A DOZEN FACES CROWD THE FIRST ZOOM session of Lauren Camp’s writing workshop, From Wild Mind to Experience: Writing in All Directions. The newly appointed New Mexico poet laureate appears from her La Ciénega studio, south of Santa Fe, while most of her students, many over 60, are scattered across the United States.
Camp leads introductions and asks the participants to set an intention for the class. “Remaining open,” says one. “Developing discipline,” says another. One woman, sitting in a New York high-rise overlooking Central Park, says she wants to believe in her own voice.
As for her goals during the three-year laureate term, Camp says, “I am thrilled and excited to get to bring poetry around the state and introduce people to poetry who maybe don’t know that a poem can be for them.” She’ll organize and participate in literary events and literacy outreach. She wants to connect poetry to nontraditional places like hospitals and nonprofit organizations and to disciplines such as environmentalism.
“I want people to be able to appreciate the same joy I found,” says Camp, who has taught writing for about 15 years, mostly to older adults. “A poem can speak to your experience or give you something that feels welcome or necessary.”
Before coming to poetry, Camp spent more than two decades as a fiber artist; she’s known for her stitched portraits of jazz musicians. She began writing in 2004 after someone mistook wall text that she included in a museum exhibition for poetry. West End Press published her first poetry book, This Business of Wisdom, in 2010. She now has five collections, with two new volumes coming in 2023: An Eye in Each Square (River River Books) and Worn Smooth Between Devourings (NYQ Books).
Her poems stem from the smallest observations or experiences, which she scribbles on napkins or the back of receipts, then collects in piles on her desk. In “The World I Can’t Remember Is Now,” a poem recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she writes, “What I left was the restless growing, the slippery / wages, each white tread of evening. Left witches / sieges, drafts and domes. What I left / was my tender body that wanted to punish.”
Last summer, Camp wrote about the night sky and gave readings under the stars as Grand Canyon National Park’s astronomer in residence. For the last year or so, her work has appeared in literary journals weekly, sometimes daily—the result of “stress submitting” during the early days of the pandemic. “Whenever I felt out of control, I’d submit a poem,” she says.
Her workshop students discuss “Island,” by Nobel laureate Louise Glück. They turn off their cameras to write for 15 minutes, with the prompt “something being built.” When they come back, they take turns reading aloud. There are a few poems, several memories, and a political lament.
“I don’t believe I know better than they do what they should be writing or what a poem means,” Camp says. “I’m determined to make it as safe a space as possible, and for them to know that their memories matter. I want them to feel fully engaged in language.”
See poet laureate Lauren Camp at these events.
New Mexico State Capitol, Santa Fe
Reading at the opening of the 2023 legislative session, noon
Otero Arts, Alamogordo
Reading, 6 p.m.
SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe
Featured reader at a Chatter chamber music event, 10 a.m.
Check out more upcoming events and workshops at laurencamp.com.