Nevada Poetry Project

Nevadan to Nevadan: What I Need to Tell You

The Nevada Arts Council and Poet Laureate Gailmarie Pahmeier invite you to submit your poems for Nevadan to Nevadan: What I Need to Tell You.

Fremont Street, Las Vegas, 1986. Photo by Blanton Owen. Courtesy of the Nevada Folklife Archives.

This ongoing statewide poetry project uses the epistolary style —which is just a fancy way of saying “letter poems.”

Goals: The goal of this project is to encourage Nevadans to speak to one another via poetry, to tell one another something about what it means to live in a beautiful but complicated state. Participants are encouraged to write letters to people and places in our state that need to hear who they are and what matters to them. To paraphrase Cornel West, if you’ve got a fingerprint, you’ve got a voice. It’s yours to thread into the larger tapestry of Nevada culture.

How to Start: This is a project about story, about individual voices woven into that larger tapestry. Don’t worry too much about making a poem, just write honestly, using concrete details, observed and felt experiences. For example, if you’re writing about what it’s like to live in the high desert, include visual and sensory images: what do you see? Smell? Hear?

Tips: Poetry is not always serious in tone; humor is cherished. Although a couple of the example poems do indeed speak to an individual, a writer might take on a more unusual persona. A writer might not address a person, but an entity. For example:

  • What would Wendover Will want to say to Vegas Vic?
  • What would Highway 50 want to say to the Las Vegas Strip?
  • What would Elko want to say to Carson City?

This project encourages participants to be authentically themselves and yet also encourages them to imagine what it is to be other. This project encourages compassion and revelation about what it means to be a Nevadan by honoring our many voices and our fragile climate.

For questions please email:
We all look forward to hearing your voices and seeing your poems in print! Thank you!


Download a copy of the guidelines here.

  1. Although traditional letters begin with a salutation (Dear Neighbor…) and end with a complimentary close ( Best Wishes. Sincerely…), this isn’t required for a work to thrive as a letter. You might want to begin with a startling image—windchimes rattling all night; coyotes running along the railroad tracks; the wail of another siren, the scent of wet sagebrush. The point is to begin with something that will catch the reader’s attention and to close when the poem feels like it has made its message known.
  2. Try to include concrete detail and sensory imagery. Don’t just tell your reader a story; show your reader your story. Think in terms of senses: what’s seen? Felt? Heard? Smelled? Can you even taste something?
  3. Don’t worry about being “poetic.” Just write in your authentic voice, your personal vernacular. Use a vocabulary and a style that’s wholly yours.
  4. Consider including a photograph with your submission, not as an illustration, but as an enhancement. If your poem is written from Seven Magic Mountains or the International Car Forest, including a photo is a way to visually bring your reader into your work.
  5. Do note that by submitting to this project, you are granting the Poet Laureate and the Nevada Arts Council the right to publish your work. Include your contact info (email address is best) and your name and the place from which you’re writing. Please also indicate if you are willing to allow the Poet Laureate to do small edits. We ask that you please avoid submitting poems that include excessive explicit language, hate speech, graphic depictions of suicidal ideation or sexual assault, pornographic language, and slurs of any kind.
  6. Most importantly, have some fun with this project; it’s intended to be liberating, heartfelt, and inclusive. Nevadans are writing to other Nevadans and specific Nevada communities, but perhaps we can speak beyond our borders and tell those outside of our state who we are and why we live and work here. Let’s get heard.

Click here for access to the media kit.

Example Epistolary Poems:

Letter to Laura from South Fork

Allow me these Hugo moments, my own
little triggering towns. After your call,
in search of good wine, we drove into
Spring Creek, bought a case of Layer Cake
at Khoury’s Market. You’d love the place
established nearly 40 years ago, the year
of your birth. The promise Gus and Sam
have made—we will never ask you to ring
up or bag your own groceries

reminds us of our simpler pasts, how amazed
I was just hours ago to hear your voice
coming in clear from Amsterdam on this
sleepy Sunday. I remember the long wait
for Sundays, calls home to St. Louis
cheaper, and somehow, more meaningful.

Those were days of true long distance. I’d call
my father, catch him listening to his transistor
in the blistering square of his backyard,
Falstaff in hand, the sprinkler tearing
his tomatoes. We never spoke long.

Last night I listened to the Cardinals game
here where the Ruby Mountains tower
in the distance and the insistent wind
makes the cool of the Humbolt River true scent.
It was a close game. I should’ve called
my father, but the distance is long, still.

Did I tell you we bought carnations
at Khoury’s Market?  Spread some ashes
before we drank a bottle of the wine,
toasted you and your own adventure.
We wish you pure pleasure in your distance.

