Arizona

In 2012, as part of its centennial year of statehood, Arizona established a state poet laureate position. Alberto Ríos was appointed the inaugural state poet laureate in 2013. He is currently a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.  

Rosemarie Dombrowski was named the first poet laureate of Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016. She will serve a two-year term.

In 2017, TC Tolbert was named the poet laureate of Tucson, Arizona. S/he will serve a two-year term.

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Arizona poet laureaute
Alberto Ríos

Alberto Alvaro Ríos was born on September 18, 1952, in Nogales, Arizona. He received a BA degree in 1974 and an MFA in creative writing in 1979, both from the University of Arizona.

He is the author of many poetry collections, including A Small Story About the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015), The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); The Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press, 2006); The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Teodora Luna's Two Kisses (W. W. Norton, 1990); The Lime Orchard Woman (Sheep Meadow Press, 1988); Five Indiscretions (Sheep Meadow Press, 1985); and Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982), which won the 1981 Walt Whitman Award, selected by Donald Justice.

Other books by Ríos include Capirotada: A Nogales Memoir (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), The Curtain of Trees: Stories (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), Pig Cookies and Other Stories (Chronicle Books, 1995), and The Iguana Killer: Twelve Stories of the Heart (Blue Moon and Confluence Press, 1984), which won the Western States Book Award.

Ríos's poetry has been set to music in a cantata by James DeMars called "Toto's Say," and on an EMI release, "Away from Home." He was also featured in the documentary Birthwrite: Growing Up Hispanic. His work has been included in more than ninety major national and international literary anthologies, including the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

"Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception," wrote the judges of the 2002 National Book Awards, "and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond."

He holds numerous awards, including six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, the Arizona Governor's Arts Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Since 1994 he has been Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University in Tempe, where he has taught since 1982. In 2013, Ríos was named the inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona. In 2014, Ríos was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2017, he was appointed as the new director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. 


Selected Bibliography 

A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015)
The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
The Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
Teodora Luna's Two Kisses (W. W. Norton, 1990)
The Lime Orchard Woman (Sheep Meadow Press, 1988)
Five Indiscretions (Sheep Meadow Press, 1985)
Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982)

 

 

Alberto Ríos

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Sunrise, Grand Canyon

We stand on the edge, the fall
into depth, the ascent

of light revelatory, the canyon walls moving
up out of

shadow, lit
colours of the layers cutting

down through darkness, sunrise as it 
passes a

precipitate of the river, its burnt tangerine 
flare brief, jagged

bleeding above the far rim for a split
second I have imagined

you here with me, watching day's onslaught 
standing in your bones--they seem

implied in the record almost
by chance--fossil remains held

in abundance in the walls, exposed 
by freeze and thaw, beautiful like a theory

stating who we are
is carried forward by the X

chromosome down the matrilineal line 
recessive and riverine, you like

me aberrant and bittersweet, and losing 
your hair just when we have begun

to know the limits of beauty, you so 
distant from me now but at ease

in a chair in your kitchen, pensive, mind 
wandering away from yesterday's Times, the ink

rubbing off on your hands, dermatoglyphic 
and telltale, but unread

on the chair arms after you
had pushed yourself to your feet such

awhile ago, I'd say, for here I am 
three hours behind you, riding the high

Colorado Plateau as the opposing 
continental plates force it over

a mile upward without buckling, smooth 
tensed, muscular fundament, your bones yet

to be wrapped around mine--
this will come later, when I return

to your place and time, I know it, you not 
ready for past or future, our combined

bones so inconsequent yet
personal, the geo

logic cross
section of the canyon dropping

from where I stand, hundreds
millions of shades of terra cotta, of copper

manganese and rust, the many varieties of stone--
silt, sand, and slate, even "green

river rock," a rough misidentified
fragment of it once unknowingly

dropped when I was a boy into my as of yet un 
settled sediments by a man who tried

to explain how slowly the Earth meta 
morphosed from my meagre

Wolf Cub's collection of rocks, his sheer 
casual physicality enough to negate

all received wisdom, my body voicing its immense 
genetic imperatives, human

geology falling away
into a

depth I am still unprepared for
the canyon cutting down to

the great unconformity, a layer
so named by the lack

of any fossil evidence to hypothesize
about and date such

a remote time by, at last no possible 
retrospective certainties, what a

relief, your face illegible
these words when I began not what I had

intended to say--something new about 
the natural dynamic between

earth and history, beauty and art--
but you are my subject, unavoidable

and volatile, the canyon
floor a mile from where I objectively

stand taking photos I will later develop of 
the ripe, trans

formative light on these surreal
buttes to show you on the surface

how beautiful and diverse
and unimportant our time together

or with anyone else
really is--

Eden

Yellow-oatmeal flowers of the windmill palms 
like brains lashed to fans-
even they think of cool paradise, 

Not this sterile air-conditioned chill 
or the Arizona hell in which they sway becomingly. 
Every time I return to Phoenix I see these palms 

as a child’s height marks on a kitchen wall, 
taller now than the yuccas they were planted with, 
taller than the Texas sage trimmed

to a perfect gray-green globe with pointillist 
lavender blooms, taller than I, 
who stopped growing years ago and commenced instead 

my slow, almost imperceptible slouch 
to my parents’ old age:
Father’s painful bend- really a bending of a bend- 

to pick up the paper at the end of the sidewalk; 
Mother, just released from Good Samaritan, 
curled sideways on a sofa watching the soaps, 

an unwanted tear inching down 
at the plight of some hapless Hilary or Tiffany. 
How she’d rail against television as a waste of time! 

