Ashley Vargas’ journals began to take poetic form before she’d even turned 10, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Also known as Ms. AyeVee, she has been published in the Red Rock Review literary journal, the Clark: Poetry From Clark County, Nevada anthology and beyond. She’s also a spoken-word performer who has been representing Las Vegas in the prestigious International World Poetry Slam.
Vargas’ honesty and imagery come through in her words, both on the page and from the stage. A mother and business owner—of Realistic Wellness, a message therapy service—she also works to advance the literary cause in the Las Vegas Valley. She recently hosted after-school poetry workshops at Whitney Ranch Recreational Center, and is the creator of Beyond the Neon, a poetry slam that encourages people to share their work.
That competition was set to premier Downtown in March 2020, but the pandemic shutdown scuttled that. Instead, Vargas took Beyond the Neon to Instagram, and later collected the results in a Beyond the Neon Anthology, available from Zeitgeist Press (zeitgeist-press.com). This past August, the Las Vegas native coordinated a one-day poetry slam and festival at Fergusons Downtown, and the brand continues to grow.
How did you get started writing poetry?I was about 8 years old when I had my first poetry lesson in school, where they teach you the different rhyming formats … and something really clicked for me. But professionally, in terms of being published and doing spoken word competitions, I’ve been writing poetry for almost six years.
Why did you decide to begin performing your poetry? I was in a really weird place in my life, going through a lot of transitions. … I was just trying to figure things out, and I started finding these old journals, diaries and folders of old poems. At the time, I was seeing a wonderful counselor, and she really encouraged me to go to an open mic and say the things that were weighing me down. I went to a wonderful open mic called Human Experience.
What was that experience like?The level of support and welcome and warmth from the Las Vegas artist community is unparalleled. It just felt so good, especially at that time in my life, so I just kept coming back. I kept going to open mics and through that unlocked this realization that, whoa, I really am I poet.
Describe the recent Beyond the Neon event at Ferguson Downtown. It had three components: a book fair, which had different vendors; a reading that was hosted by Tolsun Books, [with] non-performance artists who have new books of poetry and went up and read; and then we shifted into the poetry slam. For that, we did three rounds.
What’s next for Beyond the Neon? From the success of the one-day festival, we were able to get funding from the Nevada Arts Council to do a three-day festival [in April 2022]. We’re going to continue those same three components, but we’re going to expand them. Instead of it being a four-hour festival, we’re going to do eight hours each day. We’re also going to expand on the workshop component, [to] three to four workshops per day. In August, we only had one workshop that I facilitated—basically professional poetry 101, teaching everything I could about being a professional like résumés, performance technique and contract negation. I also want to incorporate open mics, where people can just come in and read.
Will there continue to be an Instagram poetry competition, too?I’m ready to just do the [in-person] festivals, but [the Instagram version] is too successful. There has been a strong desire for us to maintain our digital content and our digital connections to people around the world. It’s bigger than Las Vegas. So, we are going to have three digital poetry slams—IG exclusive—in 2022 leading up to our three day in-person festival.
Do you feel like the community as a whole is aware of the growing poetry scene in the Valley?I’m going to have to give that a hard no. When you think of Las Vegas, you think Entertainment Capital of the World. We have all these shows, so of course you’re thinking musicians, dancers, singers, even rappers … but many people that come to my events are absolutely shocked that we have poetry this way. A lot of the work that I have done with [Beyond the Neon] is to bring that awareness.
What do you still hope to achieve? The five-year goal [would be] bringing national and international recognition to Las Vegas. I really want people to be like, “Oh, we’re going to Las Vegas, we have to make sure we check out a poetry show.” I want that to be part of the thought process. I would love—if we’re talking about personal goals—to have a residency at a casino doing poetry. [I want] to show that it’s a viable source of entertainment that deserves investment and love.
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