Interview conducted in April 2013
Houston has selected its first Poet Laureate, award-winning author and poet Gwendolyn Zepeda. She will represent the city by creating excitement about poetry through outreach programs, share her love of poetry through teaching, and will provide content to the Houston Poet Laureate Program web page as well as publish poetry to the Website by community members attending her workshops. She will serve a term of two years, April 2013 through April 2015.
We asked Gwendolyn to share her thoughts about poetry and her commitment to being the City’s first Poet Laureate.
Why did you decide that you wanted to be the City’s first poet laureate?
I grew up in Houston and have always thought of myself as a local writer. When I give book presentations, I think of myself as representing Houston informally. Now, winning the Poet Laureate title gives me the opportunity to make my representation official.
It’s an incredible honor to be chosen as Houston’s first poet laureate. I’m excited about sharing poetry with our diverse communities and, more importantly, hearing what my fellow Houstonians will express through their own writing.
When did you become interested in poetry?
When I was in the third grade there was a poetry contest that I didn’t win. But, I was so impressed with the winner that it made me start writing poems for friends and myself all the time. As the years went by I just kept writing without publishing any of them. I can’t even remember how many poems I’ve written.
What inspires you to write a poem?
Usually, they are about anything that evokes strong emotions in me. Something will make me feel angry, nostalgic, joyful, or sad and I’ll quickly write a poem on my smart phone. I used to carry a note pad, but now it’s much easier to use my phone.
How do you describe poetry to people that may not be familiar with it?
Poetry is the quickest and easiest way to explain a feeling in words. But it can range from very simple to extremely complex.
What is your favorite poem and why?
Two of my favorite poems are Louise Glück’s “Mythic Fragment” and Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]” I like Glück because of the issues she chooses to write about and O’Hara because his style is very free but still readable.
For people just getting into poetry what book would you recommend?
I recommend that inexperienced poetry readers go to a website such as Poets.org and browse for poems that interest them.
Are you planning on publishing a book of poems anytime soon?
Yes. My first poetry book will be available from Arte Público Press in 2014.
What are you reading now?
I’m been carrying around two collections from poets I know: Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret, Javier Huerta’s American Copia: An Immigrant Epic, plus George Saunders’ latest short story collection Tenth of December, and reading from each of them bit by bit.
Do you know what your first poem will be as Poet Laureate?
The first official poem will definitely be about Houston. I’m thinking it might be about cars, because this is such a car-centric city and I love my own car so much.
What do you want people in the community to know about you?
I believe that everyone has the capacity to make art, and I want to use this position as an opportunity to make art alongside Houstonians and not just to promote my own work. Also, I’ve always been interested learning more about cultures other than my own. I hope this position will give me the opportunity to meet people from as many of Houston’s diverse communities as possible.