On April 27, 2020, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced Anis Mojgani as the 10th Oregon Poet Laureate. Mojgani has been a Literary Arts board member since 2018, and plays an active role in Verselandia! Youth Poetry Slam (this year #Virtualandia). We recently asked him a few questions about his appointment and responsibilities, his role as a board member, and advice for aspiring poets.
Don’t let fear stand between you and letting what’s inside you out. It’s fine to have the fear, in fact it’s kind of wonderful to have the fear because it can push us in new inconceivable directions but don’t let it stop you from letting yourself converse with yourself. That’s what poetry comes down to—the opportunity to make sense of who we are that we might grow and learn and foster ourselves, and in turn perhaps aid in the growth and learning and fostering of others.Anis Mojgani
What went through your mind when you found out about your appointment as Oregon’s 10th Poet Laureate?
I was walking home from dropping off a car rental and it was a surprisingly sunny and light-filled February day when I got a phone call sharing that I had been selected, and the feeling matched the moment I was walking in––warm with a quiet exciting joy, like getting to see something wondrous that no one else had noticed and being happy that it gets to be just yours for a moment or so. It was so nice.
What are your responsibilities in the role? What are you most excited to do?
Essentially, the Oregon Poet Laureate acts as an ambassador for and steward of poetry to and for the people of Oregon. Specifically I’m to do 20 public appearances (readings, shows, workshops, etc.) over the next two years, though aspects of that may at the moment be reshaped or modified with regards to that currently not being doable. But I have a lot of freedom to explore how to foster poems and poetry with and in communities across the state. And that’s something I’m really excited about—finding the ways to push both my own creativity and to push those boundaries and expectations of how we might engage with poetry in our daily lives, and it with us.
How did you first get into poetry and slam?
I took a creative writing class my last year of high school and it introduced me to writing poems and to also a broader field of poets than my english classes had. And then the summer after I graduated, before I started college, I read a random article about poetry slams and that here was a vehicle that allowed to participate anyone who had written a poem, and allowed anyone who was an audience of a poem to declare their relationship to the poetry––this was revelatory to me. Not to mention that the article was filled with poems from living people who were everyday folks who also happened to write poems, and that window of how we are allowed to be with ourselves through writing was a beautiful permission to be given.
My first year at college, I took a poetry class and that cemented it as a continual practice for me, and the poet Jeffrey McDaniel came through town and did a show, and it was the first time that I can recall seeing a poet perform work in front of me and I knew then I had to do the same at some point.
You are originally from New Orleans. What brought you to Portland and what keeps you here?
I first came here in 2004 largely to take a break from NYC, where I had been living, and spend time with my friends from college, and the longer I was away from New York, the less I wanted to go back. Portland was as beautiful as back home but a completely different beauty than what I had grown up around––the land and nature here is so different than where I come from––and I feel in love with that, as well
I moved away for a spell and then moved back, and what brought me back was again, being closer to people I love and who I was lonesome for, and being in a city that at times is so beautiful my body doesn’t know how to hold it. But in addition to that, what keeps me here is that Portland is a city that largely offers me an ease to living, the opportunity to zero on the things that are important to me about living––a space to find stillness and human connection––and while it is far from being without challenges, it is home to a lot of people who I believe envision a world that can be good and textured and sustainable and of community. And that collective belief feels tangible and purposeful here.
You have been a member of our board for a couple of years… What made you decide to be a part of Literary Arts leadership? What have been some of the highlights or things you have been proud to work on?
It felt an opportunity to be a bit more present in my community. The role of an artist is weird one I think at times in that the should be directly engaged with the world around them but also needs to remain removed in order to create responsive work. I feel at times too comfortable in the latter, and joining the board gave me at least a little push to be more in the former, not to mention that Literary Arts has been an organization I’ve now had a relationship with for 14 years, and is an organization I’m grateful for and believe strongly in. And I like that it’s something different than where I regularly am, so I get new perspectives and windows, while also feeling I provide valuable insight as a working local artist sitting at the board table.
I’m proud to have gotten to have played a part in Verselandia over the years and have had a seat front and center to see how the event has grown, as an event but also reflecting in the work the students have pushed themselves to create and share. Seeing how Mary Rechner and Ramiza Koya and Hunt [Holman] and all the teachers and librarians they’ve worked with, have fostered this space for the students of Portland to share their voices has has been an utter joy to witness over the years. It’s also been wonderful and exciting to work these last couple years with the Development and Marketing team over these past few years, building the Bookmark fundraiser. That’s been a definite highlight to get to see how people in the community come together in financial support of something that benefits the city as a whole.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets and slam performers (of any age)?
Don’t let fear stand between you and letting what’s inside you out. It’s fine to have the fear, in fact it’s kind of wonderful to have the fear because it can push us in new inconceivable directions but don’t let it stop you from letting yourself converse with yourself. That’s what poetry comes down to––the opportunity to make sense of who we are that we might grow and learn and foster ourselves, and in turn perhaps aid in the growth and learning and fostering of others.