaction is a little different.

“Before I would show up at a poetry reading, and they would be like, ‘Great, we have Carmen Tafolla here!’ And now I show up at an event, and they say, ‘The city’s poet laureate is here!’ It boosts everybody, it picks everbody up. And that is really a rewarding thing to do, to be able to encourage others by taking part in things."

Another one of Tafolla’s city endorsed projects is starting a website to help connect local poets and writers with schools, libraries and other community organizations. She says she wants the community members to realize that there is a multitude of fantastic writers locally they can invite to work with their students.

“We encourage involvement with the existing poets of the community, which helps boost the poets’ role,” she said. “The site will allow libraries and schools an easy access point to who is available."

A declamations contest is another project of Tafolla’s that encourages community involvement and will be taking place in April 2013.

“It is aimed at all age groups, not just children,” she said. “We have an over-70 age group. Participants can use English or Spanish or any mixture of those. People can use their own works, or it can be declamations of other peoples’ works. We are leaving it wide open so that young people see older people involved and the older people can see young kids…everyone gets on the stage in their own categories.”

In addition to the city endorsed projects, speaking engagements, and finding time to actually write the poetry and books for which she is known, Tafolla has been named Queen Huevo by The San Anto Cultural Arts, an organization that sponsors free classes for young people. The Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Gala, of which Tafolla is Queen, is the organization’s main fundraiser of the year.

“The role of Queen Huevo is to bring attention to the arts,” Tafolla says. “It’s a big, fun event and is very causal.” Dr. Belinda Bustos Flores, Bicultural- Bilingual Studies chair and professor, is happy to work with Tafolla at UTSA.

"In this department, we are truly fortunate to work with a national treasure, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio's first poet laureate, whose literary work promotes cultural insight and pride for readers and listeners of all ages as it captures our imagination, warms our hearts, and brings forth rich memories," she said.

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