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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Difficult Body

A story: There was a cow in the road, struck by a semi--
half-moon of carcass and jutting legs, eyes
already milky with dust and snow, rolled upward

as if tired of this world tilted on its side.
We drove through the pink light of the police cruiser,
her broken flank blowing steam in the air. 

Minutes later, a deer sprang onto the road
and we hit her, crushed her pelvis--the drama reversed,
first consequence, then action--but the doe,

not dead, pulled herself with front legs
into the ditch. My father went to her, stunned her
with a tire iron before cutting her throat, and today I think

of the body of St. Francis in the Arizona desert,
carved from wood and laid in his casket,
lovingly dressed in red and white satin

covered in petitions--medals, locks of hair,
photos of infants, his head lifted and stroked,
the grain of his brow kissed by the penitent.

O wooden saint, dry body. I will not be like you,
carapace. A chalky shell scooped of its life. 
I will leave less than this behind me.

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.