A new voice speaks poetically for Stockton for the next two years. Jazmarie LaTour is Stockton’s second poet laureate.
LaTour, 30, was born and raised in Stockton. She is spanish-bilingual and mixed-raced, with Black, Mexican, Creole and White ancestry.
“You see, Stockton has taught me how to be more myself than anyone, that I don’t have to be small town or big city, but I can just be me,” LaTour read from her poem “All Signs Point to Stockton” at Cesar Chavez Library on Oct. 2 during the farewell ceremony for outgoing poet laureate Tama Brisbane. You can listen to her read the whole poem from Tuleburg Press’ recently published Center of Attention: Poems on Stockton and San Joaquin on YouTube.
As poet laureate, LaTour will receive a $3,500 annual stipend and be expected to perform no fewer than 10 original poetry pieces to commemorate community milestones between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2025, according to the Stockton Arts Commission, which chooses the laureate.
LaTour was first noticed for her poetry at age 15 when her soon-to-become mentor and poetry slam organizer Brisbane, challenged her to perform in front of an audience at University of the Pacific’s Lair in the DeRosa University Center.
In 2011, LaTour started her journey into college but battled with addiction, she told Stocktonia. After flunking out of UOP twice, LaTour built up her confidence, challenged herself, switched her major from Global Studies to Communication, and graduated with her class in 2015. Today, she celebrates over a decade of sobriety and shares her recovery story on social media.
LaTour wears many hats outside her poet laureate post. She is hazmat certified with Dameron Hospital and works for Little Manila Rising as the community health equity specialist and Decreasing Asthma Within Neighborhoods program director.
About a half-dozen candidates were interviewed for the 2023 poet laureate position, emerita Brisbane told Stocktonia in a phone interview. Brisbane served as Stockton’s first poet laureate from 2015 to 2023.
LaTour knows many of the other candidates and would have been happy to see another serve as poet laureate, she said. She missed the initial deadline to apply, and was almost taken out of the running if not for an application extension.
“It was close,” Brisbane said. “The thing that made Jazzy such an ideal candidate was because she has the grassroots heart, but she’s also operating at the level of organizations and funders; people who can help support the expansion of poetry in the literary arts in Stockton. If you can work from the top down and the bottom up, everything in the middle is going to benefit.”
Brisbane said once a poet becomes the laureate, they are no longer a singular poet. The job entails closing the gap between misperceptions of poetry and the actual creation of it for people who feel poetry has been held at a distance from them.
“(LaTour) has really big shoes to fill,” founder/president of Stockton-based Tuleburg Press and San Joaquin Delta College English Professor Paula Sheil said in a phone interview. Sheil praised Jazmarie for the work they’ve done together encouraging and building a community of writers at Tuleburg.
“We don’t just elect a poet, but someone rooted in this community, who connects us to human wellness. Her work is part of the collective mix. She’s one of them, what we are, how we are,” Sheil said.
LaTour, who describes herself as a Black, Indigenous, and person of color (BIPOC) queer woman, was humbled by her new position. After discovering she would be Stockton’s poet laureate and learning what it meant to be the one-voice, she went to the downtown parking garage roof and said a prayer to the city, thanking it.
“I owe my life to the city and to the art scene here,” she said. “To the people that have poured into me, that have given me the courage and the strength to pour into other people.”
She described her goal as laureate as creating a better space for artists in Stockton. She wants to shift the culture around paying artists. LaTour hopes to instill everyday expectation for Stocktonians to validate the hard work and soul that goes into people’s art, as most pieces create a space for healing both the individual and community.
“There’s so many really great musicians (and spoken word performers),” LaTour said. One of her goals as poet laureate is, in a manageable way, to collaborate with all the people currently hosting open mics in Stockton. She wants to find a way to have coordination between groups so events aren’t “just happening all on top of each other.”
Performance art isn’t her only concern as an artist herself. Since she began running open mics 6 years ago, LaTour has incorporated visual artists in her events so they have opportunities to get paid and be seen. “‘Starving Artist’ is real,” she said. “Even though we all can agree that art makes life better, nobody values paying for them.”
LaTour is a member of InnerG Cooperative, a local group that puts on The River Open Mic at Hatch Workshop, 7 to 9 p.m. every last Wednesday in the community garden.