Levi Romero references his identity as a Nuevo Mexicano frequently in his poetry. In books that include In the Gathering of Silence (1996) and A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works (2008), he mentions lowriders cruising on Riverside Drive in Española, the moon rising over Chimayó, and an old woman stirring atole on a woodstove. Romero’s home state is as inextricable from his writing as the air in his lungs.
“The importance of personal and cultural identity must and should be proclaimed, lest we wind up like a descanso [memorial] on the side of the road without a story, a history, a faded name almost forgotten,” says the inaugural New Mexico poet laureate. He was named to his role in January.
Romero headlines a cache of local poetry world all-stars in Identity! The virtual reading is sponsored by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. Romero is joined by Elizabeth Jacobson, Santa Fe poet laureate; Artemisio Romero y Carver, 2020 Santa Fe youth poet laureate; Hannah Laga Abram, 2019 Santa Fe youth poet laureate; Zoe Sloan Callan, New Mexico Poetry Out Loud state champion; and Mercedez Holtry, a poet and Chicana feminist. All of the poets will focus on identity and representation, topics that have recently become increasingly vital to the mainstream discourse about art and literature in Santa Fe.
“My identity as a queer person of color has made me feel that all of my poetry is political, simply because it is an honest account of my experience. In this time of violence, loss, and political change, it’s important that, as poets, we recognize our platforms, and use them,” says Romero y
Carver, a high school senior whose work has appeared in Rigorous: A Journal by Black, Indigenous & People of Color; Inlandia: A Literary Journey; and Magma Poetry.
Romero says that poetry becomes especially important during times of social and political strife because people need a way to express complex ideas and feelings. Most of his readings as New Mexico poet laureate have been online during the pandemic, and he’s seen how vital these events are for people who have been longing for interaction and connection. “Poets cultivate safe places where nurturing and healing can occur,” he says, “not in isolation but in the company of others.”
The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry presents Identity! live on Zoom at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, hosted by Collected Works Bookstore. Free; register at collectedworksbookstore.com.