Armin Tolentino, Clark County’s new Poet Laureate, brings heart, vision, and talent to the growing arts and poetry communities. He will promote the art of poetry and literature throughout the county, and hopes to spark anyone nurturing a desire to write to simply come out and play – with words. “You just start writing by putting a toe into the water,” says Tolentino, “and then go deeper each time.”
Working for Multnomah County Youth and Family Services, Tolentino strives to help support social programs for communities of color. A Vancouver resident with his wife, Tolentino, 40, was originally from north New Jersey. His background includes volunteering since 2011 and serving as a facilitator for Write Around Portland, a nonprofit that partners with social services to bring writing workshops to marginalized communities.
Widely recognized for his works, Tolentino is the author of the poetry collection “We Meant to Bring It Home Alive” (2019). His work has been published in numerous literary journals, including Common Knowledge, Arsenic Lobster, Hyphen Magazine, and The Raven Chronicles. His awards include the highly competitive Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts in 2014. Only 2% of applicants are awarded fellowships. He won the Oregon Poetry Association Poetry Contest and was a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award and the Kundiman Poetry Prize.
Appointed by the Clark County Arts Commission to serve as Poet Laureate for the next two years (2021-2023), Tolentino, is the third poet laureate for Clark County. He is following in the footsteps of Christopher Luna (Clark County’s first poet laureate 2013-2017) and Gwendolyn Morgan (2018-2020).
“To think about what they both gave to their roles I am filled with humbleness to follow in their footsteps, and I respect them both dearly,” shares Tolentino. “There is such a responsibility given here. The Arts Commission is entrusting me to do advocacy work and to serve as an ambassador for poetry, and I will do the best I can for them.”
Tolentino wants to address the need right now for art. “This is such a specific time right now with so much happening,” explains Tolentino, “that it is important to encourage people to give access within themselves to create or to consume more art. There are a lot of holes in our world, pain, and injustices, and we can fill these using art as a healing mechanism.”
This healing work through writing is something Tolentino has done. He says writing poetry was literally life saving for him during difficult and lonely times in his life. “Just the practice of writing was life-saving,” shares Tolentino. “I feel like I am supposed to write. I worked at it, and it became a source of joy.”
Letting Poetry Unfold
To engage the community with poetry and expressive writing, Tolentino plans to facilitate intentional and meaningful writing workshops, readings, and literary events in schools, community churches, nursing homes, or any venue you might want to test drive your poetry writing curiosity. While his works explore thought-provoking themes, he allows himself to be free with his words – to explore how they work together in thought and rhythm – he uses metaphors, rhyming, and plays with images and meaning. This is what he wants to encourage others to do.
“I want people to feel like if they want to, they can write,” says Tolentino, “and to give themselves permission to write.”
He is also hoping to collaborate with the Evergreen School District, perhaps through a virtual program. He says he prefers to engage with people in person, so perhaps conducting writing workshops outside masked-up could be a good option too. Tolentino’s larger special project plans include a cross-generational communication program with youth and the elderly. While he is not sure yet what form this will take—although a pen pal format is a possibility—the idea is that the older and younger generations can learn life lessons and wisdom from each other through life experiences and points of view using poetry as the vehicle of expression.
“Poetry is an empathetic and social art,” reflects Tolentino. “We have ‘ah-ha’ moments a lot when we read poetry. And there are opportunities for surprise using language and emotion. You can have amazing astonishment with words when those words hit you.”
Celebrating Diverse Voices
Tolentino wants to reach out to communities of color and actively introduce himself in hopes of creating greater celebration of diversity in Clark County and honoring diverse voices in the community. His poem “Half a Sonnet Stepping Into Tomorrow” is now circulating on C-Tran buses as part of Artstra’s initiative to honor diverse voices in the community through its program Poetry Moves, a collaboration with C-Tran to bring the art of poetry to public spaces.
The next two years with Tolentino leading the way for poetry possibilities are certain to illuminate greater depths of inspiration in those who dare to play with words. To get started, Tolentino welcomes you to reach out through his website, share thoughts and ideas, or just to say hello.