“Scottsdale is like a poem in the making, the sweeping mountain vistas, the architecture, the waterways,” said Lois Roma-Deeley, Scottsdale’s newly minted poet laureate.
One need look no further than the ubiquitous public art to see Scottsdale residents cherish the arts and Roma-Deeley would like to see poetry occupy a similar place in the city’s consciousness.
“We need to demystify poetry,” she said.
People today seem to fear poetry, finding it unapproachable, but changing that can only strengthen the soul of individuals and the city as a whole, she said.
“I always used to tell my students, ‘Poetry’s been around for a long, long, long time,’” she said. “’Why is that?’ I would ask them. The answer is because it’s essential.
“Let’s come to poetry with an openness rather than be afraid,” she said.
Roma-Deeley was teaching poetry when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred.
“I had students ask, ‘What are we doing here? What good is writing when buildings are being blown up and people are jumping from towers?’” she said.
The answer was simple.
“Poetry helps us with subject matters that are too hot to handle,” Roma-Deeley said. “It can be our north star. It can be our way of not just coping but coping with things we have no language for. It may not give us answers but it teaches us to pay attention (to ourselves). It moves in us.”
There’s nothing like watching someone come to terms with poetry and meet it on level ground, she said.
“I had someone in my office when I was teaching asking, “How long is this going to take?’” she said. “I said it takes a long time so put your seat belt on.”
Learning to appreciate poetry is a life-long process that comes to one incrementally.
Roma-Deeley likes to quote Walt Whitman in saying great poetry takes a great audience.
Demystifying poetry not only means reading it, but also trying your hand at writing it.
“The artistic police are not going to come to your house and say, ‘Hands up, this is a bad poem!’” she said.
Originally from Long Island, New York, Roma-Deeley moved to Scottsdale from San Diego in 1980 to follow her mother and ailing father and hasn’t left since.
“It’s was a great place to raise a family, find jobs, it was just a wonderful place to live,” she said.
Roma-Deeley holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in creative writing from Arizona State University and earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies with a primary emphasis in poetry from The Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
She is a retired professor from Paradise Valley Community College, though she still teaches one class, and the author of four books of poetry: “The Short List of Certainties,” “High Notes,” “northSight,” and “Rules of Hunger” and has published work in several literary journals and anthologies.
She is also the founding director of the Women Writers Workshop at Arizona State University, currently serves as associate editor of Presence, an international poetry journal.
“I am pleased to have Lois Roma-Deeley as Scottsdale’s next great poetic voice,” said Mayor David D. Ortega. “Her work will enhance the profile of poetry, poets, and literary arts throughout Scottsdale -- especially for those with less access or exposure to poetry.”
As the city grows and we struggle with competing views of what it should look like in the future, poetry can help us with that, Roma-Deeley said. It comes back to the idea of poetry being essential to who we are, both as individuals and as a community.
“If you walk around Scottsdale or drive around, you see the intersection between the practical and what I might call the essential,” she said.
Once on A-Pond
is what I thought the teacher had said.
When she spoke, I didn’t hear
but saw it: the circle of blue ice and
an angel skating backward.
Eye half open against the cold;
snow falling on both wings.
The angel’s long coat, pure wool.
And inside the rabbit muff,
five fingers close around one hand.
Later when I was older and less deaf, I’d know
God put spaces between words so we can find ourselves
less alone, to make it so
we can breathe in and breathe out
the distance between us
and the unknown.
But now the angel is humming a song I’ve never heard.
The pond is surrounded by snow banks
behind which a dozen cherubs hide.
In a moment they will fly
into a frozen sky that has no sun or moon.
At last the angel leans, hard, on the outer blade,
cutting deeper into thick ice: two rings, intertwined.
Once. Upon. A. Time.
(published in northSight)