She’s best known as the bookstore gal, as one-half of the team at Between the Covers that stocks the shelves, brings authors to Telluride and always has a reading recommendation for you.
But longtime San Miguel County bibliophile Daiva Chesonis does more than just read and recommend words — she also writes them. Chesonis is a poet who has performed pieces on politics, place and history across the Western Slope.
And now, she is San Miguel County’s newest poet laureate. Chesonis was handed the mantle Wednesday at the San Miguel County Commissioners meeting, taking it over from former laureate Elissa Dickson.
The honor is just that — it doesn’t come with a monetary prize or mandatory duties. But Chesonis intends to take it seriously, and use it as a platform to write about life in this pocket of the world.
“I’m just really excited and honored, to not only represent but reflect on San Miguel County for the next two years,” she said. “It’ll be an opportunity for me to focus in and pay attention to some of the slivers of life in this county. And do that through poetry.”
The poet laureate program was started in 2006 under former county commissioner and poet Art Goodtimes, with laureates chosen through the Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds program. Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, who co-directs Talking Gourds with Goodtimes (and was the first county poet laureate) said laureates more or less select themselves.
“Every couple of years someone rises to the top as a really stellar example of how we want poetry to be represented in the community,” Trommer said. “Who could be better than Daiva right now? She’s just a shining star.”
Trommer noted that Chesonis has long been an advocate of literary arts by hosting events, founding the Literary Arts Festival and promoting reading. But in the last couple of years, she’s really kicked her own poetry into high gear, performing works on stages from Telluride to Paonia.
And along with being a great poet, Goodtimes said, “she’s just an amazing performer.”
As the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, Chesonis grew up in Washington, D.C., protesting alongside her parents for the Baltic nation’s freedom. That, along with an innate love of reading, instilled a deep appreciation for freedom of speech and the power of language. Chesonis moved to San Miguel County in 1992 and has worn many hats, but today is well known as co-owner with Bobbi T. Smith of Between the Covers Bookstore.
Chesonis has long been a reader of poetry, but said it wasn’t until she took part in a program called Poets in Person (run by Trommer) that her eyes opened to the possibilities of the medium. She started writing her own, attending readings and in the early 2000s, entered a poem in the Mark Fischer poetry prize. She won $50.
Pretty soon, she said, “I kind of found this tiny little community and this comfort zone.”
She’s been penning poems ever since, writing about things like Baked in Telluride burning down or apple trees in the West End, and performing in collaboration with Talking Gourds and other community programs.
Writing poetry, she said, has “channeled energy for me. It’s channeled a lot of energy that I don’t know what to do with. Whether that’s talking about a leaf that’s just fallen in front of me or full-on politics or my family’s past. It’s a place to go. It’s a bit of mental shorthand for me to process things.”
Chesonis, Trommer said, “is both playful and dead serious, and she’s willing to really put it out there in terms of politics and her vulnerabilities. She has a kind of ranting, firehose style sometimes, where she’ll just lay it on. But she’s also willing to laugh at herself. It feels conversational, feels contemporary. She writes poems to make you think.”
And, Goodtimes said, her advocacy and involvement make her a perfect ambassador.
“That’s the whole point of this, to make poetry and the spoken and written word more prominent in our community,” he said.