Gailmarie Pahmeier
From Of Bone, Of Ash, Of Ordinary Saints: A Nevada Gospel, WSC Press, 2020.

From Reno, NV

I couldn’t see the moon last night
but I did see two planes,
and something didn’t seem right
about that. I bet you saw that super-blue-blood
moon bright and early like everyone else.
Someone told me recently they always
thought poets got drunk in moonlight
and that’s how poetry was made. I think
of all those nights you and I drank with the moon
on the back porch of that house on White Drive,
citronella candles wafting their sharpness through
the crowd of us: didn’t your mother ever tell you
smoke follows beauty? Here, it’s different.
There’s still back porches, but with mountains
instead of oak trees, with a million lights
instead of empty skies.
There’s a feeling about this place.
It’s burnt sagebrush, too many cloudless days in a row,
it’s sharp and sweet, it’s neon, all angles, too fast,
dizzying, grounding, soft, bright.
I wish I could love a place
as much as Jonathan Gold loved L.A. 
I hope you sleep peacefully with no stress.
I hope you awake with a fervor for living
the mundane day ahead of you, and I hope
you come back to a tidy apartment.
I hope you don’t tire of this refrain of “I hope”
because it’s kind of all I have on me right now.
I guess today I deal only in intangibles.
In any case, I hope the moonlight and Wild Turkey
are good to you this winter.

Isabelle Lang
Printed with permission of the author.


Dear Las Vegas,
It’s not enough you took
the Raiders out of Oakland;
now you have to take the A’s?
Fifty-four years they’ve been
in Oakland.  A short rid
on BART for those who
couldn’t afford $50 parking
and $14 beer.

Oakland is a working man’s town;
blue collar.  Like Vegas, in a way,
once you remove the neon and rhinestones.
The A’s are the only major league
sports franchise left in Oakland.
The only source of civic pride,
when the A’s defeat San Francisco
in the Bay Bridge Series.

You already have the tourists.
Celebs from LA perform in your venues.
Hi-rollers gamble in your casinos.
Families bring their children
To ride the indoor roller-coaster,
See the faux Eiffel Tower,
And watch pirates battle.

Do you really need to take
The last positive source of national
recognition from Oakland?  The green-and-gold banners
of names and numbers retired to Cooperstown?
The shiny World Series trophies,
including the one where the Bay rocked
and the Bridge collapsed?

Las Vegans won’t understand that Series,
nor remember the news clip of Esther Canseco,
dressed in a skin-tight red dress and heels that
she bought especially for that Game
(Why red?  Only she knows),
pumping gas while her husband, José, sits
in their sports car, wearing
his game uniform and cleats. 

you are taking away the memories,
the pride.  For what?  Who will come to watch
the A’s play?  Nostalgic Oaklanders on vacation?
Other visitors who want to see their home team,
Taking a break from the bells and whistles of the casinos?

Las Vegas has its own history.
Please don’t poach ours.

Denise Lapachet Barney

East Bay Resident, California
Printed with permission of the author, Denise Barney.

Letter to Vlautin from Reno
After Richard Hugo

Dear Willy: I wonder if every time you return
you find this city is not the same
place you wrote about. They’re smashing
the motels, trying to connect
the college with downtown and ignoring
the shit and history in between.
Some folks are asking questions,
most aren’t or don’t care enough. This town
is peeling out of its skin, but the city pretends
like our soul isn’t fused with sin,
pay-by-the-hour hotels, the homeless not welcome
in Tesla’s backyard, and neon casino glow.
The Studio on 4th closed; the Knit went
years ago. There is no music in Reno.
They say the state bird is a construction cone,
its orange plumage warning change.
People blame the Californians for what’s happening:
every time I turn something old vanishes,
something new is built, someone’s borrowed
the past to create a future, but there’s always blue.
Is this growing old or watching a city progress?
They tore out the Heart O’ Town and the Golden West
to build a park for playa art. At night the electric
dandelions light up like fireworks—
what would you wish for? I might ask for time
to be kinder on the city I remember,
or for people to admit that art and culture
aren’t the only things that make this place home.
I’ll take the space whale and gas station slots,
food truck Fridays and every excuse to excessively drink,
the air balloon dawn patrols and Spaghetti Bowl traffic jams,
the Midtown boutique boom and the dirty Downtown dancers.
Can they wash away the grit beneath our streets
or the truth in our history? I’d like to think not.
Lots of shootings lately; be careful when you come.
Let me know where you’ll stay
now that the old haunts are ghosts
of glass and brick. Best wishes.

Karley Pardue
Printed with permission of the author.