UMSL poet laureates

Past and present UMSL poet laureates (from left) Jennifer Goldring, Jennifer Tappenden and Marisol Ramirez gather for brunch and to discuss, among other things, the St. Louis literary community and how they can do their part to bring poetry to more people. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Marisol Ramirez remembers her earliest poetry. Her mother, an English teacher, gave her a notepad, pencil and instructions to “try something.”

“I think the line I wrote was something really cliché about the sun and the moon and a beach,” said Ramirez, a student pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “But it was my start. Everyone has to start somewhere.”

From that point on, poetry fascinated Ramirez. She explored the medium, writing about the natural beauty in and around her Arizona hometown located along the border with Mexico. But it didn’t become a serious passion until she took a creative writing course at the University of Arizona.

That led Ramirez to UMSL’s creative writing program where she’s further honed her skills and since earned the distinction of being the university’s third poet laureate.

UMSL MFA student Marisol Ramirez

In addition to her role as UMSL poet laureate in 2014, Marisol Ramirez served as the president of the Graduate Writers Association, and she worked as an assistant editor of UMSL Magazine and graduate assistant for University Marketing and Communications. (Photo by August Jennewein)

UMSL Daily recently caught up with Ramirez to reflect on her year, her writing process and what happens when three poet laureates get together for brunch.

What do you like most about St. Louis?

The community. You have free concerts in the Missouri Botanical Garden. People go! This does not happen in Arizona. Maybe 20 people would show up. There’s a sense of love for this city that you feel. I love that it’s old. I love antique things. I love the architecture. I’m really engrossed in the literary community. It was wild to me that I showed up here and there were so many readings I could go to. I could go to something every single night. I had to stop myself from going to things. I was not getting work done. It’s places like Dressel’s. This is the first place I read at. When people are devoted to the place they live in, it blossoms and I feel like this is the greatest place to have a start-up business. People are here to support you. If a new restaurant opens, St. Louisans say, ‘We need to go to this restaurant.’ It’s wonderful. I feel like St. Louis is a hidden gem. People always talk about Chicago, New York and Boston, but I would say St. Louis is right there in the running with them as far as culture. I think artists are actually flocking here. I read recently that St. Louis is the No. 1 city for writers to live in. I can see why.

What’s your poetry writing process like?

I mull it over for many hours and days before I ever sit down to write. This is different for each poem too. There are some poems that just flow out of you. You could have been thinking about it for two weeks, but 15 minutes of writing and it’s done. Then there are other poems where you’re just gritting your teeth word by word. I usually write at night and with a cup of coffee. I will distract myself. I want to get up and make a cup of coffee because it’s that hard sometimes to get to the next line. I’m in PJs. I’m not one of those writers who can go out and write in a coffee shop very well. I’ll go out there, but more than anything I’ll sit and look at people. They’ll be working away. And that will be kind of like fuel for me like, ‘Man, they’re working away, Marisol. You need to go home and do something.’ I hate revising. I’m a poet of first drafts. And I’m very lucky, I think, that my first drafts come out somewhat polished. I always write on my laptop. I journal, but it’s just my idea, and it’s usually an image. I’ll start with an image and go from there.

You’ve mentioned before that you sometimes meet for brunch with your poet laureate predecessors. What’s it like with three poet laureates together at the table? What do you talk about?

Yes, we did all get together at Home Food and Wine in Maplewood, Mo., along with Sara Ross, a mutual friend and fictionist. Sara jokingly bragged to other friends about brunching with UMSL’s three poet laureates.

We’re a very supportive bunch. Aside from balancing our writing lives with our professional lives, most of what we talk about is the St. Louis literary community and how, with the little influence we have, we can help grow certain programs and bring poetry to more people. Each of us holds a leadership position in the community. Jennifer Tappenden runs Architrave and helps organize funding for the Natural Bridge Debut Writers Series. Jennifer Goldring manages Natural Bridge, UMSL’s literary journal, and will start as managing editor at december. I preside over the Graduate Writers Association and am current poet laureate. Brunch is time for us to vent about obstacles, come up with solutions and sip on some good coffee. We almost always leave inspired to write, energized and ready to tackle to-do lists for each other. We’re like Cerberus, the three-headed dog, except the poetry enthusiast version.

With your year winding down, how would you sum up your experience as a UMSL poet laureate? What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Readings, readings, readings. And I loved it. I got to meet so many wonderful people at UMSL and in St. Louis, people I otherwise might not have had the chance to meet, like Missouri Poet Laureate William Trowbridge. My favorite moment as UMSL poet laureate was signing and sending a poem home for a mother’s 14 year-old daughter, who is also a poet. She’s since emailed me and is excited about plugging into the St. Louis literary community. And that’s the beauty of poet laureate readings. They draw diverse crowds of people that aren’t necessarily in the writing community. I never thought I was indoctrinating the audience into my art form, but I was always glad to have made simple connections through a line or a particular image in a poem that touched someone. That’s how the love of art begins, exposure and small appreciation.

Do you have any advice for the next poet laureate?

Go out into the audience, shake some hands and introduce yourself. Don’t let there be a barrier between the podium and the listeners. People want to make connections, and they genuinely enjoyed your reading, most likely. The experience is much more fulfilling for all parties, including you, after a warm conversation.

What are your thoughts about the city of St. Louis’ push to name a poet laureate?

It seems only right that the city that produced T.S. Eliot, Maya Angelou, Marianne Moore and many other famous poets have a poet laureate. People outside of Missouri are often surprised to learn of St. Louis’ thriving literary scene. In reality, St. Louis is quietly booming. It’s artistic, electric energy is the best kept secret in the writing world. Naming a city poet laureate is the first step to officially proclaiming that St. Louis is not only a city for artists, but also celebrates them. Beyond that, the position provides a voice that represents a place and a people poetically. We have political representation, but the soul of a city is best captured through art, which St. Louis has a lot of to share.

Visit to listen to an interview and readings by Ramirez.

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