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Sugar House Journal

Free Poetry at Westminster Strikes Again

Dec 08, 2015 14h06 ● By Bryan Scott

By Elizabeth Suggs

Sugar House - As part of the 2015-2016 Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poetry series, Westminster held a free poetry reading on Oct. 29 by both Natalie Scenters-Zapico and Campbell McGrath. 

Like previous Free Poetry Series poets,  Scenters-Zapico and McGrath were chosen by director of the Weeks poetry series, Natasha Sajé. The criteria for being picked, according to Sajé, is a poet must have outstanding contemporary work and have done work in the Salt Lake community. 

“We have hosted Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates, McArthur ‘genius’ grant winners, and U.S. Poet Laureates,” Sajé said, “including Derek Walcott, Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, Gary Snyder and Jorie Graham.” 

The free poetry series was created in 1987 by then Westminster creative writing teacher, Scott Cairns, and has since only expanded further than ever before, according to Sajé. 

“By joining forces with other institutions in Salt Lake, the series brings the power of poetry to people who might otherwise not venture onto a college campus,” Sajé said.

The series has even sparked interest in lesser-known writers, and a more enthusiastic audience with each new poetry series. Having this as her first poetry series, Scenters-Zapico is thrilled to have been given the opportunity. 

“I’d love to continue working with Westminster, as I think that they have a wonderful creative writing program and curate one of the best reading series in the state,” Scenters-Zapico said.

Scenters-Zapico, from El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México, is known for “The Verging Cities” poetry collection. She’s also appeared on The Believer,  Prairie Schooner, West Branch, Best American Poetry 2015 and more, according to Scenters-Zapico’s website. 

“I found my love of writing through reading first,” Scenters-Zapico said. “I originally wanted to go into history,” 

Campbell McGrath is an author of nine books of poetry already. One of the most recent poetry collections of his is “In the Kingdom of Sea Monkeys.” Other popular titles by him are “Spring Comes to Chicago” and “Florida Poems.” McGrath has received the Kingsley Tufts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, among many other major awards.

“I tend to write about American history and landscape quite a bit in my poems.” McGrath said. “For instance, among the poems, I read at Westminster were poems about Walt Whitman and the evolution of whales, but also a part of my book-length poem about the Lewis and Clark expedition, entitled “Shannon.” 

McGrath, like Scenters-Zapico, has never read at Westminster. According to McGrath, he was invited by Natasha Saje. The free poetry series between his and Scenters-Zapico reading, according to McGrath, was “terrific.” The audience was large and appreciative. For McGrath, he was delighted to visit Westminster.  

“Westminster is an invaluable community resource,” McGrath said. “It takes poetry out of the dusty old box it often gets packed away in, and makes it part of peoples’ real lives.”

The next free poetry session at Westminster will be on Thursday, Feb. 11, with Marianne Boruch, author of nine books, and Brandon Som, author of two poetry collections: “The Tribute Horse” and “Babel’s Moon.” While poets, such as Scenters-Zapico and McGrath, were individually asked to take part in the free poetry session, both students and members of the community can take part in a small poetry class offered on Jan. 11, 25; Feb. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; March 14, 21, 28; and April 4, 11, 18, 25, if already signed up by the Oct. 17 deadline.