Come June, Dallas poets—young, old, whoever you are, so long as you have a tie to Dallas proper—will be able to schedule a time to sit down with the city’s first-ever poet laureate. Joaquin Zihuatanejo plans to have two spaces at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library: one, “an open-air community table”; the other, an enclosed office.
Poetry can be intensely personal, and sometimes the words aren’t ready for others. But, Zihuatanejo says, “the real secret to poetry is revision.” That is where he comes in, and he believes the city stands to benefit greatly from it.
He joined us at the Old Monk to discuss what it means to be the first poet laureate of the city of Dallas. The program was spearheaded by Deep Vellum Publishing’s Will Evans, who couldn’t believe that McAllen had a poet laureate and Dallas didn’t. (Plus, we had to beat Fort Worth.) Soon, he attracted interest from the Dallas Public Library and the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
Zihuatanejo was one of 21 applicants. His pitch stood out because of his vision for uplifting the poetry scene here. He wants local poems on buses and at schools and businesses. He calls this “poetry on the go,” but it’s really a way to expose more of the public to work that’s being done in the community. Those poems would include the poet’s name and the neighborhood they most identify with.
He wants kids from South Oak Cliff to see their neighborhood next to the words. Maybe it sparks a possibility.
Zihuatanejo grew up in Old East Dallas. He’s had a long history in the Dallas poetry scene, attending slam nights at Club Clearview where he’d have to shout over the band in the other room. He won the 2008 World Poetry Slam in Charlotte, which booked him a trip to the World Cup of Poetry Slam in Paris. He beat poets from 13 other countries. His final work, which also used sign language, earned him a perfect score—besting the runner-up by a tenth of a percentage point.
He argues that North Texas has a rich poetry history. UNT is one of only about a dozen or so colleges in the country that offer a master’s program with a concentration in poetry. “People are dedicating years and years of their lives studying poetry and then settling in Dallas,” he said.
He views his role as a connector, bringing poetry into the everyday lives of the people who live here. He’s completely at home belting out a poem in the bar—as you’ll hear—and making it feel like the exact setting in which that should happen.
Listen below, and stick around after his reading to hear all of our thoughts on how the Mavericks can claw their way back in Game 2 tonight.