"People have been very receptive -- if a little surprised, at first -- to learn that Taos has a poet laureate and that she wants to put a poem in their waiting room."
With a year completed into her two-year term as poet laureate of Taos, Sawnie Morris has an update to share about her "Poetry in Waiting" project. She reimagined this public poetry project as a riff off the successful New York City subway program Poetry in Motion, conceived in 1992. Thanks to Morris's efforts, poetry now graces the walls of 20 public waiting rooms around Taos.
The patience of waiting is a lost art and is often at odds with today's plugged-in society. "Waiting is what happens when you are open, receptive. Poetry doesn't interrupt, it watches for that moment -- and slips in," Morris said.
The Society of the Muse of the Southwest is planning to host an intimate "Literary Dinner" to celebrate the poet laureate initiative Saturday (Jan. 19), 6-8 p.m., at the Mabel Dodge Lujan House, 240 Morada Lane. Afterward, Morris will present an update on "Poetry in Waiting" with a slideshow of images and anecdotes about her adventures implementing the project.
As of press time, the limited 25-person seating may be sold out. Call the Mabel Dodge Lujan House at (575) 751-9686 to inquire about reservations and make an advanced payment of $75 per person.
"People have been very receptive — if a little surprised, at first — to learn that Taos has a poet laureate and that she wants to put a poem in their waiting room. The auto repair shop owners were especially amused, but also turned out to be, in some cases, the most enthusiastic participants," Morris said.
In January 2018, SOMOS selected Morris as the inaugural poet laureate of Taos. The nonprofit literary organization created the poet laureate initiative to raise awareness of Taos as a national center for the contemporary literary arts. Primary funding for the position came from a Witter Bynner Foundation grant.
"Many people are afraid of poetry because they think they won't understand it. But if we are sitting in a waiting room, a poem can take us by surprise and wake us up to realize that we understand it quite well," Morris said.
Morris is a nationally recognized, award-winning poet. Poets & Writers magazine profiled her in 2016.
None of the poems in "Poetry in Waiting" are hers, however. And not all of the pieces are full-length poems; some are just poem fragments.
"At this point, I've selected 24 poets. The poems are entirely of this moment and are, I believe, relevant personally and communally to those of us living in Taos in 2019," Morris said.
The poetry hangs in the waiting rooms of auto mechanics, medical offices, veterinary clinics, private businesses and public facilities such as Taos Pueblo Senior Center, Taos Youth and Family Center and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families and Aging and Long-Term Services departments.
"I maintain an awareness of poems that might go well at specific sites. For example, the Youth and Family Center has a poem that seems especially likely to appeal to teenagers, as well as adults. That said, the owner-manager of each site makes the final choice. I provide them with a group of poems to choose from. I want them to be happy with their poem," Morris said.
The University of New Mexico-Taos posts a different poem each month on all six of their campus monitors. Morris credits Francis Santistevan of the Digital Media Arts department for assembling elegant background images for the poems at UNM.
"My hope is that the poems are going to touch a reader and alter their perspective in a way that deepens or delights; and that the poem touches something beyond the reader, as well," Morris said.
Morris has a team of helpers on the project: Connie Ode assists with printing, Sheri Inez Kotowski helps with framing and Dee Ann Hall brings her carpenter's skills to hang the frames.
"One of my goals is for people seated on one side of a waiting room to be easily able to read a poem hanging on the wall on the other side of the waiting room," Morris said.
Morris has kept the initiative as low-budget as possible. Nevertheless, the costs of printing, framing and hanging add up. Anyone interested in making a donation to the "Poetry in Waiting" project may call SOMOS at (575) 758-0081.
This gentle poet is no stranger to getting things done in Taos. She and her husband, Brian Shields, are the founders of the environmental nonprofit Amigos Bravos.
"I intend to have poems at 40 sites by the end of June," Morris said.
For more information, contact SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.
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