PERRY: Aurora takes a wrong turn into the write stuff trying to run over the city’s poet laureate

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Fiscal prudence (and you must say those words as Miss Jane Hathaway from “The Beverly Hillbillies” would have) is to most politicians as what a large glass of whole milk is to the lactose intolerant: a source of great rhetorical flatulence.

And such talk has been stinking up a few meetings of the greater minds of the Aurora City Council, deciding the fate of the city’s poet laureate.

This is the rich stuff that Aurora is made of.

Many of you probably have no idea that the city has a poet laureate, and that he’s an amazing, rising star on the national poetry scene. Auroran Jovan Mays has for the past year held the city’s distinguished post, traipsing across the town, the region and the country to wow audiences with his beguiling and provocative poems, for which he has so far been paid a whopping goose egg.

Mays has walked away victorious from a growing number of poetry slams. He is regularly filmed at readings, adding a captivating performance art quality to his appearances. Mays a has turned more than a few heads in the country, amazed that Aurora would have the cultural chutzpah to pull off such a feat.

But Mays has also turned a few stomachs on the city council. A handful of fiscally and self-proclaimed prudent lawmakers are horrified that not only are some of Mays’ poems provocative, but they can be downright vexing. They don’t like it.

Take Mays’ poem, “TeePees.” It’s a passionate and rousing finger in the face of a country that has treated American Indians and other minorities in sadistic ways. Now, personally, I am hugely offended by racism and the disturbing treatment of Native Americans, but some are offended by Mays’ passionate and highly poetic rants.

“This is the first time I’ve heard that a poet laureate is supposed to stir up controversy and read poems like that,” exclaimed councilwoman Marsha Berzins at a study session focusing about whether to continue the fledgling program. “I would never have voted on this if I had known that. I could see people getting up and walking out of events if that’s what he’s going to do.”

Can you imagine a poet saying inflammatory, provocative and unsettling things? Well, you probably could if remembered your high school English class.

How about American icon, and father of free-verse poetry, Walt Whitman? He lost his government job when he published the then-scandalous, “Leaves of Grass,” filled with iconic parts like “Calamus.” That’s where Whitman talks glowingly about taking his man crush to a higher level and getting down and dirty.

Since most poetry is by nature an expression of marvel, outrage and frustration, it’s hard to discriminate which poems most exemplify those rousing qualities — almost all of them do.

Berzins wasn’t alone is getting red-faced over a black man questioning white wisdom in the face of things like police shootings of unarmed minorities, marginalization of the poor and downtrodden, and the arrogance of the ruling class. Like Voltaire and Victor Hugo, Mays makes a passionate plea to hear the voices of an America regularly ignored. Some people don’t want to hear them.

“I don’t see (it) as culturally responsible, reading something that’s going to anger and shake up people,” warned Councilwoman Renie Peterson. “I don’t like where this is going.”

Me, neither. Going? This is where it’s been. Did Peterson et al miss Allen Ginsberg’s American masterpiece, “The Howl”? Provocative doesn’t begin to describe passages of America turning to fun, empty drugs, emotional obscenity and gay-biker orgies. That brought on some book burnings and got more than a few folks talking — which was the point. It’s always been the point, going back thousands of years. Oedipus and Antigone were not for the easily off put.

What Peterson and Berzins overlook is the age-old problem of impolitely shooting the messenger. The poets aren’t provocative, but the subjects they write about are. They reflect the controversies around us, and good ones like Mays make us look at those issues up close and, often, uncomfortably personal.  As to looking serving only sweet Robert Frosties to the masses, that kind of thing has got three JeffCo school board members about to be looking for jobs.

Real life ain’t no Hallmark card, folks. And good poetry makes that point.

As disconcerting as it was for some council members that Mays gets  in peoples’ faces and heads, the most-embarrassing part is that those critics are now balking at continuing with Mays and paying him a new, unrequested, annual $2,000 honorarium. They argue that his is a volunteer position, and that other city volunteers don’t get stipends, so why should this one?

