Phoenix’s Poet Laureate inspires a new generation of ASU students

Rosemarie Dombrowski helps students find their voice in poetry

As both Poet Laureate of Phoenix and a senior lecturer at Arizona State University, Rosemarie Dombrowski is spreading the gospel — the gospel of poetry. 

Dombrowski was named Phoenix’s inaugural Poet Laureate in 2016 but was widely known before. She helped found the Phoenix Poetry Series and published two collections of poetry, “The Book of Emergencies” in 2014 and “The Philosophy of Unclean Things” in 2017. Serving as a poet, educator and community activist, Dombrowski has found a common thread in it all. 


“Whether I’m in the classroom or in the community, I’m spreading the gospel of poetry,” Dombrowski said. “What does that mean? I’m illuminating people as to the multiple usages and applications of poetry. Poetry should be everywhere.”

She didn’t originally envision a career in poetry. Originally from Manhattan, Kansas, Dombrowski spent her childhood in St. Joseph, Missouri, and later moved to Mesa, Arizona, for high school. She dedicated herself to dance and apprenticed for a professional dance company at the age of 13.

But in high school, she discovered poetry and would skip lunch to read “Hamlet” with her favorite English teacher. Still, Dombrowski thought this passion would be nothing more than an interest. 

She went on to study at ASU, where she graduated with bachelor's degrees in anthropology and English in 1996 and a doctorate in English in 2007. During her first year of graduate school, she gave birth to her son Brendan, who has nonverbal autism. As she struggled with single parenthood, she became immersed in the culture of those with nonverbal autism. 

“I was writing it to stave off the demons,” said Dombrowski. “I was writing it to try to survive because I wasn’t in therapy and I was a single mom and I was struggling.”

This type of raw honesty and self-assessment is what Dombrowski teaches students like Anna Flores, a senior studying English. Flores took Dombrowksi’s poetry seminar as a freshman and now has a manuscript, which Dombrowski helped edit, set to be published next year. 

“I was definitely writing about a lot of pretty-sounding but superficial things, and she pushed me to write about what I really was toying around with, which was border issues and sociopolitical issues regarding bi-cultural persons in Arizona,” Flores said. “She does a really good job of figuring out what it is people are really trying to say, what it is writers are really trying to say but are too scared to."

Dombrowski's teaching emphasizes finding an identifiable voice. 

“She just wants it to sound more like you,” said Stacia Stone, a sophomore studying English and history. “That’s completely given me a new hope in poetry. I didn’t even start writing thinking that I would pursue poetry or have it as a common medium that I write in, and she’s flipped that around for me.”

Dombrowski’s own experiences in writing contributed to her constructive and honest teaching style. 

“I wrote a lot of bad poetry when I was younger, ” she said. “Early grad school — when I was a non-degree seeking graduate student -- that’s when I started showing it to one of my mentors. And that was rough. That was embarrassing.”

Along with traditional literature classes, Dombrowski teaches a class on public art, mentors students in their writing and teaches in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She also works with students on publications like rinky dink press, which publishes micropoetry, and “Write On, Downtown,” a journal of Downtown Phoenix-centric art and writings. 

“Our editing process is a discussion from the get-go,” Stone said. “We get to put our work up on the board, and she sets the tone for a really creative, supportive environment. Everyone reflects that in my class, so it’s eight people uplifting you but with really constructive criticism, which isn’t that common.”

Dombrowski blurs the line between community and classroom daily. In her final year of graduate school, the University asked her to help open the Writing Center at the downtown Phoenix campus, where she still teaches. 

“That just allowed me to see even more possibilities for community-university interaction,” Dombrowski said. “When I had a campus that was in downtown Phoenix and seemed to support that kind of (artistic) activity, that 'going outside the walls of the university type' activity, I was ready. Absolutely ready.”

Along with students, Dombrowski helps numerous people in Phoenix’s literary community. Jake Friedman, a communications specialist at the Virginia C. Piper Center for Creative Writing, first reached out for help when he was creating a small press and literary magazine, Four Chambers Press

"She’s consistently using her platform to feature voices which may not have platforms elsewhere," Friedman said. "To raise up other people, to empower and turn those individuals into leaders and to give them a space to work within where there are no other spaces."


Reach the reporter at cpbramle@asu.edu and follow @bramchad2 on Twitter. 

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