Current Edition | Literary Arts

Brad Roghaar: At the Confluence of Rivers and Poetry

Brad Roghaar at the 2016 Ogden City Mayor’s Awards in the Arts. Courtesy Ogden City.

A year ago, in early November, poet Brad Roghaar opened the Ogden Mayor’s Awards in the Arts by reading one of his works about a city at the confluence of two rivers. His first official duty as the city’s inaugural poet laureate, he’d written the poem for that evening, and he spoke to Ogden, about Ogden, and for Ogden, a city like no other in the state of Utah between the Ogden and Weber Rivers.

Earlier, Patrick Ramsey, a now-graduated poetry student from Weber State University, attended a reading by Star Coulbrooke, Logan’s Poet Laureate. When he asked his poetry professor and advisor Laura Stott, “Why doesn’t Ogden have a poet laureate?” the two of them began to assemble a proposal for the Ogden City Arts Advisory Committee. When they pitched it at the monthly committee meeting, the question, “Why doesn’t Ogden have a poet laureate and who should its inaugural poet laureate be?” resonated with the committee and the search began in earnest in late August 2016.

Those involved in the search, including the student and professor duo from WSU, wanted Ogden’s first poet laureate to embody the state’s fourth-largest city, known for the site of Utah’s mighty railroad legacy, not only in his or her poetry but also in his or her relationship with the city. They wanted someone who was and is Ogden, someone who loved the city for its beauties, who lived its history, and who celebrated what makes it unique and diverse and different from the other cities and towns that have sprouted beneath the drastic, slanted faces of the Wasatch Front.

And, of course, they wanted a damn good poet.

Though there were other spectacular poets who applied, Roghaar was voted in unanimously by the committee because of his long history with the university, with the city, and, most importantly, with the people of Ogden. The city’s first laureate was raised in Ogden, where he attended high school. Later, after earning his bachelor’s degree at Weber State, he became a well-accomplished, well-regarded, and much-loved professor there for over 30 years.

Recently, at his home, Roghaar rattled ice back and forth in a martini shaker with practiced ease, doing his best to put off answering questions about himself. His guests, prodding him to talk about the poet laureate position, watched the silver, icy shaker move back and forth in his hands. He first wanted everyone to feel welcome and to have a full belly before he talked about his new appointment. Once his guests had been served and made their way to his back deck at the edge of the trails that lead into the small canyons of the Front, he answered questions.

“I want to make poetry accessible to everyone in Ogden not just [for] the fortunate few who get to study poetry at the university. That’s great that they do, but not everyone can. I want everyone to be able to enjoy it,” he said.

It was a worthy, if expected answer, but Roghaar has also put some poetic muscle behind it.  During his first year, he could be seen all over the city, at elementary schools, and at local conventions and gatherings, delivering poetry to all that would listen. He has popped in to local open-mic poetry readings, listened and encouraged local poets who cannot attend the university, and toasted them in their artistic strides. He has taught community workshops; represented Ogden in literary settings outside of the city; and has continued to write and be a part of the unique place that is Ogden. He is indeed a poet who represents his home town.

This year, on November 16, for the second time, Roghaar will open the Mayor’s Awards in the Arts, a program created to provide an opportunity to shine the light of recognition on individual artists and arts organizations that are making a difference in the community through the arts. Each category, from literary to performing arts, and from advocacy to lifetime achievement are nominated by the public for an award. And this year Brad Roghaar will write and read about a city that lives and thrives between two rivers. He will do it as a friend, as an accomplished poet, and as treasured son of a city that needed one of its own–its first poet laureate–to speak for it.

 

Ogden City Arts, along with Mayor Mike Caldwell and the Ogden City Arts Advisory Committee will honor the following individuals and organizations at the 2017 Mayor’s Awards in the Arts, November 16 at The Union Station, Browning Theater: Arts Advocacy: Janis Vause, Lifetime Contribution: Suzanne Storer, Performing Arts: Dicky Martinez (Posthumous Award), Literary Arts: Marcy Rizzi, Visual Arts:  Cara Koolmees, Design Arts: Shalae Larsen – IO Design Collaborative

 

Brad L. Roghaar, Mayor Awards in the Arts, November 2016:

 

THE CONFLUENCE OF TWO RIVERS

(I)

Two rivers sluice two canyons, a full measure each,

they obey the call to make confluence.

Look closely at these rivers:

how willingly they invite everything asked,

how they trip and smooth over rocks

and under limbs.

Look how they hold their hatch, the larvae of small life:

Stonefly, Caddisfly, Mayfly and Midge.

They nurse the eggs and spawn of fish, all silver, black and red:

Whitefish, Catfish, Cutthroat, Brown Trout

and Rainbow.

They convince, soft, the expectant but inert to move:

bright rock, smooth pebble, trilobite and jewel,

the finest soil of erosion—

the earth refined to itself.

They carry all things that need a growing end;

set them upon the warm belly of the river bank

where they might root themselves in earth and air:

the soaked seeds of  Cottonwood, Serviceberry,

Cattail and Peachleaf Willow.

These rivers are sanctuary for all that have not found their place,

until, of course, the rivers say: “Here, here is your place.”

Observe this easy meeting of two rivers into one:

how it continues west where the sun disappears,

where the single river, complete, loses itself (as well)

into the warm earth and air.

(II)

But turn around; look east from the confluence of the two,

where the sun is new every morning.

Look how the rivers fan backwards to their beginning:

they form the base of a great vase

from which grows a full bouquet—

the upward explosion of rock and bloom,

spilling itself over the lip of a city.

Look, in any light, at the warmth of creation:

Juniper, Boxelder, Mountain Maple and Oak,

Aspen, Spruce, White Fur, Pinion and pine.

And smaller:

Lupine, Fireweed, Hawksbeard, Goldenrod, Hollyhock,

Horsemint, Yarrow, Columbine and lily.

Pronounce their names apart:

Dogbane, Ninebark, Deadnettle, Mule Ears, Cow Cabbage,

Milkweed, Crazyweed, Snake Grass, Mustard and Mint.

(III)

Look beneath this Bouquet, within the bowl, bench and bed

of what was, at last and always, a temporal Lake.

Here the two rivers caught and still hold Ogden:

A city, a collective noun,

a bouquet of people as rich and varied

as any two rivers could lift to their banks.

Look, people were here and people came here:

they built and grew and stayed—

they live through their own industry and vision:

material and commerce, service and need.

What we know is that industry, commerce and need are only realized

in the dream of form, content and conscience,

the dreamers who make our collective visions:

the philosophers, architects, painters, sculptors, musicians,

actors, dancers, story tellers, and poets.

(IV)

Look around you tonight. We gather in this Ogden,

at the confluence of much more than two rivers,

to celebrate our conscience, our dreamers and namers.

What we celebrate is the sacred knowledge that without art—

without the artist—

there is no model for how we order our lives to meaning,

no realization of who or what we can be,

no joy in our material, no lasting vessel to hold our empathy,

nothing for rivers to carry to the surface,

no long list of beautiful things—named or yet to be named.

For at least one night, tonight, let us raise a deep, full and grateful cup!

 

Kace Johnstun is the literary chair for the Ogden City Arts Advisory Committee. He is the author of Beyond the Grip of Craniosynostosis (McFarland & Co, 2015), Winner of the 2015 Gold Quill, League of Utah Writers, editor of Utah Reflections: Stories from the Wasatch Front (History Press, 2014), and has served on the editorial board of Label Me Latina/o Literary Journal, Queens University, Charlotte.

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