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May 25, 2018

One-on-One with the Colorado Poet Laureate

Joseph Hutchison, academic director for the Professional Creative Writing program, received a one-year extension of his term as Colorado Poet Laureate—a multi-year stint that took him around the state of Colorado sharing stories, poetry, and culture.

What is the state of our arts and culture scene in Colorado?
Colorado is frankly in the midst of a renaissance in arts and culture. Art, music, and literary events are taking place north and south, on both sides of the Continental Divide. This scene is happening because the state is attracting and nourishing artists through arts and culture organizations large and small. It’s not a top-down effort, but a bubbling up within communities. From my point of view, this makes the current scene more than a trend; it is foundational—something artists and audiences can build on far into the future.

What surprised your most about your experience as Poet Laureate?
Aside from my surprise at being nominated and then appointed by Governor Hickenlooper, who it turns out made the final choice himself (yes, he’s actually a reader), there has been the continual discovery of excellent poetry being produced around the state. I have to say that I’ve never considered myself a “Colorado poet,” only because my roots are more local. I’m a Denver poet for sure, maybe a Front Range poet. As Poet Laureate, I’ve been able to connect with poets I may never have encountered except online—poets who speak from and for other localities, other communities. I’m certainly more of a “Colorado poet” now than I was before the gift of this position.

What do you envision for the future of poetry and creative prose writing?
The writing and reading life is in transition—into what, I’m not sure. On the one hand, readers are demanding an adherence to tested genres; on the other, writers are pushing, even shattering, the boundaries between genres. The old system of publishing, rooted in New York and distinctly urban in nature, is in a late stage of collapse, and smaller independent presses, as they did in the 1960s, are springing up everywhere to fill that expanding void. Although I’m dubious about such innovations as e-readers and online fan fiction, I believe there’s never been a better time to be a writer. But then writing always flourishes in times of rapid change.

What advice to you have for emerging and long-time writers?
First and above all, writers need to write. Emerging writers in particular should never turn down an opportunity to write, whether it’s in their favored genre or not. What looks like an exercise can easily turn out to be a breakthrough. Long-time writers—a category I fall into—have a different challenge. The technological imagination most emerging writers have grown up with is a challenge for long-time writers. I’m not sure it can actually be acquired in a deep way once one has developed certain sustaining writing habits. That’s why I generally advise long-time writers to choose their projects on the basis of passion, which means saying no to anything that doesn’t serve that passion. And for both emerging and long-time writers: Don’t confuse publication with success. If the history of literature teaches us anything, it’s that quality writing ultimately finds its way to the readers it was meant to please.

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