The Colorado Poet, Issue #33, Fall 2022

Empowering Through Poetry: An Interview with Ahja Fox, the New City of Aurora Honorary Poet Laureate

by Kathryn Winograd

Ahja FoxAhja Fox is the newly appointed City of Aurora Honorary Poet Laureate. Ahja is a first-generation college graduate, receiving her B.A in English/ Creative Writing from University of Colorado Denver and an AA degree with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Arapahoe Community College.  She has served as an assistant editor for Copper Nickel, co-host of the Art of Storytelling, managing editor for Homology Lit, and in multiple roles for Poetix University. She continues to publish extensively in print and online journals.  

KW:  Congratulations, Honorary Poet Laureate! How did you get started in the poetry game?

AF: I started writing at a young age. My understanding of “actual” poetry began freshman year high school after a week-long poetry segment where we tried a few forms. One mad lib poetry assignment sparked my hand because of how structure guided me. I realized that poetry is not just for expressing one’s feelings. The best poems have always gone beyond the surface knowledge of what poetry is and what it can do— explore, research, redefine, reevaluate, emphasize, you name it. Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead” taught me how to address the difficult but in an insightful brave way. Janice N. Harrington’s book, Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin, showed me how to incorporate a trove of research into a poem, then develop it into a whole collection. I’m doing that with my book about the death industry.

KW: What was the process like for becoming the City of Aurora Poet Laureate?

AJ: Very polished and professional. The steps laid out by the City of Aurora revealed the seriousness of the job. A call for submissions appeared on Writers of Color Facebook page asking for a letter stating what you believed the position meant, what you would do with it, and any/all related history. Plus a portfolio of work.

I had been on a submission hiatus for over a year and I was only 2 or 3 months postpartum. My confidence was tuckered out. I skimmed through my best work and the poems I’d never given up on and submitted what helped articulate every part of me.  I reminded myself of my major goals, dreamed out loud how amazing this position would be to the mirror right before driving to the interview, right before leaving out the door.

I met 5 other unique, talented writers who wanted this just as bad as me. They all had their game face on. All gave one heck of a reading. (I secretly wished I could be a judge for the whole thing because I knew exactly who I’d pick.) I left the evening happy and hopeful: any one of us could get it and that would be a great thing for poetry.

KW: What are your plans for the next four years?

AJ: To challenge myself to write poems I might never write otherwise. I’m writing to tasks now instead of obsession—poems about citizenship in the likeness of the kitchen sink, about the surreal magic of kindness and giving, about my middle school experience for middle school students— and for that, I am thankful.

I dream of creating a mentor program for poets who can’t afford/attend college. As a first generation graduate, I feel extremely fortunate to have gotten a degree in my field of love. Every time I receive what I call a priceless tool/lesson, I wish others could receive the same. How much of this would be different if I had never gone to college? Who would have been willing to guide/ teach me if I had stayed out of school? What resources are there for the non-student? I have the opportunity now to do grand and impactful things.

I want to implement poetry in unexpected places. To convince non-poetry lovers and the public that poetry is for them, too. Back in 4th and 5th grade, so many kids complained they didn’t get poetry. I want to empower children and adults to write, to know poetry beyond cliches and familiar bones, to find their own calling, their own epiphany. I believe I became myself because of poetry.

And I want to build upon the existing poetry/literary scene in Colorado and Aurora. To co-create, collaborate, emphasize what is already wonderful. This title awards me those connections. My audience has become large-scale and far-reaching, so I feel a responsibility to carry the poetry scene on my back. Especially after the pandemic lockdown when we lost so much.  To give back to the literary community that nourished me.