[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Bill Root hails from New York City, where still commutes to teach creative writing, poetry and translation at Hunter College. He was named Tucson's first Poet Laureate in July 1997, an unpaid position from which he has energetically pushed poetry into the rivulets of the mainstream to great, and sometimes even stunning, effect. He has one year remaining in this inaugural term.
TW: WHAT HAS YOUR FIRST YEAR AS POET LAUREATE ENTAILED?
I've given all together too many interviews; kicked off both Poetry Crawls; offered writing workshops through the UA Extended University; and emceed the ArtsReach young people's reading at the Tucson Poetry Festival last spring. I worked with Ann Dernier (of the Tucson Writers Project) to set up a reading at the Main Library downtown (which featured six distinguished adult readers interspersed with student readers).
I'm proud that in selecting some of the best readers around, populations we succeeded in representing include both Mexican and Latin Americans; members of the Tohono O'odham, Yaqui and Laguna nations; African Americans; WASPs, Catholics, Jews; men and women; straights and gays; athletes and the physically challenged; newcomers and natives; small children and elders; longhairs and buzz-cuts. Not a "bean" (as in bean-counting) among them, and all of them good poets.
I've taken the semester off (from Hunter) to offer a workshop in poetry writing through Extended University this fall. And with Susan Dick, I've put together a three-day series in November, with readings by Joy Harjo, Alberto Rios and Luis Urrea. This will be a first for Tucson--and probably the nation--in that it's quadralingual: Most write in English, but we're going to have their work translated--either their own translations or an arranged translation into Spanish; and also some of it will be translated into Yoeme and O'odham.
KXCI has been very cooperative, via the Wordscapes and Desert Salon programs, airing not only work of my own, but also that of excellent poets representing Southeast Asian, Greek and Serbian writers.
Come spring, I'll host a "State of the City" reading, heavily weighted with political and social issues, which will be open to all poets.
Lastly, I plan to be an active gadfly and writer of letters the editor, trying among other things to get poetry reinstated in the public school curriculum of Arizona.
In all this, I'd like to mention my wife (and fellow poet) Pamela Uschuk. She's been very helpful in selecting projects and poets.
TW: HAVE THERE BEEN ANY AMAZING POETRY SUCCESSES THIS YEAR?
The Smithsonian Institute is putting together an anthology of contemporary American-Indian poetry, and wanted all ages and so on. They chose ArtsReach (which released the student collection Dancing With Wind last spring) to submit poems for the Smithsonian Anthology of Contemporary American-Indian Poetry, which is quite an honor.
And that particular segment of the Tucson Poetry Festival, the ArtsReach reading, was featured in Native America magazine.
ArtsReach, by the way, works primarily with schools that have large or predominant Native-American student populations. They've been around for 10 years or so. Kit McElroy, I believe, is still the head of that--he initiated it. He's a marvelous short-story writer and person...a good teacher.
TW: WHERE'S THE BEST PLACE TO FIND POETRY UNDER ONE ROOF?
There's nothing even to compare with the Poetry Center (1216 N. Cherry Ave.). They try to get almost everything of any account from large and small presses alike. It's top of the line, and it's a comfortable place to read. I wish they had a photocopy machine there. That would be a great thing to have, since you can't check the books out.
TW: WHERE CAN YOU FIND THE GOOD POETRY ON THE STREET?
The Tucson Poet (edited by Scott Stanley): That's the mongrel of poetry, in a good sense. It's variously the junkyard dog, and the greyhound that's retired from the track--all kinds of stuff. It's everything but pedigreed, which is probably the way it ought to be.
TW: WHERE'S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO EXPERIENCE THE GREAT OUTDOORS?
Seven Falls, at Sabino Canyon. The first time I went up there, I nearly drowned. I think it was the third falls, "the cauldron." Just as we hauled our sweating butts up over the last big rock, we saw somebody jump in there. But I didn't watch the guy get out. I figured since he did get out, I didn't see how there'd be any problem. I was still panting and heaving and red as a lobster. My friend went over to jump in there, and I decided to jump in first. Once I jumped in I realized getting out was a much trickier problem than I'd foreseen. Plus, it was so cold that I gasped, and sputtered a little water in me. This was spring and everything, but my chest was constricting. And I knew people drowned up there and stuff, and I was thinking, "My God, this is how it happens! For you too, you old dummy." It was steep and slick and there wasn't anybody around except my friend, who was laughing. He couldn't reach me to help, so I abandoned all dignity and leeched myself over that rock like a huge jellyfish, and dragged myself out by the fingernails. It's that University of Hard Knocks, the one I'm afraid I've got all my degrees from. But my goodness, it was just marvelous, that whole area.
...The fourth pool is more sedate, easy to get out of. Hutch's Pond is also in Sabino, and it's much safer. It has its own trail.
TW: ANY TRANSCENDENTAL EATING ESTABLISHMENTS YOU CAN NAME?
Tania's (614 N. Grande Ave.) has about seven kinds of soup, each one better than the one before. You can buy it frozen and take it home, or eat it there in Styrofoam bowl-type things...which are just God-awful; I can't tell you how much I hate plastic eating utensils and Styrofoam. But somehow they're more bearable at Tania's than they are anywhere else. There's something curiously down-home about that place. If I'm feeling like ignoring my cholesterol, I'll have the Colorado soup, which is basically beef and beef juice and beef fat and beef this and beef that. But usually I'll go for one of the ones that's got a few more vegetables.
TW: WHO'S THE BEST ROLE MODEL FOR A POET LAUREATE?
Walt Whitman--he was an astonishing person. Very big, wide spirit and heart. He still represents more than any American poet has since, the varieties and nuances of human spirit. Incredible, incredibly guy.
I came across this quote, which you might like to hear:
...This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men--go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families--re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh will be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.