Wow. They equate nice people who sit through boring budget or veterans affairs meetings with an artist who makes endless appearances each year, performing what he’s taken endless hours creating. This criticism is so reflective of a naive mentality that equates the arts with hobbies like scrap-booking. This is why football players and stock barons make millions in this country while poets and song writers qualify for Medicaid.

Some critics fear that before long the city will be asked to pay the poet laureate something obscenely expensive, like maybe $5,000 or $6,000 a year.

“Then the next thing you know, it’ll be on the budget line,” said Councilman Bob LeGare, who actually likes Mays and the poet laureate idea. “It’s the creep of taxpayer dollars.”

OK. Given that we also have volunteer city council members, why not end their stipends, benefits and retirement contributions and use that cash to fight other parts of taxpayer dollar “creep”?

But here’s the whopper line that even Ezra Pound couldn’t have topped: “We spend so much money and effort branding the city” to improve its image in the metro area, said Berzins, and then muck it up with some poet laureate who “talks about controversial things, and on purpose.” She was referring to Aurora’s $350,000 campaign to persuade the Front Range that the city is “worth discovering,” and not a backward cultural wasteland.

Oh, Marsha, My Marsha. That’s exactly why the city has to spend so much money on advertising to persuade people that Aurora isn’t the kind of place that does things like this. Chalk it up to taxpayer creep. We’re going to need a lot more “worth discovering” marketing dollars for next year.

See Jovan Mays work yourself at www.jovanmays.com/video

Reach @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook, or email [email protected]

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Lawrence Beer
Lawrence Beer
6 years ago

Ahhh, jeez. Really?? Well, at least we’ll be able to preserve our place on that “least literate cities” scoreboard that comes out every year.

Wrkrrights
Wrkrrights
6 years ago

Dave Perry, your points are overall pretty good. However, I invite you to attend a meeting of the Aurora Veterans’ Affairs Commission. Please do contact the Chair of that Commission, Commissioner Jim Kirst.

Sahmiam
Sahmiam
6 years ago

Yet another case of expecting award-winning artists work for free? I had no idea this position was completely unpaid! Thank you for shedding some light on this matter. City of Aurora should be ashamed….on multiple counts. Pretty bad optics here folks. Better do the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago
Reply to  Sahmiam

Yes, we haven’t done enough, given enough, forgiven enough, were fair enough, whew, I’m tired just writing about it.

ryecatcher
ryecatcher
6 years ago

This is the kind of stuff that rankles the wing ding righties. Sounds like the Aurora City Council might have a few of those on board.

We’ll no doubt start hearing from the usual noise makers soon. Can you hear the gurgling sounds? Is that you Mikey Rosen?

Good column as usual Dave.

Maryann C. Hibbert
Maryann C. Hibbert
6 years ago
Reply to  ryecatcher

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GaijinSamurai
GaijinSamurai
6 years ago

Great article, sometimes the things that need to be said might not be easy to swallow. Glad you shined the spotlight here and on the fact that there is an Aurora Poet Laureate. Jovan Mays is certainly worthy of the position, he’s a brilliant poet. It’s great that the Aurora City Council considered an annual honorarium for that position. If Jovan was trusted enough to be honored with that position, he should be allowed the freedom to perform his art within whatever job description he was assigned. I don’t feel censorship should be a part of packages that involve artists. Select the best candidate by doing good research and getting to know the artist and their art. It seems that this was done because they made a great selection. When did things change? “Fiscal prudence” seems to be a mask for something unnamed in this case. Transparency in words and deeds is good business. I pray the right thing will be done for the position and for Jovan.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago
Reply to  GaijinSamurai

Mr. Mays is a supporter and writer of, and for, the black race. Does that qualify him to be a poet laureate, I don’t know. It would seem a more balanced, inclusive type would be better suited, looking at entire landscapes, not secluded corners.

