The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

96° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA alumnus named Arizona’s first poet laureate


    When Alberto Álvaro Ríos was a boy, his teacher’s lectures sometimes seemed like nothing more than white noise.

    “I got in trouble in the second grade with the terrible crime of daydreaming,” Ríos said. “I was always excited with imagination. [Writing] had little to do with pencil and paper.”

    Ríos, a UA alumnus, was selected as Arizona’s first poet laureate by Gov. Jan Brewer on Aug. 19. Ríos’s appointment was made in an effort to keep poetry alive in Arizona while acknowledging his poetic achievements and Arizonan heritage.

    Ríos grew up in a Spanish-speaking home in the small town of Nogales, where he first began to learn the magic of language.

    Ríos said that his love for writing began in his early years, sitting in the back of a classroom and mentally checking out to the drone of a teacher’s voice. During class time, Ríos would randomly write things things he “wanted to remember” in the back pages of his notebook, unknowingly laying the first stones in the road to his success.

    For Ríos, his career in poetry began in his mind, and was only later translated onto paper.

    “What I realize in retrospect is that I was writing for myself,” Ríos said. “I didn’t have somebody giving me gold stars.”

    As of today, however, Ríos has earned much more than a few gold stars. His appointment as Arizona’s first poet laureate will span a two-year term, during which time he will give public readings and ultimately work to keep the spirit of poetry thriving in Arizona.

    Coming from the back pages of a simple school notebook to the respected role of Arizona’s first poet laureate, Ríos said he is moved by his appointment.

    “[The appointment] is thrilling, but it’s humbling because it’s an impossible type of idea,” Ríos said. “But that’s what makes it perfect — that it’s impossible.”

    Tyler Meier, the newly appointed executive director of the UA Poetry Center, said that Ríos’s position as pioneer of the Arizona poet laureate designation gives him a unique opportunity to set the stage for future laureates.

    “Ríos has the exciting job of inventing what this position is,” Meier said. “As he articulates his vision for what the position will be, we’re really excited to partner with him and act as a sort of blowhorn for his platform.”

    As he’s still in the early days of his appointment, Ríos said he does not know exactly what his duties will entail or what specific direction he plans to follow. He does know, however, that he will be looking to better Arizona communities and poetry alike.

    “Language should be used for solutions, not problems,” Ríos said. “Language should be used to solve issues.”

    Meier said his hope is for Ríos to highlight the significance of art and language in general.

    “His public role will hopefully raise the position of poetry across Arizona’s culture, and remind us that one of poetry’s great abilities is to point back to the importance of language and how language informs everyday life in a myriad of ways,” Meier said.

    Although Ríos is aware of the the significance of his position and the importance of the art he represents, he said he doesn’t aim to lead the discussion.

    “It’s not a lecture delivered from a high place or ivory tower,” Ríos said. “It’s a conversation about things that matter. It’s a human communion.”

    Ríos is a Regents’ Professor of English and creative writing at Arizona State University, where he shares the knowledge and tools that brought him to where he is today. His goals for his future work remain clear.

    “I always hope that on every page, in every poem … there is a moment like an epiphany, however small,” he said.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search