We’ve gotten out of the habit of paying attention. While hunched over phones, we consume information rapidly with limitless accessibility. The internet is a source that asks very little of its recipients and has created a culture sans critical thinking.

But, through their work, artists such as San Antonio’s 2016-2018 Poet Laureate Jenny Browne challenge us to do more. Poetry has historically been a contemplative place to question and respond in an exchange of consciousness between writer and reader. It requires observation, thought, study and analytical thinking.

So how does a modern poet interact with this tough crowd – an audience with no attention span to whom poetry isn’t palatable or easily digested?

“Poetry offers a cheap, democratic opportunity to someone who is paying a heightened state of attention,” Browne said. “I think poetry is both deeply adored and misunderstood. What should we do with poetry is to acknowledge that is has a higher purpose. You don’t have to be any smarter or more dramatic or self destructive to write it, but you do have to pay better attention.”

Bestowed with the honor in March of this year, Browne is San Antonio’s third poetry public servant of sorts. When her new title as poet laureate is mentioned, Browne finds it is met with enthusiasm quickly followed by confusion.

“Everyone’s been saying, ‘That’s so cool,’” she said. “What does that mean, exactly?’”

It means that San Antonio has created an official city position designated for a poetry representative, suggesting that having a voice for poetry remains a valuable thing.

Browne doesn’t take her new position lightly. Since her investiture, she has been speaking and leading workshops all over the city at the Carver Library, Ricardo Romo Bibliotech, the NISD Student Poetry Awards Banquet, Celebration of Women’s Voices benefitting Family Violence Prevention Services Inc., and Zachry.

This last April, Browne spoke at more than 20 events in celebration of National Poetry Month. She also teaches courses at Trinity University.

“The spectrum of who I’m reaching is really important to me. I’m an academic now, but I worked for the Texas Arts Commission previously,” Browne said. “In some ways, this position is a continuation of the work that I have been doing for 20 years.”

Browne has published three collections of poems and two chapbooks, including her latest chapbook, Welcome to Freetown, which was released this year.

San Antonio Poet Laureate Jenny Browne's newest book, Welcome to Freetown. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
San Antonio Poet Laureate Jenny Browne’s newest chapbook, Welcome to Freetown. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

“Since taking its position, people have come out of the woodwork – people who were closet poets,” she said. “They used to think they could do this and somewhere along the way got lost.”

Browne’s eyes lit up as she discussed her plans for one of the most exciting responsibilities designated to the city’s poet laureate – her “signature initiative.” The project will be a collective “lost and found” that will launch in April 2017.

Careful not to divulge too many details, Browne noted that the work will center around celebrating San Antonio’s Tricentennial – which is in May 2018 – through the act and art of remembering.

“We can’t fully consider where we are without thinking of where we’ve been and what we’ve lost along the way,” Browne said. “By naming what we’ve lost, we find it differently.”

The elegiac initiative also will pay homage to our city’s namesake, Saint Anthony, the saint of lost things. Browne’s hope is to create something that is individual, personal and collective to reflect the belief that any one person’s struggle is all of our struggle.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear Browne in person, below are some opportunities:

“There’s a reason why poetry has been with us this long,” she says. “We look to newspapers for information, but we look to poetry for the full landscape of human emotion…it’s how magic works, it’s how religion works – there’s something about speaking a thing into existence.”

In honor of creating, remembering and repeating, Browne has written an original piece specifically for the Rivard Report readers. Enjoy.

Peace. Love. Poetry.

Late Summer Elegy

I keep forgetting

which part of my body

I’m supposed to use

for lifting whole seasons

of unpredictable rage

& flowering. Maybe

the old maps can show

where land & sea

once touched painlessly?

Was it my terror

or my sigh?  Thumb

or thigh? I have

practiced steering

into the skid

but I did not come here

by machine. I did not

come to carry that gun.

Did you know

the average human

feeling lasts

only seven seconds?

Centuries since

beginning this poem

& I still haven’t given

my neighbor a fish

or asked the glacier

for forgiveness.


Top image:  San Antonio’s 2016-2018 Poet Laureate Jenny Browne.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Melanie Robinson is a San Antonian writer, poet and musician who currently works as the content writer for Tribu, a digital marketing firm, and freelances for the Rivard Report, San Antonio Current and...