The Colorado Poet, #25, Winter 2013-2014
Inside this Issue:
David Mason as Laureate
A Interview with Bob King
Bob King: You traveled a lot and to a lot of different kinds of readings during your tenure. What were some examples?
David Mason: I've travelled through some 60 of the 64 counties in the state, though I have not had official "duties" in all of them. It has been a privilege to see so much of the country. Right now I am writing in a campsite in Tasmania, my wife's birthplace, and this affords me some real perspective on Colorado and what I've been doing for the last 3 1/2 years.
In the town of Lamar, not far from the Kansas border, I spoke to a small high school class. The school's sports team is called The Savages, though they are only about half an hour from the Sand Creek Massacre site. That site, by the way, is intensely moving. They now have a sign up reproducing the letter of Silas Soule, who witnessed the massacre and was later assassinated for his testimony about it. (Joe Hutchison has a superb new book about this.) Sand Creek is one of the places I would advise all Coloradans to see.
Sand Creek is one of the places I would advise all Coloradans to see.
Anyway, after a Mexican lunch with my wonderful librarian hostess I drove to Granada, a school even further east, where the combined student body (junior high and high school) was about a hundred. They filled half the school auditorium and were rapt, seriously, listening to poetry recitation and talk for an hour. One little boy with a briefcase (imagine how he was teased) came and sat right down front, right at my knee, and at the end asked one of the most intelligent questions. I loved that kid. Next day I gave a workshop to seven people and read to a few more than that in the Lamar library, but the people were just as engaged.
That seems to me typical of some of the small town visits I've had. I have relished them, and have learned a lot on my drives. Leaving Lamar, I headed south to the Comanche Grasslands, then west toward Trinidad, passing the Mesa de Maya country I knew in my childhood. It was a gorgeous fall day, intense gold in the grass and blue of the mesas, with the Sangres snowy to the west. Colorado might have more conventionally sublime landscapes, but none more beautiful to my mind.
In Fort Morgan I've done two talks and have been charmed by kids as well as adults. And I remember reading Dr. Seuss to tiny schoolchildren at a low-income school in Colorado Springs—they were riotously funny kids with exhausted teachers who marched them around like prisoners.
And of course I remember reading in the correctional facility with you, Bob, and you reciting "Jeremiah was a bullfrog" as an example of deathless verse.
And all this is just in the eastern part of the state. I've read with other poets all over the place, to crowds large and miniscule. Much more to say, but I'd better turn to your other questions.
BK: What did you see as the purpose of the state laureateship and how did you work to fulfill that?
DM: I'm not good at dreaming up programs. I just wanted to get poetry to the people as best I could and help libraries and schools get poetry to the people. I had other things in mind—that idea we talked about, trying to publish a Latino/Latina anthology of poetry, was one. The Poetry Foundation has helped with its website of Latino/Latina poets. I've tried to use my blog to make such stuff available to people, but I think the blog has had about three readers—and admittedly I have not promoted it well.
I’m not good at dreaming up programs. I just wanted to get poetry to the people and help libraries and schools get poetry to the people.
One problem is that I've got a teaching job with its own obligations—though my colleagues at Colorado College might be excused for wondering where the hell I've been for the last few years. They drop hints every now and then and remind me I haven't been reading the memos. My students don't seem to mind.
But juggling all this—the invitations to speak or read or teach a class hither and yon, the collaborations with other poets, the regular job and the usually intense writing (reviewing books to make money, etc) has at times made me feel a bit blurred at the edges, not to say burned at the core. It just I felt like I had to seize the day and do it, and that meant one helluva lot of driving. My Subaru whines more than it used to.
Filling my calendar, trying not to forget promises (and believe me, I have forgotten a few) and driving more than ever before in my life—that's the work I've done. The rest has been joyful noise.
BK: Did your views, whatever they were, on the "state-of-poetry-in-Colorado" change as a result or get affirmed or what?
I suppose I thought there was mass indifference to poetry in Colorado, but in every kind of circumstance…I have found not only receptiveness but hunger for what poetry offers.
DM: The short answer is yes, they changed. I suppose I thought there was mass indifference to poetry in Colorado, but in every kind of circumstance—from ski towns to jails to schools, libraries, the Senate, community centers, political meetings, churches and book groups, I have found not only receptiveness but hunger for what poetry offers. Some people still tell me they were afraid of poetry or came to it grudgingly, but they came. I've also come to know a lot of other Colorado poets in all corners of the state—dozens of them—and organizations like your website and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop that do such fine work spreading the word. The state is alive, and whoever takes the bays off my wrinkled brow will find a lot of opportunity out there.
I've developed two talks that could turn into essays: one called "Poetry and the Public" and another dealing with Ludlow, poetry and history, and have had the opportunity to refine those talks before multiple audiences containing a real variety of people. I've learned about teaching children and senior citizens, people who want poetry for its therapeutic value and those who love literature and still others who just want to try something new. I've dealt with open audiences and frozen audiences where I might have wondered if I had stumbled into the wrong room, like a giddy drunk at a temperance meeting. All of that is good experience. It keeps you on your toes, helps you understand how little you can assume about the world.