Editor's Note: As part of CultureMap's State of the Arts series, we are highlighting upcoming fall arts events you won't want to miss.
When arts and politics meet, that contact can become a collusion, explosion, an act of creation, or some combination of the three. It may be debatable how much the arts, in all their forms, influence current politics — though it seems we all now need to pick up that Ayn Rand novel we never finished in college.Yet throughout our national history, politics has been both inspiration and influence on the arts.
In a year when everything seems political, the oldest poetry organization in the nation, the Poetry Society of America has set out to prove poetry is no exception with its national reading series, Red, White, and Blue: Poets on Politics.
The PSA has chosen five cities where poets will explore “the role of politics in the literary landscape today” and Houston is one of the host cities along with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.
The PSA has chosen five cities where poets will explore “the role of politics in the literary landscape today” and Houston is one of the host cities along with New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. In each city three award-winning and acclaimed poets will meet to read from their work and participate in a panel discussion on poetry and politics. The series ends in Washington D.C. on October 30, eight days before the nation goes to the polls.
Most of the events will feature poets from the state or region of its host city and the Houston program on Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m will be no exception as Texas writers Sandra Cisneros, Tony Hoagland and Benjamin Alire Sáenz take the stage of the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre at the University of Houston.
Probably the most recognizable name on the program is Cisneros, author of the contemporary-classic coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street. The award-winning author has also published several collection of poetry, including Loose Woman and My Wicked Wicked Ways. In 1995, when Cisneros’s choice of purple for the exterior of her San Antonio house sparked huge controversy, Cisneros became living proof that almost any act of self-expression can be considered political.
In the U.S, there is a long history of politics and humor going hand in hand, so perhaps it’s fitting that the event also includes Hoagland, author of the poetry collection What Narcissism Means to Me and winner of the 2005 Poetry Foundation's Mark Twain Award, an award that “recognizes a poet's contributions to humor in American poetry.” Hoagland will not have far to travel, since he teaches at University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
El Paso will also be represented by Sáenz, the American Book Award winning poet for his first collection Calendar of Dust. Like Cisneros, Sáenz has also authored both adult and teen novels. Some of his recent poetry has focused on life on the Texas/Mexico border.
In the PBS Newshour June 2010 segment on Sáenz, he said of border life: “This is the place that really defines me, because it is such a difficult terrain to negotiate, because there are no sense of certainties, the fixed ideas of one's identity, of one's natural boundaries, the way one uses words, that they come from all sides. And, sometimes, they come at you like bullets.”
The Houston program is co-sponsored by Inprint and Nuestra Palabra, and will be mediated by Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America and former poetry editor at The New Yorker. The event is free and open to all lovers of poetry, politics, and literary explosions.