When Vogue Robinson became Clark County’s poet laureate in 2016, she joined the ranks of Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Natasha Trethewey and Tracy K. Smith, all women of color appointed to the post on either the state or national level. Robinson has hosted both Smith and Trethewey through the Poetry Promise Foundation and in collaboration with Nevada State College and UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute. It is the duty of the laureate to actively raise the poetic consciousness of a community.
My sister was here, and my sister was pregnant with my niece. I had always been told by my elders that as you age, you really want to be close to family. I didn’t have anything going for me in San Diego. So, I was just like, “I’m gonna move anywhere my sister is.” I also needed to get my craft together because it wasn’t. Coming here really gave me the chance to focus on myself and to witness my sister become a mother. I don’t think I had any expectations. I knew I didn’t want to hide my art anymore and I was going to go to every single open mic in town and finish my book. I was going to hit the ground running, tackle all the marketing and put all the different things in place I could tap into. Who knows? People could have thought my poems were wack. People could have thought my poems were terrible. I went to the Arts Factory and they had Painters and Poets (Jam) at that time. I went to The Beat and they were housing The Human Experience, which is also now closed. Now, more open mics exist — Soul Sessions is at a good point. And Rell has The Truth Spot. We’re back to the place where there is an open mic every single night in Vegas. And each one has its own culture. Some are more welcoming to comedians. Some are more welcoming to hip hop. Some are incorporating music. It’s like we all cultivate these little churches on different nights of the week. I don’t want to just be the person who stands and reads poems. I don’t write a lot of poems that are super-duper activisty. My poems don’t all focus in on my blackness or the things happening in black culture. I feel a lot of people are writing about those things and doing a devastating, breathtaking job. Like Patricia Smith just finished “Incendiary Art.” She read some of those poems when she was here, and it was crazy. I feel there are people who are hitting the spot for that. The original purpose for most of my writing is clarity. I find no clarity, no distinct purpose, for the things that have been happening. I don’t know if I have a way to put real sorrow and that kind of pain into words. The commissioning of poems has been happening a lot. I read for a professor who works at UNLV. Her mom and dad were having a retirement-anniversary party, just some older black folks chillin’. I ate some barbecue and got a chance to read my poem about aging in front of people who are older. From that came an opportunity to do the conference Abriendo Caminos/Opening Pathways. It’s a program taking students of color through the process of becoming a teacher. And then from the professor at UNLV came another person. I read at his wedding. And just this year, his mom passed away. He asked that I write a poem for the funeral. Those are the things that matter and then guest teaching. I know I did some good stuff. I know I did great stuff. I’m very aware of mortality, knowing that I not only did great things for myself, but that I did good things for other people — that I made room for people. Even in the very simple thing of walking into a classroom to teach poetry and I explain what a poet laureate is and there are two little black girls, just two of us, two of my girls, and they get some eye contact. And I know, especially if they are young writers, that it matters in a way that I may or may not understand. They see me and can say, “That’s what a poet laureate looks like.”