By Jessica Steinhoff
Angela Trudell Vasquez remembers the moment she fell in love with poetry. She was listening to her parents read “Frederick,” Leo Lionni’s picture book about a mouse who uses poetry to help his community.
“When the little field mice in the story run out of food, they turn to Frederick, the poet mouse, who recites poems that make them feel warm and loved and safe,” she explains. “I saw the power of poetry there.”
As Madison Public Library’s new poet-in-residence, Trudell Vasquez is our community’s Frederick, bringing the healing powers of poetry to libraries throughout the city from March through May of this year. (April is also National Poetry Month — another timely aspect to Trudell Vasquez’s appointment). She’s also serving as Madison Poet Laureate through January 2024, co-chairing the Wisconsin State Poet Laureate Commission and touring in support of her latest poetry collection, “My People Redux,” which explores her family’s experience as Latinx immigrants and the wisdom that has flowed from one generation to the next.
BRAVA asked Trudell Vasquez why poetry matters so much at this moment in time and how others can join the important work she’s doing.
BRAVA: Why is poetry essential right now, when our country feels fractured and the future of our world feels uncertain?
Angela Trudell Vasquez: Poetry has a unique role to play because it’s a connector of people. It helps us build empathy. Poets suss out the world and bring it to the page, and their work can connect cultures and promote healing. Humans have this innate ability to create, and they’ve been creating poetry all over the world for thousands of years. Some cave drawings featured poems, and here we are now, in 2022, still engaging with words in this way, to shorten the distance between us.
B: Madison Public Library hasn’t had an official poet-in-residence before. What makes this role special for our city, and for our library system?
ATV: As the city’s poet laureate, I’m the poet of the people. I think about my role at the library in a similar way. Public libraries are gathering spots for the community. They’re also a way for people to connect with other cultures. That’s one thing I loved about my local library while growing up: I could go there to read books from people all over the world. So, part of what I do as Madison Public Library’s poet-in-residence is interact with people from many different backgrounds and show them that poetry is for everyone.
B: You’re hosting a number of free library workshops where you team up with other artists and experts. What makes poetry a great collaborative tool?
Poetry is a way of responding to the world and telling our own stories. For these workshops, I’m collaborating with someone who’s using a different tool for seeing and reflecting upon the world. At the Art Inspiring Art workshop, adults can try ekphrastic poetry, which is where you use a poem to respond to a piece of visual art. I do this program with Gabrielle Javier-Cerulli, a talented local artist who makes paintings, murals and more. Carolyn Byers, an educator from Madison Audubon Society, brings skulls and feathers to the Poetry and Nature workshop to help kids interact with nature, and we use poetry to interact with it in another way.
See madisonpubliclibrary.org/poetry for event times and details. This page will also share poems curated by Trudell Vasquez throughout April, which is National Poetry Month.