ASU English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski brings high art down to earth at First Fridays
Just after 6:30 p.m. on a sweltering Friday in September, Arizona State University English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski steps through the gate from the dusty gravel parking lot on the corner of Fourth and Roosevelt streets onto the brick patio between Modified Arts gallery and the vacant house next door.
Her arms are loaded with boxes of string lights and she’s followed closely by two eager helpers lugging PA system gear. Sporting her signature oversized shades, Phoenix’s inaugural poet laureate is all effervescence and anxious chatter as she gets to work prepping the space for the evening’s event, projecting some hardcore whimsy in a pair of kitten heels and a tea-length cat-print dress while balancing precariously on the porch ledge to secure one end of the string lights to a post.
Meanwhile, the PA grips have set up a speaker to the right of the porch steps and connected it to the microphone sitting expectantly in its stand at the center of the top step. Soon, verse after lyrical verse will pour into it, course through the wires, out of the speaker and into the ears of literature lovers, curious bystanders and unwittingly spellbound passersby.
This is First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row, Dombrowski’s most recent brainchild and an attempt to “make poetry part of the vernacular in Phoenix.”
Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now
Art out in the real world
Poetry, she said, “needs to be present alongside all the other more visible art forms,” such as mural painting, something she observes with delight has taken over the city in recent years.
By piggybacking on the well-established celebration of all things creative that attracts throngs of Valley residents to the Roosevelt Row Arts District on the first Friday of every month, Dombrowski has positioned her cause to reach people who might not otherwise be exposed — or open — to a poetic experience.
What’s more, several of her current and former students participate frequently and have found the event to be a useful outlet for networking, performing and even selling their work.
“It gives my students a kind of understanding of how literature functions in the real world,” said Dombrowski, who teaches in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.
First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row began in February when Modified Arts gallery owner Kimber Lanning sought to deter rowdy skaters and make productive use of the patio annex during the monthly arts festival by offering it to Dombrowski for public literary programming.
The theme of the event changes every month: cultural storytelling, a showcase of Downtown Phoenix campus students’ work; readings by female-identifying poets; readings from Iron City Magazine, a journal produced at ASU as part of the university’s Prison Education Program that features the writing of incarcerated individuals; readings from Cardboard House Press, a bilingual poetry publication; and “poetry-on-demand,” in which poets took subject requests from audience members and then typed up impromptu verses for them on a typewriter.
No matter the heat index, it always manages to draw a crowd. “Even when it’s blazing hot, they still keep coming,” Dombrowski said, humbly incredulous.