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Rosemary Catacalos author's photo

Rosemary Catacalos is the 2013 Poet Laureate of Texas.

Read the Texas House Resolutions [1536] and [1537].

Read the announcement in the [San Antonio Express-News].

Although both sides of her family have lived in San Antonio, Texas, since 1910, Rosemary Catacalos was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. She recovered from this accident of birth with alacrity and spent her childhood on the east side of San Antonio. She is of Greek and Mexican heritage, and is known for blending the history, folklore and mythologies of those cultures into her carefully crafted poems, which often feature closely-observed San Antonio settings. Catacalos is included in the award-winning documentary, [The Children of the RevoluciĆ³n].

In the 1960s Catacalos was a reporter and arts columnist for the San Antonio Light newspaper. An early advocate for and participant in the artist-in-the-schools programs, her legacy in that role was felt for decades. Her first book, a letterpress chapbook, As Long As It Takes (St. Louis: Iguana Press), was published in 1984, as was her first full-length collection, Again for the First Time (Santa Fe: Tooth of Time Books), which was awarded the Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including Southwest Review, The Progressive and Parnassus: Poetry in Review. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations, and received a Special Mention in Pushcart Prize IX: Best of the Small Presses. Her work has twice been collected in Best American Poetry (NY: Scribner, 1996 and 2003)

Watch Rosemary at the San Antonio Public Library, introduced by Ramiro Salazar, Director of the Library, and Naomi Shihab Nye, on Oct.22, 2013:

UTSA and the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching Present Rosemary Catacalos at the Annual ILT Colloquium, March 19, 2012:

Catacalos was awarded the Dobie Paisano Fellowship by the Texas Insitute of Letters and the University of Texas in 1985, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship. She directed the literature program at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (1986-1989), where she expanded the Annual Texas Small Press Book Fair into the San Antonio Inter-American Book Fair. Catacalos spent 1989 to 2003 in California, where she was first a Stegner Creative Writing Fellow at Stanford University, then executive director of The Poetry Center/American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University (1991-1996). She was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford until she returned to San Antonio in 2003 to become the executive director of Gemini Ink, a literary arts center. She retired from Gemini Ink in 2012. In 2008 Catacalos received the Macondo Foundation's 2008 Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award.

Rosemary reading "Swallow Wings" at Lockwood Park near the MLK Bridge, Eastside San Antonio, TX. September, 2013:

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Below is the May 25, 2013 interview in the [San Antonio Express-News]:

By Steve Bennett

Rosemary Catacalos casually tosses it out there: "I have an obsession with the image of the labyrinth."

Hmmm. This seems like something a psychiatrist would probe mercilessly. Actually, though, it's not all that Freudian.

Or maybe it is. Of Greek and Mexican blood, the San Antonio poet attended two churches growing up and spoke two languages at home and another at school. She had what she calls a "demanding" family. They were poor. She began helping her dad, a sign painter, in his small shop on the city's East Side when she was four.

"My job was to drag a huge magnet around the floor to pick up nails," she recalls. "I remember I wanted to be swinging." She learned to, in her words, "negotiate cultural borders" at an early age.

Now a youthful 69, she's never stopped.

"How to find a way in and out of complex situations is a leitmotif of my life," she says.

Recently named the Poet Laureate of Texas by the Legislature, Catacalos is in a good place, following an emotional separation from Gemini Ink last year after a decade as the nonprofit literary organization's director.

This summer, Wings Press will publish a 30th anniversary edition of Catacalos' 1984 collection Again for the First Time, which won the 1985 Texas Institute of Letters poetry prize.

After a long career as an arts administrator in Texas and California, the one-time Paisano fellow is returning with force to her own poetry. Wings Press also plans to release a limited-edition chapbook of ten more recent poems in September. Titled Begin Here, the collection features a cover image of a labyrinth by Catacalos' good friend, the late Yvonne Lifshutz.

The underlying theme of Catacalos' life and career is the connection between the arts and literacy. She has preached the literature/literacy connection for years, and is a living example of its validity.

"I think that's what poems do," she says. "They show different perspectives and ways of understanding in the world and help us negotiate that with grace."

Catacalos recently sat down in the kitchen of her 1914 Craftsman home in the Highland Park neighborhood to talk with the Express-News.

Q. What went through your mind when you learned you were named Poet Laureate of Texas?

A. I was very happily surprised. I was shocked, actually, because I've been a very hard-working arts administrator. At the time I started doing arts administration, there weren't that many people of color doing that kind of work, so it was very important for me to open doors. And my focus on my own work was not quite as important to me as opening those doors.

Q. So you put aside your own creative work?

A. I put it on the side burner. Let's not say the back burner because I've always been very disciplined in terms of writing continually. But the fact of the matter is that it's not possible, at least for me, to have the kind of uninterrupted focus that I require to do all the things that writers do  and work as an administrator. Instead, I did that for a lot of other people. And that was necessary and very, very important for my sense of who I am. I always thought I'd get to the place where I'll take care of my own work. And last year, that magically happened. I left Gemini Ink. I was able, for the first time in years, to do what I really need to do, which is go into a piece for four or five days and do 35 or 40 drafts and keep going until I get it right, you know?

Q. Do you think, I wish I'd done this 25 years ago?

A. I really have mostly been a believer that things happen when they are supposed to happen. I know I couldn't be writing the poems I'm writing now if it were 25 years ago. I'd be a different person.

Q. The 30th anniversary of the publication of Again for the First Time is coming up. Going back and reading it again, what was your reaction?

A. It holds up. Occasionally, I would read from it for specific things, but I hadn't sat down and gone front to back in many years. I was happy to see that it stood on its own two feet still. A lot of the poems in there were in a way anticipatory of a lot of family poems that came out of the Latino writing community. It was one of the first books that really focused a great deal on family. And because of my Greek family as well, it participates in a tricultural relationship that later on became very much an important place for writers that came from two strong cultures and lived in a third. It's just all these amazing negotiations of borders.

Q. What is your platform as Texas Poet Laureate? What is the message you want to send out?

A. There are no formal duties, but I've already begun to be invited to come and read or do this and that. And I want to stress the inseparability of literature and literacy in all circumstances. Meaning that, say I'm invited to read at the Junior League, and I'm invited to read at the Good Samaritan Center. These are very different venues. The same message is necessary in both places, and that is that literacy is absolutely reinforced by creative thought. It is at our peril that we don't create high levels of literacy in our society because, again, people can't negotiate their lives. The issue with literacy and literature is the fact that people learn from the inside out, so family stories are already in. When you put those out, you see how they connect with other family stories around the world.

The other thing, and it's kind of a subset of that, is translation, translation, translation. The U.S. is pathetic in terms of literary translation. We are arrogant, we are unschooled, we are the worst thing you can think of in terms of reading the literature of the world. How do we think we're going to understand other cultures and people and make good decisions on how we all live on this planet without reading what other people have to say?

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Steve Bennett is the book page editor for the San Antonio Express-News. Reach him at sbennett@express-news.net

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Author photo by Michael Mehl / FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA.

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