|AB Library, Entrance. Ysabel de la Rosa|
St. Patrick's day ended for me with a wonderful Her Texas event at Baylor's Browning Armstrong Library. The building: a temple to love and knowledge; an architectural prose-poem to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. The large audience enjoyed outstanding readings by 2013 Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacolos and poet Naomi Shihab Nye. My mother introduced me to Naomi's work many years ago. This was my first opportunity to hear her read in person and feel the infectious enthusiasm of her warm spirit.
|Naomi Shihab Nye , Photo Shevaun Williams|
As part of their readings, Naomi and Rosemary shared work by others, a sign of how poetic minds always stay open to finding jewels in language.
Naomi quoted from the "next generation" of Texas poets, students at an elementary school where she had just taught a workshop. One girl told Naomi that it was wonderful to have a "poemist" in the classroom. I plan to add that to my working vocabulary.
Both poets did for the audience what I believe poetry should and can always do. They reached us with words we needed to hear, with meaning that we were hungering for. In Naomi's poem, "Room for You Here," she says of heaven:
There weren't any houses. Everyone floated.
No one was unchosen.
I believe we all want to know that we are not unchosen, that we are not excluded. From what? From love, a sense of belonging, from community, and certainly we want to believe we are not excluded from heaven.
|Rosemary Catacalos, Photo Michael Mehl|
Rosemary's dreamlike, mystical poem that travels into the landscape of Borges was a gift to mind and ear. Her reading of "Revenge" by Taha Muhammad Ali, a Palestinian poet born in Galilee was another gift. In another poem, Ali wrote:
"And, so it has taken me
all of sixty years to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless unless it plants a measure of splendor in people’s hearts."*
|AB Library, Window Detail, Ysabel de la Rosa|
A measure of splendor is what this celebratory evening left in my heart. Before I get too high-minded, however, I must add that the evening's refreshments included Dr. Pepper ice cream floats! Diet and regular! After all, Waco is the birthplace of that drink many of us find downright curative. I remember wandering the streets of Manhattan once, a Texan in need of her "doctor." I'm sure the man behind one certain convenience-store
counter did not soon forget witnessing my excitement over what he, poor Yankee, thought was an ordinary soda.
Rosemary's poetry ranges far, wide, and deep, as you would expect from the work of a writer who grew up within three cultures in San Antonio, a city almost a culture unto itself. I'll end this post with the end of her poem, "Swallow Wings," which she dedicated to Maya Angelou. These lines "sing" how I feel about life's good things, about poetic expression, about the surge we feel inside that makes us want to stay alive.
Swallows keep makin' their wings
out to be commas on the sky.
World keep sayin' and, and, and, and,
Keep saying and. Keep saying it, keep living it. Keep hearing the world say it back to you. And ... read how a strong, diverse community of Texas women are doing just that in Her Texas.
* To accommodate spacing, I did not maintain Ali's original line breaks in the poem.
Kindle version available here.
The link above will take you the publisher, Wings Press.
You can also order from Book People in Austin.
For your overseas friends, you can find Her Texas at Amazon.co.uk.