Precocious Aurora poet laureate hopeful shows she has the write stuff

48

AURORA | Aurora second-grader Olivia Gonzalez won’t be the city’s next poet laureate.

She’ll have to wait about another decade before she can be seriously considered for the esteemed role. City stipulations require poet laureate applicants to be at least 18 years of age.

Gonzalez, a student at Aurora Public Schools magnet school Aurora Quest K-8, just turned 8 last week. But what the young rhymester lacks in age, she more than makes up for with gobs of confidence — she recently strode into the Aurora Municipal Center wearing bright pink combat boots, a dark tutu and neatly perched black beret.

And it was that sanguine self-confidence that caught the attention of city staffers and earned Gonzalez the esteemed title of Aurora Junior Poet Laureate. The honor came with a personalized credential, a $25 gift certificate to a local bookstore and a brief meeting Nov. 15 with Mayor Steve Hogan and the city’s outgoing poet laureate, Jovan Mays.

The self-assurance of Gonzalez’s words in a recent application to become the official representative of Aurora verse is what led to the recent designation.

On top of referring to herself as “future poet laureate,” Gonzalez included the line, “like I said, amazing poetry.” That was referring to her own, six-line work. Talk about brass.

“I told her a few times not to (submit the application) because you had to be 18 and I didn’t want her to get disappointed, but she wanted to give it a try anyway,” said Heather Hawkins, Gonzalez’s mother. “I sent that letter because it was funny and because of that line at the end … she was just so confident in her ‘amazing’ abilities, and we just got a kick out of that.”

Gonzalez submitted her application early last month after her father, Aurora Water employee Peter Gonzalez, saw a local news story mentioning the city was on the hunt for a new bard.

“She was wondering what a poet laureate was,” he said. “We explained it to her and she thought that was kind of a cool thing.”

So far, the city has received only three other applications for the poet laureate position, in addition to Olivia’s pitch, according to David Origlio, who sits on the board of trustees for the Aurora Public Library. However, he said the pool of applicants for positions like poet laureate usually swells in size in the days or hours before the final deadline.

At the recent meeting with Mays and Hogan, Gonzalez read several of her short stanzas to a small crowd. Topics ranged from soccer to beach balls to monsters.

“It’s just really special,” Mays said of the meeting. “When I was in second grade, I won the Poet of the Year Award at Cimarron Elementary School, and I think about how big of an accomplishment that was on that day, so I can only imagine what this must feel like.

“I’m just kind of enamored with the parents being here, the cool celebration and certainly the fact that there’s very likely a lifelong memory here, which is very cool.”

Mays was named the city’s first-ever poet laureate shortly after former At-large City Councilwoman Debi Hunter Holen helped launch the program in early 2014. The position came under fire one year later, however, after several council members balked at a proposed — and eventually approved — stipend for the city’s laureate.

Hogan, who bore witness to some of that early tumult regarding the position, said the poet laureate program in Aurora is now here to stay.

“Any time you start up something new, first of all, there’s a question of is it going to work or not? And then, did it work well?” the mayor said. “And I think it’s been demonstrated that this program works in Aurora.”

Anyone interested in becoming the next poet laureate of Aurora still has until Nov. 28 to apply for the position.

The city’s new poet must be an Aurora resident, at least 18 years old, a published poet, interviewed by a committee and comfortable with performing at public events, according to the city.

“By ‘publication’ the selecting committee would like to see the efforts the candidates have made to share their work,” City Spokesman Abraham Morales wrote in an email. “This includes books, self-publishing, magazines, websites, university newsletters, poetry readings, etc.”

The new versifier will begin their duties in February of next year and serve in the role until January 2019.