Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #3

Anstett - The First Pike’s Peak Laureate

Aaron AnstettIn April of 2008, Aaron Anstett, who has lived and written in Colorado Springs for a decade, was chosen as the Pike’s Peak Laureate, the region’s first such distinction. The two-year term involves a stipend of $2,000 in exchange for making public appearances and pursuing a major poetry project in the community.

Part of the impetus for this position came from the appointment of Chris Ransick as the first living Denver laureate in 2006. A number of local organizations (Colorado College, UCCS, Poetry West, the Pikes Peak Library District, and CoPPER, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region) formed a committee to establish the project. Nominations and applications were solicited through the Pike’s Peak region with 15 nominees being evaluated by a selected committee.

Anstett received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and became the Halls Poetry Fellow at the UW-Madison Center for Creative Writing. His work has appeared widely (see his bio at the Colorado Poets Center website), including on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His books are Sustenance (1997), No Accident (2005), and Each Place the Body’s (2007).

Bill Reed of the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote that Anstett “has been an active member of the local poetry community for a decade, running open   mikes, organizing benefit events, and serving as one of the leaders of Poetry West.”

Asked about the concept of a ‘poet laureate’ in general, Anstett responded: “It’s interesting to me how, particularly in the last decade or so, concurrent with the rise in the number of regional poets laureate, there has been a shift from the idea of a laureateship being a purely honorary position to the expectation that a laureate serve as a kind of poetry activist, not that I wish it otherwise. I’ve long enjoyed promoting poetry, creating spaces for writers and audiences, attempting to put the lie to Auden’s famous claim that poetry makes nothing happen.”

What specific projects did he hope to accomplish as a laureate? “I’d love to help bring the surprises and delights of poetry to the places they’re least expected,” he replied. “With that in mind, one of the projects I want to pursue is ‘Poetry While you Wait,’ which would present the work of local, national, and international poets, through pamphlets and placards, in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, laundromats, oil change shops, the DMV, etc.—locations of great ennui, where the other choices are two-year-old copies of Newsweek.”

Already the project committee has organized a workshop for local middle-and-high school teachers on engaging students in poetry, he said, “and I am delighted to be helping with that effort.”

Is the laureate project planned as permanent? “Absolutely,” Anstett said. “The intent is that the laureate project be ongoing, with the many poets and lovers of poetry here continuing to join together to inspire and celebrate poetry and poets in the community.”

The stated objectives of the Poet Laureate Project include: raising funds and providing organizational support for the Poet Laureate and related activities including readings, workshops, and other literary and cultural events. The Project will also connect other regional poets with community groups and schools for special programs in the Pikes Peak region (El Paso and Teller counties). For other information on the project:
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