[Local poetry]

Bringing back poetry

Local poets have launched a campaign to restore the art to its former glory

Jorge Lara Santiago, Las Vegas Poets Organization executive director, at Rejavanate, where they hold weekly poetry readings.
Photo: Iris Dumuk

When poet Rosa Mendoza took the mic, the place went wild. It was time to build bridges, connect the community, express feelings. The kind of thing Vegas has needed forever, the story goes.

Only, she wasn’t preparing to read one of her poems. She was introducing Barack Obama at Cashman Field earlier this month. Because while she’s a teacher and a poet, she’s also a Democratic activist.

Maybe politics isn’t so different from poetry: It’s all about connecting, expressing, building bridges (Vegas’ visual tribute to poetry is in fact cleverly in the form of the Poets Bridge Downtown, from which the bronze plaque was stolen this summer, presumably for its worth as scrap metal).

And marketing.

What poetry in Las Vegas needs is a good slogan, something like Obama’s “Hope. Action. Change.” So Mendoza and fellow poet Jorge Lara Santiago, who is the executive director of the Las Vegas Poets Organization, are launching a campaign for 2009 called “Discover Vegas Poetry.”

Santiago, who also works at Wal-Mart, says, “Poetry doesn’t get the showcase it deserves,” and in an effort to give it that showcase, he has edited the forthcoming VIM literary journal, which will be available this month on a print-to-order basis and features nearly a dozen local poets.

There was a time, Santiago says, when locals could frequent the now-dead Enigma or Roma cafes and share in poetry every day. Today, he says, there are slams and readings at Rejavanate Cafe (come out on Tuesday nights, grab a seat on the pleather sofa!), but the whole enterprise—thinking, feeling, writing, reading, listening—could use a boost. “Poetry used to be more a part of everyday life. The Poet Laureate would be at the [presidential] inauguration. I wish it would return to its old glory.”

So he’s working on securing a grant for a poetry club, and Mendoza’s busy fielding phone calls asking her to explain why poetry is so important to Vegas, the answers to which sound vaguely like a political ad: Poetry can be the foundation for a community. Poetry can solve problems. Poetry can improve our lives.

“It can benefit people. It can teach us the language but also deal with our emotions,” says Mendoza, who teaches seventh and eighth grades at a charter school. “For example, last year there were two cliques in the eighth grade, and they were clashing and hurting one another emotionally. So I noticed the tensions, and I said, ‘We’ll use poetry to let out the emotions.’ They read their poems and let out a lot. Kids were crying. Even some of the boys, they had a lot of deep issues to get out.”

So after November ’08, prepare yourselves to Discover Las Vegas Poetry ’09. Hope, action, change!

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