Kayt Peck has been named the first poet laureate of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Although she’s not entirely sure about the scope of her duties, she suspects she’ll be reading poems at official city occasions, among other public appearances.
“I’m the first one, so we’re playing it by ear,” says the 67-year-old grants writer, who lives 27 miles from Las Vegas, in the village of Rociada.
Mayor Louie Trujillo was looking for a way to raise morale in Las Vegas, which he felt was suffering due to the pandemic. So, he turned to the arts. Specifically, he wanted to establish a poet laureateship for the small city — someone who could inject a little levity and inspiration into official proceedings. He partnered with New Mexico Highlands University, where the English department developed the judging criteria. The city issued an open call for applications in January.
Peck has published fiction but not much poetry, which she mostly writes for herself. She saw the open call and decided to apply anyway. The pandemic wore on, and she forgot about it until the spring, when the city selection committee came to its decision. “To be honest, it took them a while. I think I assumed that since I hadn’t heard anything, I didn’t get it. So, it was a pleasant surprise,” she says.
Peck graduated from Bethany Nazarene College in 1976, with a major in speech and minors in journalism and creative writing. She was a reporter at small papers in Texas and Oklahoma before joining the U.S. Navy Reserve and working as a public affairs officer. She moved to the Las Vegas area in 2001. She has published several novels with Sapphire Books, including her most recent, Broken (2020), about a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. She plans to get serious about poetry in her new position, which is a two-year appointment.
“I believe that artists are the ones who change the world,” she says. “Poetry and fiction are the way to tell the truth, not just facts. And, right now, it’s the time for poetry. If we don’t recognize truth, we’re all in a lot of trouble. We need to help people who aren’t accustomed to hearing truth, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride for them. To some extent, that probably includes all of us. We all have a truth we don’t want to hear.” — Jennifer Levin