On November 1st, 2013, staff members of the Arizona Commission on the Arts attended an event in honor of Arizona’s first Poet Laureate, Alberto Álvaro Ríos. Hosted by the University of Arizona Poetry Center at their beautiful facility on the U of A campus, the evening was a celebration not only of Mr. Ríos and his work, but of arts and the power of poetry, in particular.

At a reception prior to the event, State Senator Steve Farley of Tucson spoke on the social and economic value of the arts within a community and his own efforts to secure additional arts funding in the state budget. He called for those in attendance to express to their legislators what the arts mean to their own communities.

State Arts Commissioner Lisa Barnes of Mesa arrived to the reception with a rolled poster print featuring one of Ríos’ poems. She had acquired it shortly after Ríos was named Poet Laureate and had brought it with her for him to sign.  “I’m going to hang it in my office,” she reported.

As 6:30pm approached, ushers directed attendees to the Poetry Center’s lecture hall. With its retractable back wall, the lecture hall can be opened to the outdoors, allowing for additional seating under the stars. As attendees settled into their seats, Poetry Center staff distributed a memento produced exclusively for the event: individually numbered broadsides featuring a new poem from Mr. Ríos.

Tyler Meier, Executive Director of the Poetry Center, acted as host for the evening and played the part well. Striking a balance between sincere emotion and self-effacing humor, Meier established a tone that was warm and playful, but no less heartfelt and substantial–a perfect complement to Rios’s own signature style of public speaking.

University of Arizona Senior Vice President and Provost Andrew C. Comrie was next at the podium. After confessing that his own academic background was in Earth Science, he went on to express his deep personal appreciation for the arts and, on behalf of the University, described the coequal status the University’s arts programs share with the schools other programs and the great pride and distinction they bring to the institution as a whole.

Robert Booker, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, then took the podium to formally introduce Mr. Ríos. In his brief but powerful introduction, Booker reminded the audience of the benefits of a vibrant and healthy arts community and challenged Arizona’s mayors, legislators and residents to take pride in their state’s artists, arts educators and arts institutions. He then invited Mr. Ríos (referred to affectionately throughout the evening by his nickname “Tito”) to the podium.

Over the course of the next half hour, the Poet Laureate spoke of his life and his work, of art, of poetry and of language. He read several of his poems, by turns wistful, thoughtful, cryptic and, on more than one occasion, laugh-out-loud funny. At one point, he introduced an old friend in the audience with whom he had once worked as a traveling teaching artist. She had flown in just for the event from her home in Alaska where she was, herself, recently appointed to the post of Poet Laureate. Throughout, he addressed the audience as one would a dear friend, with warmth, humor and an open heart.

The landmark appointment of our State’s first Poet Laureate is truly an occasion worthy of celebration. The Arts Commission is grateful to the staff of the University of Arizona Poetry Center for their part in supporting the creation of this position and for organizing and hosting this event in its honor.

To learn more about the Arizona Poet Laureate program, click here.

Steve Wilcox is the Communications and Research Director at the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Photos by Jeff Smith