Aurora poet laureate finalist: ‘​​I want to help people share their stories’

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Ahja Fox would like a word with you, or many.

For the third time in the city’s history, Aurora will have a designated new voice. Fox is poised to become Aurora’s third poet laureate, succeeding Assetou Xango who became the city’s premiere poet in 2017.

Fox’s poetry is evocative and intimate, often focusing on the body. Her poems and prose writing have been published in print journals and anthologies as well as online.

Ahja Fox is slated to be the new Poet Laureate for the city of Aurora. Portrait by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

“I think to understand the world, you have to understand yourself, and I feel like the people around me sometimes struggle with that. The more you know yourself, the better you can interpret the world,” Fox said.

“I believe anyone can use poetry as a creative outlet to speak their mind.”

Xango and the city’s first poet laureate, Jovan Mays, both participated on this year’s judging panel along with state poet laureate Bobby LeFebre, Aurora City Council member Danielle Jurinsky and representatives of the Aurora Public Library and city staff.

Mays said Fox was chosen from a field of six candidates after completing an application process, interviewing and performing an original poem about the City of Aurora.

“Ahja just did a really solid job presenting her version of Aurora, which really showcased Aurora’s diversity and how Ahja perceives the beauty of diversity,” Mays said. “Her work is really cryptically interesting and uniquely beautiful.”

Aurora’s poet laureate is tasked with promoting poetry and literature within the city as well as presenting poems at special events like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veterans Day and Aurora’s birthday.

Fox worked previously as a managing editor for Homology Lit and as an assistant poetry editor for Copper Nickel, and has worked in multiple roles with Poetix University.

“I know Colorado like I know every inch of my own skin,” Fox wrote in her piece for the judging panel. “We are every shade of pastel with speckled hints of bold color. We smell of aspen leaves to the West as we smell of bonfire to the East.”

“I’ll admit it. I adore the downtowns and up-arounds, but the Dam Road is an exact location I can reach within my mind. ‘It is just a bridge that drives right over Cherry Creek Reservoir.’ It is just the settling pit of everyone’s dark. Whenever I drive on it, I speed a little, roll down all four of my windows like I’m queen of the god-damn town. This is me and I am this. Cold tickling an earlobe, darting sharp across an upper lip.”

Fox traces her passion for poetry back to the classrooms of her third- fifth-grade teachers at Samuels Elementary, Mrs. Wentworth and Mrs. Seeley, who she said sparked her love of reading and writing. Fox said she had been “writing poems ever since.”

At Arapahoe Community College, she took a creative writing class that cemented her love of poetry, and she decided to pursue a major in English with a focus in creative writing.

Some Colorado poets and writers that Fox said she has drawn inspiration from include Hillary Leftwich, Stina French and Alejandro Lucero, as well as author Steven Dunn.

Fox said she heard about the poet laureate opening through a Facebook group for writers of color and mentioned how she previously met Mays at the Denver Art Museum.

“​​I was super inspired,” she said. “I thought, this is the sort of thing that I want to be involved in, in terms of facilitating these spaces and promoting the power of words.”

As poet laureate, Fox said she hopes to undertake more public outreach, including in Aurora’s schools, libraries and recreation centers. She also said she hopes to raise more awareness of established poetry readings and places where the public can experience the artform for themselves.

“I want to elevate existing spaces that already do this,” she said.

Mays said that, during his own tenure as poet laureate, he also focused on outreach and making poetry accessible to more people.

“When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember meeting a poet, let alone a poet who looked like me and represented the experiences I came from,” Mays said.

“I really thought it was great that Assetou brought (another) level of professionalism to the post. And Ahja specifically carries this out to even another level,” he said. “I can see this position taking another leap significantly.”

Fox said she also hopes the role would help her grow as a poet.

“I‘m proud of being from here, but I want to avoid navel gazing,” she said. “I know I’m going to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of stories, and not only do I want to help people share their stories but also speak from a broader perspective than I have.”

Aurora’s City Council will have to vote to finalize the appointment of Fox, who said the final decision is scheduled for June 27. A subgroup of council members gave a preliminary thumbs-up on May 31.


Purgation in Paris, excerpt | By Ahja Fox

Forgive yourself for looking like your mother

When she’s stressed

For the maturity and moles

That have settled into your neck at twenty-three

She only knew what-

Ever her mother taught her when she was twenty-one

(and the lessons God and suffering also imparted)

Like how to rage in silence

Like how to demi-twist white lies into beauty and truth for children

Like how to bend over backwards,

A holy exorcist, because

“Only the one carrying hatred in their body can expel it”

 

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