GaijinSamurai
GaijinSamurai
6 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

There is so much more to Mr. Mays than that and your first statement is not entirely true. Mr. Mays is about the human race and raising levels of consciousness and respect. He is also about helping youth–all youth to discover and harness the power of their voices through written language. I doubt that Mr. Mays was chosen based on the “qualifications” listed in your response to me. Mr. Mays is a highly respected poet and has many achievements toward that end. The Aurora City Council made a superb decision in selecting Mr. Mays as the City’s Poet Laureate.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago
Reply to  GaijinSamurai

I’m nearly sure he means well, and if it helps black kids, more power to him. Activists like Mr. Mays seem to find ways to incorporate race into the conversation, and that leads to charges of racism, and then blame.

Michael Henry
Michael Henry
6 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

Here’s a link that supports GS’s assertion that Jovan writes on many topics, and how earnest and moving his work can be:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IroZEouzyGQ

Brought to You by Dissonance
Brought to You by Dissonance
6 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

You spelled awareness and change wrong.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago

Another race-baiting, culture-less, blacks live matter, ‘you haven’t done enough’, angry black guy. Poet? Rapper? Makes no difference, for he sees no wrong with anything black, where the contemporary black family consists of a ‘mother’ and 3 or more children by anyone who’s willing. Rehashing past history is available in the public library, go read about the American Indian, who I too, believe got a raw deal. The Indian people were hunters and gatherer’s, living off the land, no motivation to do more, content to continue to live as they had for generations, what happened to them is civilization, expanding population, land being settled by others, it happened throughout the world.

What I find wrong with every Jovan Mays, and there are plenty of them, ‘activists’ ‘organizers’ ‘protesters’ ‘rabble rousers’ is that they NEVER find a thing wrong with what the majority of their race does, it’s all attributable to the ‘man’, the ‘white man’, they’ve done nothing wrong, it’s because ‘we are black’, it’s nothing more than oppression by the white man. All of the convicts in our prisons, all of those on welfare, the thugs on the street, ALL attributable to the white man, who without, we would have built a great nation, striven to be the best, stood out, made untold contributions to mankind, a super race, but held down by the oppressive white race.

Now you can label me, ‘how dare he, he’s a hater’, right. Ever wonder why some people get to that point? Did we read it in a newspaper, see it on television, or, did we experience life, did we get real education, find out for ourselves. Have there been people ‘wronged’, of course, the Italians and Irish number two of those, but the ‘burning and looting’ is always because of a black that has been ‘wronged’. In the last 4, ALL were criminals or thugs, but ‘wronged’ nonetheless. You see, the black race doesn’t want to be held accountable, they want ‘carte blanche’ governing, ‘whatever we do is okay’ keep your laws to yourselves, but don’t forget to get the check here on time.

Michael Henry
Michael Henry
6 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

Do you call the history of slavery, of being taken forcefully from one’s home continent and being treated as less than human, and then when slavery is over, being denied basic human rights, being lynched, being incarcerated at ridiculous rates, and being denied due process of the law, over and over (and over) again, as not having “been wronged”? How is that not being wronged? And how would you know, if you’ve never experienced this systematic abuse?

Poetry, as Wordsworth (dead white guy) said, is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions, and I commend Aurora for choosing such a passionate and dedicated poet like Jovan to speak his truth. Which doesn’t mean you can’t speak yours–no one’s ever really denied that to you, have they?

And speaking of race-baiting, your statement “for he sees no wrong with anything black, where the contemporary black family consists of a ‘mother’ and 3 or more children by anyone who’s willing” fits the definition perfectly. And it’s deplorable.

Maybe if ignorance like yours didn’t exist, Jovan could write about daisies and green pastures.

gofastgo
gofastgo
6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Henry

I recall slavery was outlawed by a white man, Abraham Lincoln, 150 years ago, you must have forgotten, as many blacks do today, that a white man, Lincoln, is the president who fought for their freedom with a great civil war, over those very freedoms. No one today has any living relatives that were slaves. ‘forcefully taken from one’s home’ BY THEIR TRIBAL BROTHERS, NOT Americans. At what point will you and others talk about the future, instead of re-hashing the past errors and sins of an entire world?