Now, with one arthritis-mangled hand, 
she aims the remote control at the set
and flicks it off in triumph, turning to me

as I turn to the trees framed in the Arcadia door.
Her smile of affection melts into the back of my head, 
a throb that presses me forward, 

hand pressed to glass. I feel the desert heat
and see the beautiful shudders of the palms in the yard 
and wonder why I despised this place so, 

why I moved from city to temperate city, anywhere 
without palms and cactus trees. 
I found no paradise, as my parents know,

but neither did they, with their eager sprinklers 
and scrawny desert plants pumped up to artificial splendor, 
and their lives sighing away, exhaling slowly, 

the man and woman 
who teach me now as they could not before 
to prefer real hell to any imaginary paradise. 

Motherhood, 1951

Dear Saint Patrick, this is Peggy,
Or maybe it's Pegeen to you,
Well, I'm really Stella Mae.
Peggy's my nickname,
But anyway, will you please tell me
What to do about the rattlesnake
That's in my room?
I know it's there,
But I can't find it anywhere I search.
I've ransacked the closet more than once,
Because that's where we found the skin it shed.
I even put the cat in there and shut the door,
But he only went to sleep on my new dress
Which he had clawed from a hanger.
My grandma, Maggie, says you drove the snakes from Ireland
And they came here to Arizona.
She's right, you know
For didn't a rattler kill our cat, Blackie?
There he was beside the porch, stiff as a board
And baby Florence saw it.
She's only three and doesn't need to see death like that, not yet.
If you can, let her believe for now
That we will live forever.
Anyhow, I'm pregnant again.
I know I've sinned
But I am paying for it.
Don't make my girl suffer
Because her mother used poor judgment
And got herself in trouble out of wedlock.
My mother's disappointed in me.
My father doesn't care
And says I don't have to marry
Just to have a name for this one in the oven.
Father says there's nothing wrong with our name
And will serve the babe as well as any other,
But mother is determined to give this one a legal father
Like Baby Florence has, but only on paper.
She doesn't have a father either,
But she's got her granddad, he says
And goes to work. He is a barber.
Mother is a cook and she works longer hours,
So I'm here with Baby Florence 
And that infernal snake all day.
Outside, the new cat, dogs, chickens and hogs
Roam about the yard,
But they can't help me, can they?
I keep praying, but you don't answer.
I guess you've got no time for me,
So armed with a shovel,
I go in the closet once again
And succeed in smashing a wall.
Bits of plaster fall on my head,
But I don't mind.
I'd rather be dead than never find the thing
That crawls about the room
Without fear of discovery.
This morning, I woke up to find a coiled imprint
At the foot of my bed.
They say I am protected from harm
Because the Virgin Mary put her heel
Upon a snake's head and crushed it
For the sake of all pregnant women.
I am safe, I say to myself and pray for mercy
And recall the dead baby diamondback we found last fall.
It glittered like a tiny jeweled bracelet
And I almost picked it up,
Before I remembered my own warning to my daughter
To never, ever pick up anything suspicious.
I wish I'd done that with the man partly responsible
For the mess I've made.
The diamondback was like the lust I felt for him.
It glittered so beautifully
I had to pick it up and wear it for awhile,
Then like some Lazarus, it came to life,
By striking me with its poisonous fangs,
Leaving me to pay for my crime
Once by lying to myself
And twice for good measure.
Now I must suffer for my pleasure.
I curse, slam the wall again
And feel pain radiating from my navel
Down through my bowels
And am not able to get to the telephone
To call my mother.
I hear a splash and all of a sudden,
The snake darts from the hole I made in the wall
And crawls forward to slake its thirst.
I grit my teeth, but stand stock still
As the pain gnaws at my vitals.
I try to show no fear 
As the snake takes a long drink of my water
Then slithers away,
But not fast enough to escape,
As screaming with pain and rage
with all the mother instinct I can muster,
and in the Virgin Mary's name,
I raise the shovel and smash the snake,
Crushing its head,
As I double over and fall beside it
On the red, concrete floor.
For awhile, a ripple runs through its body,
Then it is still.
When my pain subsides, I fall asleep
And dream I'm dead
And hundreds of baby snakes are gathered at my wake.
They crawl all over my body
And I try to shake them off,
Until I realize they're part of me.

At Saint Mary's Hospital, the nurses and my doctor
Tell me how courageous I am
And the nuns even come to visit me.
They claim I have performed a miracle
And should be canonized.
Saint Peggy. "How does that sound?"
I ask Saint Patrick aloud
When left alone to hold my child.
I smile at her and tell her she is blessed.
The nuns have gone off to light some candles
And in the chapel.
They say they're praying for special dispensation
But I don't need that and neither does my girl.

Back home, after a few days, I realize

That I made a mistake in thinking I could take away my sins
When Mother tells me my new daughter is cursed
Because I killed a snake the day she was born.
"What a cruel mother you are," I tell her
And she says, "Yes, I'm just like all the others.
I should have smothered you when you were born.
I was so torn up inside, I nearly died for you
And you repay me with not one bastard, but two.
I never thought I'd call a whore my daughter."
When I protest, she says, "There's the door."
After that, I decide to ignore her
And in a state between agitation and rest,
I remember something I had forgotten.
As I lay beside the snake.
I saw a tiny bunch of eggs spill out of her
And realized she was an expectant mother too
And simply wanted a drink to soothe herself
One desert afternoon
When mothers must decide to save
Or execute their children.