Peter Crimmins writes about Philadelphia’s new poet laureate, Raquel Salas Rivera, who recently moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies. Here are just a few excerpts; read full article and listed to a brief report at Newsworks:
Raquel Salas Rivera is relatively new to Philadelphia, having moved here from Puerto Rico for grad school — staying for love — and keeping rooted in both places. [. . .]
[. . .] Rivera writes in Spanish and only later translates to English, if at all. The poet often reads the work in the original Spanish, even when the audience is mostly nonplussed English speakers. “I believe the discomfort can be a teaching movement,” said Rivera. “You might have to briefly experience what so many people experience when they first move here, no having power.”
The poet is very firm on political and cultural issues regarding Puerto Rico — not just the current recovery efforts following last year’s devastating hurricanes, but the century-long struggle to retain a cultural identity as an U.S. territory.
“I have been mourning for a long time, even though I don’t want to say Puerto Rico is dead. It’s not,” said Rivera. “People are living there and fighting every day because it’s their home. I will say it’s being radically transformed, and there is a pushback against that transformation. In any radical transformation or translation, something dies or is lost.”
[. . .] Rivera applied to be Philadelphia’s poet laureate, but did not expect to be selected. “Puerto Rican poets are used to having the U.S. not know anything about Puerto Rican poetry,” said Rivera. “So the idea that I would become the poet laureate of anything in the U.S. was surprising.”
Rivera is the first poet laureate selected by the Free Library, which adopted the program from City Hall last year. The laureate position comes with the expectation that the poet will be a civic leader — a cultural instigator to tie together the Philadelphia’s citizenry through poetry. [. . .] The poet already has ideas about how to use the laureate position. Rivera wants to start a series of poetry readings called “We Too Are Philly,” taking cues from Langston Hughes poem “I Too Am America.” The readings are meant to juxtapose a wide diversity of voices.
[Photo above: Philadelphia’s new poet laureate Raquel Salas Rivera. (Emma Lee/WHYY)]