At some point, the truth of a matter, isn’t very palatable, the race-baiting you speak of, is nothing short of lies told by ‘black leaders’ to the eager, easily indulged, black mindset, what I wrote is fact-based. I watch programming, in fact I’ll name the show, ‘The First 48’, it’s a reality based show that depicts homicides in large metropolitan cities, Dallas, Cincinnati, Miami, and others. I’m waiting to see my first white homicide suspect on this show. They always, without exception, show the victim and the suspect, all blacks, the women all with 2 or more, many more in some cases, children, husbands are very seldom mentioned, boyfriends are apparent in most situations however. No matter the age of the victim, if it’s a black woman, they always say, ‘Nora Jones, age 22, leaves behind 3 children’ No husband, just the kids. And you want to call me a race-baiter? Although, as a country, we’ve spent around $50 Trillion dollars on combating poverty, payments for welfare, housing, food, schooling, affirmative action, etc., we have more of it today than 60 years ago before we spent the money. Money well spent? Not so much.

hopeinourworld
hopeinourworld
6 years ago

I did not have an opinion on the Poet Laureate issue until I clicked on the link and watched and heard some of Mr. Mays’ work. All I can say is WOW. This man is a phenomenal artist, so gifted, so talented. I was deeply moved by his words and his passion and emotion when listening to the “To The Black Boys.” I don’t think he’ll be in Aurora long; he is destined for greater places. We are fortunate he is with us. City Councilpeople need to wake up: we are all one people. When a person of color is hurt, we are all hurt. When a person not of color is hurt, we are all hurt. We need to learn from each other’s cultures and histories and hearts. The facts are the facts, and Mr. Mays speaks of the truth of today’s world. Aurora has received a huge blessing in the form of Jovan Mays. Thank you, Sentinel, for including the link to his poetry. I hope many Aurorans will take the time to listen, and to hear, and to feel. We should all be humbled and grateful.

Susie Gray Isaac
Susie Gray Isaac
6 years ago

Dear Mr. Perry, Thank you for making this known. I too was shocked to learn Jovan Mays was Aurora’s Poet Laureate last year, because I was floored that a suburb would have such an incredible program in place, let alone such a talented person holding the position. Of course his poems spark conversation and encite emotion – they are ART – it is what good art is supposed to do. Jovan is articulate, passionate, insightful, community-minded, and incredibly talented. In my experience, he has served as a positive role model for students at my school and for children in the Denver community. What a shame that a council member’s discomfort with his powerful talents would begin to overshadow what an incredible asset he has been to Aurora. It is a privilege for us that he has agreed to hold this position, and he has bestowed us with an incredible gift by serving the community this way. Shame on Berzins and Peterson.

Stuart Richards
Stuart Richards
6 years ago

I was a classmate of Jovan’s. All I gotta say is Aurora, if you’re dumb enough to fire him, there’s a line of cities that would be honored to have him.

Phil Gerkin
Phil Gerkin
6 years ago

Mr. Perry, what a wonderfully written editorial. Thank you for not only taking a side, but also writing about it in a stylistic homage to the poet whom you defend.

I first heard Jovan Mays time ago presenting as an addition in a business meeting. Like many, I was stunned that Aurora had the art awareness to have a Poet Laureate and then, after listening to him; I was speechless that they had selected such talent. It was so unlike much of the Aurora I have come to know.

Poetry is the language of invention, innovation and intention. As you so carefully explained, the purpose of poetry is often to put a noun against a verb to create an explosion. That the Aurora arts community understood this principle and chose an exemplar of modern poets as a laureate is profound. It is a shame that city council feels the need to indulge in “rhetorical flatulence.”

It is simple. Pay him. Pay him something. Pay him by the word for his poems. Pay him by the performance. Pay him for hits on his poetry. on the web. Pay him.

I am ashamed of many of the council members, two of whom I supported in their last election. (And they know who they are.)

Thank you for so eloquently speaking on behalf of Mr. Mays, and for trying to enlighten the ignorant on the purpose and beauty of modern poetry. Phil Gerkin