First Saturday of every month
On Saturday, Mayor Annise Parker revealed her semi-secret identity: She's a poet.
The mayor was at the Central Houston Public Library on the second day of National Poetry Month to launch Public Poetry, a new poetry reading series. Public Poetry is also the name of the organization that began the monthly series to create buzz about poetry.
Parker said she was ecstatic at the sizeable turnout of more than 60 poetry lovers and then spoke, well, poetically about the value of poetry in our lives, insisting it causes the “synapses to fire in new ways.” She believes poetry can cause a spark and help us make connections we wouldn’t have made on our own.
Her chosen poem was “My Parents Watch the July Fourth Parade” by Richard Beban. After finishing, she said “and one more” and began to read a short but humorous poem entitled “A Different Theory of Relativity,” which describes a small moment of different cultural values colliding.
When she ended the poem, Parker merely said, “That one’s mine,” an admission that was met with rousing applause.
Public Poetry founder Fran Sanders introduced featured poets Rich Levy, executive director of Inprint and author of the poetry collection Why Me?; Cuban-born Eva Skrande, author of My Mother’s Cuba; Deborah D.E.E.P. Wiggins, who was ranked the No. 2 female poet in the world at the Women of the World National poetry slam in 2008; and UH creating writing professor and poet Martha Serpas.
The event was organized not as a traditional reading nor as a competitive poetry slam; instead, each of the four poets was given seven minutes to read as many of their poems as time allowed. At the end of the first round a Writers in the Schools student read a poem and then a second round began.
The time limit and two-round aspect of the reading highlighted the eclectic and dramatic mix of both the subject matter and styles of the readings.
- In the first round, Levy turned personal shame into a funny and attractive companion.
- Skrande added her own contribution to the world’s canon of onion poetry.
- Wiggins admited that her performance poetry may scare the audience “but that’s O.K” and didn't read or recite her work as much as thunder it into the room.
- Serpas, a hospital trauma chaplain, offered a poem portrait of a mother receiving news of her child in a hospital hallway.
The structure of the event also allowed the poets to respond to each other in supportive ways, making those connections that Parker spoke about. Several times during the second round, one poet would pick up and run with a theme or subject from the last poet's work by choosing a poem to read that contained some similar image or tone.
Perhaps it was the mayor’s presence, but the form reminded me somewhat of political debate. Instead of sound bites and canned responses, the poets wove together their different perspectives of the world.
Each round ended with a work by the afternoon’s littlest poet, Guadalupe Hernandez, a fourth grader at E. O. Smith Education Center. She read two poems, “My World” and “Diamond.”
After the readings, several members of the audience congratulated Poet Parker. She explained that she doesn’t write that much poetry now because it needs “a quiet mind,” something that running the fourth largest city in American doesn’t often afford her. She wrote “A Different Theory of Relativity” 12 years ago after a trip to South America.
When I asked her if she ever considered posting her poetry online she laughed and replied no because it invites people to become critics. Perhaps policy critics are one thing but online poetry criticism would be something else.
Yet Parker’s belief that poetry fires synapses in new ways is true for me, as the afternoon left me with the idea that poetry and politicians should meet more often. In fact, instead of letting candidates parrot well-rehearsed focus-group-polished slogans during political debates, let’s make them recite their favorite poem or write their own.
In partnership with the Houston Public Library, Public Poetry will give Houstonians the opportunity to hear local as well as national and international poets the first Saturday of each month. The readings will begin at the Central Library and then move to the Kendall, Discovery Green, and Park Place libraries with the change of seasons.