Lisa Bickmore

Lisa Bickmore
is the author of three books of poems, including Ephemerist (Red Mountain Press, 2017) and flicker (Elixir Press, 2016), winner of the 2014 Antivenom Poetry Award from Elixir Press. In 2023, Bickmore was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Bickmore will create and digitally archive micro-editions of chapbooks with writers throughout Utah, as well as work with youth and educators to publish broadsides centered around the ecological crisis facing the Great Salt Lake, which will be featured at events and readings throughout the state. Bickmore will also continue presenting the Utah Poetry Festival and expand its regional reach. What do you hope for the future of poetry in Utah, and what support do you hope future poets laureate in the state have?


Lisa Bickmore: There is a vibrant poetry scene in Utah, although, really, I should say that there are many lively poetry scenes–plural–in the state, ranging from active writing communities (always transforming and evolving), slam and spoken word communities, literary journals, reading series, and bookstores with a commitment to poetry. All of these constitute an investment in poetry’s future, and it’s happening everywhere.

Because the state is so large, I think it’s easy for a poet located in one area to miss what’s going on in another area. I love when poetry communities can connect, which is something the Utah Poetry Festival has done to great effect. The festival was founded by Paisley Rekdal, the state poet laureate before me. I worked with a team of poets from across Utah to stage this festival last April and will do so throughout my tenure as poet laureate. I hope that the poetry festival will continue , because I think it is so effective in connecting the literary arts, with a focus on poetry, with writers and readers around the state. I hope that state arts agencies, all of which are doing incredible, visionary, exciting work, will see the festival as something worth investing in for the future. I’ve received so much interest, engagement, and a lot of support from state arts agencies. I very much hope that continues. How has being a poet laureate changed your relationship to your own writing?

LB: Being a poet laureate is an outward-facing position, soI’m always on the lookout for writing communities with which to connect, for writers I’ve only barely met,, for writers and arts activists and arts educators who can help me serve communities with which I haven’t yet connected. For me, it has been a big undertaking, very rewarding, so exciting, to be poet laureate. I find that, while it takes plenty of effort, preparation, thought, and communication, the work feels generative. I sense that being in this role helps to create a store of energy, ideas, and connections that will facilitate my own work.

I am still finding my own balance between the work I do in this role and my own writing. I think a lot about how writing and community work together. I’ve thought about this for a long time, in my role as a (now retired) community college professor, and I know that being in dialogue with writers, responding to their work in my publishing project, hearing their interests and concerns helps shape my own work, or will. Still to be revealed, I think! How can a poet, or poetry, bring a community together? 

LB: I’m thinking right now of several settings in Utah where I have observed poetry bringing people together. One, a long running community-based reading series, City Art, has brought writers to read from Utah and elsewhere, several times a month. With its open mic, which follows the featured readers, the series has been an incubator and a supportive community for writers, young and old. This series was founded by Sandy Anderson and is currently directed by Joel Long. 

Another writing community has emerged among a host of writers, led by Nan Seymour, who keeps vigil with and raises consciousness at the Great Salt Lake. A collectively authored poem, titled “Irreplaceable,” seeks to give voice to the lake. I’m so excited to be working with Nan to publish this poem as a part of my project.

These two examples–only two of so many I can call to mind–suggest something about how communities can emerge around, and be sustained by, poetry. The Great Salt Lake needs better public policy and political will to reverse an ecological disaster, but poetry helps to create conditions for better policy and public will. Writers need more than a reading series to sustain them, but the sustenance of such a community is invaluable. What part of your project are you most excited about?

LB: When I was named the poet laureate of Utah, I had proposed a micro-press publishing project. The aim of this project was to work with writers and writing communities throughout the state to publish small-edition chapbooks. I would both serve as editor and archivist and facilitate the process of designing and producing the chapbooks. Currently, I have more than twenty manuscripts in hand, at various stages in the production process. Working with these writers has been deeply rewarding to me. I’ve named this micro-press Moon in the Rye Press, its name taken from a poem by Ken Brewer, a beloved teacher and poet who lived in Logan, Utah, taught at Utah State University, and was a previous poet laureate of Utah. 

The Academy of American Poets Poets Laureate Fellowship allowed me to develop a further project for Moon in the Rye Press: a broadside initiative focused around the Great Salt Lake, specifically targeted to school-age children. I’ve worked with the immensely talented and well-networked arts education folks at the state level, and now have writing, design, and print projects in the works, happening at schools around the state. With funds from the fellowship, I’ve procured a couple of proof presses from Provisional Press, which are highly portable, and will be printing (again) small editions of these broadsides, to be displayed and shared within the communities of the schools where they were produced.

I’m so excited about both of these projects. Both are deeply daunting, but they are–and will be– shared in communities around the state. And I hope that they will deepen, in both a literary and a broader sense, the ties within those communities. What obstacles, if any, did you experience when starting your project? 

LB: Everything is always much more complicated, with more ins and outs and logistical challenges, than one could ever foresee–or at least more than I could foresee. Identifying partners for, say, printing; finding time and space for launch events; and sussing out how much time things really take (as opposed to the optimistic and unrealistic estimates I originally made).All of these things are challenges.  While actually doing the work, though, I’ve started to develop a stronger sense of how to proceed, of what will set up an engagement with individual writers for a successful outcome, for instance. Or how I might work with partners in classroom settings to do planning and even some production work ahead of time, so that the time when I’m in the classroom can be best spent. All of this is a work-in-progress. These are not obstacles; they are, actually, if you think about it, the work itself. How can poetry help the community question itself in the midst of this ecological crisis as the Great Salt Lake shrinks?

LB: There are so many people doing great, critical, inspiring activist work around the Great Salt Lake, helping to define the ecological crisis in the public mind, working with legislators and policy makers, and creating networks across disciplines and institutions. So I really hope that this project adds to the strong work already being done. I think the most important thing a project like mine can do is to create awareness of the crisis much earlier, for younger writers, and to help nurture a sense of connection to the fate of the natural world–that we are a part of the natural world, and that we must regard what happens to the natural world as what happens to us. I think poetry is, or at least can be, especially good at this–creating space to consider our own connectedness. I hope, too, that taking this project around the state helps to create the conditions for more people to find that sense of connectedness and a commitment to finding a way to support the lake. Is there a poem on that inspires you and your work in Utah? How so?

LB: I have long loved the poem “Thanks” by W. S. Merwin for the way it proceeds–in a headlong tumble of indicators and circumstances that outline how the world, both intimate and shared, is falling apart. And even so, the poem reiterates gratitude, though the gratitude and the litany of loss are seemingly at odds. I find myself, as a citizen, a human being, a mother and grandmother, and a poet, caught in both the rush of this poem and in its stillness:


in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

I hope that my work is a form of gratitude. I also hope–sometimes against hope–that all of our work, taken together, becomes a form of intervention, a naming of what we are losing, and so, an opportunity for change.