A chat with Rebecca Seiferle, the new Tucson poet laureate

The Appointed One 

A chat with Rebecca Seiferle, the new Tucson poet laureate

It's been years since Tucson had a poet laureate to call our own. Now we have one again, thanks to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who, with the help of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, just appointed Rebecca Seiferle to serve as our city's emissary for literacy.

Actually, Seiferle's résumé almost merits a U.S. poet laureate post. She's a noted translator of Spanish poetry, and she wins prestigious awards like the Lannan Foundation Poetry Fellowship. More importantly, Seiferle is deeply involved in Tucson's literary community, teaching writing workshops to middle school and high school students.

In her (unpaid) position, the poet laureate will visit K-12 classrooms and encourage kids to recognize the value of literary culture—and to write some poems themselves. Schools can book Seiferle by calling TPAC at 624-0595, or find more information at www.tucsonpimaartscouncil.org.

The Tucson Weekly had a chance to talk with Seiferle following her appointment.

What were your thoughts on Tucson's literary community when you moved here six years ago? Has your opinion changed?

One of the reasons I moved to Tucson was my awareness of the rich and diverse literary and artistic community. A few years before, I'd been a visiting writer for the reading series at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and was aware of the vital role the center plays on the local and national level. The literary community here seemed very open and welcoming to possibilities. My sense of that richness, diversity and openness hasn't changed. I've become aware of even more artistic venues in Tucson—dance, collaborative text and performance, spoken word and educational outreach. I have also become aware that at times, the Tucson community resembles a collection of smaller communities. There's a challenge to bridge some of the gaps.

Can an event like the Tucson Festival of Books help poetry thrive as bookstores close nationwide?

I think festivals like the Tucson Festival of Books create an occasion where the word can flourish. Poetry has the capacity to create a different kind of public space that is seldom created in our culture. Within that space, (there is) play and delight in words, imaginative expression and a sense of community. ... I think the festival brings us back to the original power of the word. Also, more practically, readers like to see and hear writers. It's an interesting fact that poets often derive a better income from readings than from book sales. The writer's voice, living and audible, is often a way into the book. People are drawn to that human connection.

You edit a literary webzine, The Drunken Boat (thedrunkenboat.com). Do you value online publishing and the printed word equally?

I published the first issue of The Drunken Boat online in April 2000 and was drawn to Internet publication for a number of reasons. The work is accessible globally. Publication doesn't require great economic resources. And given the limitless nature of a webpage, there are no longer any constraints upon page length or format. The title is taken from French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud's great poem. But I also envisioned it implying a publication open to poetic enthusiasms, open to work that might elude publication in more-conventional print formats, where page length and line length become prohibitive. I do love the printed page, the printed word and the feel of a book in my hands. For me, both modes of publication are equally valid.

Should poetry uplift us or illuminate hard truths?

Poetry is an illumination of truth. Some truths are hard; others are uplifting. I also feel that illumination of a truth, even a difficult one, brings increased awareness. The scales fall from our eyes, and we simply see. That's uplifting.

Do you know when you've written a great poem?

The perception of a great poem is one given by each reader. Sometimes, luckily, that perception comes back to the writer. In the process of writing, I feel the energy of the poem, the great sweep of it through the room and through me, sometimes like the blow of an angel's wing. So there's a sense of having been visited by something within, and also beyond, me.

Is the poet's role to be an emissary of literacy? What would Ezra Pound think?

Well, one of Pound's most-influential books is his early ABC of Reading, in which he plays the emissary of literacy to fellow poets, trying to inform poetic practice, to educate the modern era. Like it or not, the poet is a messenger of the word and the word's power to communicate, for self-expression, to heal or harm. And literacy is the ground we all walk on.

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