Public Poetry began celebrating National Poetry Month, week one, with readings by four featured poets Usha Akella, Scott Chalupa, Ange Mlinko and Chuck Taylor at Oak Forest Neighborhood Library. Included in a standing room only crowd were Public Poetry’s 2013/14 selection committee members Ken Jones, Oscar C. Peña, Yerra Sugarman (Jane Creighton and Marcel Murphy plus Director, Fran Sanders, complete that crew), as well as WITS Director, Robin Reagler. You couldn’t ask for a better start for our third year in partnership with the City of Houston/Houston Public Library.
Week two sees the culmination of the process to appoint a Poet Laureate for Houston (congratulations to Gwendolyn Zepeda); Public Poetry was honored to serve on the committee involved with that project. We’ll close out this week in front of the Society of Petroleum Engineers Auxiliary with poet Randall Watson evoking the Muse. Week three, Public Poetry will be at Kashmere Elementary School, helping them celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day with a presentation by poet Darla McBryde. Week four, we’ll be having a great time at the Poetry Festival at Roundtop. So, what are you doing this month?
It’s been a fantastic year for Public Poetry! Over the last 12 months (April 2012-March 2013) we’ve presented readings that have included three Texas Poets Laureate, two winners of the Yale Prize for Younger Poets and a roster of outstanding featured poets at various library locations, on the radio and at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Before we leap into our third year, we would like to thank all of the poets (see below) who have participated in these free public events. These programs would not be possible without an army of volunteers and supporters (also below) whose help and contributions keep Public Poetry going. We are especially grateful for generous financial and in-kind support from our wonderful partners at Houston Public Library, from the City of Houston, Houston Arts Alliance, Poets & Writers Inc., Writers In The Schools (WITS), The Front Row (88.7 FM kuhf News & 91.7 FM kuha Classical), Houston Media Source (HMS-TV), Pinewood Cafe in Hermann Park, Rudyards Pub and Mutabilis Press. Thank you one and all for your contributions and support. If we’ve inadvertently left anyone out in all the naming of names below, please know that you, too, are thanked.
Featured Poets ~ April 2012-March 2013
Thay Alafitta, Mike Alexander, Amanda Auchter, D.F. Brown, Jane Creighton, Barbara Crooker, Kelly Ann Ellis, Eric Ekstrand, Adamarie Fuller, Carolyn Florek, Van G. Garrett, Stephen Gros, Kurt Heinzelman, Ken Jones, Fady Joudah, Teresa Juarez, Katherine Larson, Erica Lehrer, Thad Logan, Janet Lowery, William Marabella, Lorena Parker-Matejowski, Anne McCrady, Karyna McGlynn, Jasminne Mendez, Jonathan Moody, Lisa Moore, Katherine Noble, David M. Parsons, Joseph “JoeP” Palmore, Jeremyah “The Fluent One” Payne, Oscar C. Peña, John Pluecker, Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan, Robin Reagler, Pattiann Rogers, Paul Ruffin, Jan Seale, Carmen Tafolla, Rebecca Wadlinger, Scott Wiggerman
Featured Poets ~ April 2011-March 2012
Alan Ainsworth, Sam Amadon, Outspoken Bean, Joseph Campana, Hayan Charara, Sarah Cortez, Robin Davidson, Ryler Dustin, Jeannie Gambill, Van G. Garrett, Elisa A. Garza, John Gorman, Rich Levy, Carol Louise Munn, Marcell Murphy, Radames Ortiz, Dave Parsons, Evangelina Vigil-Pinon, Kevin Prufer, Martha Serpas, Eva Skrande, Loueva Smith, Randall Watson, Deborah “DEEP” Wiggins, Susan Wood
Mayor Annise Parker, Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, Mark Craig, Margaret Smithers Crump, Ad Deum Dance, Laney Dwyer, Carter Ernst, St.John Flynn, Stephen Fox, Katya Horner, Ken Jones, Paul Kittelson, Dominico Luciano, Arielle Masson, Meta-Four Houston, The Mighty Orq, Carol Brooks Platt, Art Rascon, Don Sanders, Dominic Walsh
Mike Alexander, Alan Ainsworth, Ali Audi, Janet Allen, Archway Gallery, Carolyn Avery, Michael Baldwin, Outspoken Bean, Gail Black, Tia Black, Olivia Blair, Sara Borders, Leslie G. Brown, Brazos Bookstore, Glen Burns, Sarah Caress, Joseph Campana, Champion Pipe, Jane Chance, Bao-Long Chu, Angie Coats, Elzy Cogswell, Jane Creighton, Sarah Cortez, Tony Diaz, Lucy & Wayne Donohow, Sandra Fernandez, Carolyn Dahl, Karen Deakin, Susan Ellis, Carolyn & Bob Florek, Adamarie Fuller, St.John Flynn, Dee Dee Fox, Richard Goldman, Kevin Hayes, Jay Heuman, Tony Hoagland, Katya Horner, Diem Jones, Jeninne Johnston, Ken Jones, Norma Koonz, KPFT-90.1, Katherine Lu, Wes, April & Beryl Kinsey, Maxine Lennon, Ivan Lett, Marilyn Lewis, Stephen Lloyd, Kim Lykins, Lupe Mendez, Susan Meyers, Margaret Mimms, Lauren Mitchell, Joshua Gottlieb-Miller, Mary Montague, Marcell Murphy, Gayatri Parikh, David M. Parsons, Gerhard Paskusz, Donna Pauley, Nancy K Pearson, Donna Perkins, Oscar C. Peña, Carol Brooks Platt, Dos Gatos Press, Kevin Prufer, Robin Reagler, Carol Reposa, Jacquelyn Reppond, Lelia Rodgers, Rudyards Pub, Don Sanders, Larry S. Sanders, Tracy Saucier, Alex Saenz, Judy Schubert, Jennifer Schwartz, Bret & Layla Shaw, Martha Serpas, Ire’ne Lara Silva, Greg Simpson, Loueva Smith, Society of the Fifth Cave, Bob Stephenson, Melissa Studdard, Colin Sturdevant, Harry Stille, Yerra Sugarman, TALA, Susanne Theis, David Ray Vance, Ariana Montelongo de Valdivia, Beatriz Varman, Scott Wallace, Jennifer Watson, Allen Westrick, Sarah Wheeler, WITS students, Vanessa Zimmer, D.E. Zuccone
Still with us? You can preview our new Spring Series (April – June 2013) here.
The combination of DF Brown, Erica Lehrer, Thad Logan and Karyna McGlynn is sure to ignite and energize the room at our next free library event taking place in Alief’s Asian corridor, Saturday, March 2 at 2 PM. Hear four outstanding poets weave their words, encourage a new student talent from Writers In The Schools, enter our raffle give-away, acquire on-the-spot autographed books, bring an appetite and eat afterwards – all this and more is upcoming at Public Poetry!
Two great opportunities to hear two winners of the Yale Prize for Younger Poets. Both will be reading Saturday at Central Library, 4th floor, at 2 PM. and both will be reading again Sunday at Archway Gallery, in the Montrose/ Neartown area at a meet-The-Poets Brunch from noon to 2 PM, mimosas included. Don’t miss out! Purchase tickets for the brunch reading now!
We’re starting the new year off with three not-to-be-missed poetry events! On Saturday, January 5, Thay Alafitta, Stephen Gros, Johnathan Moody and Oscar C. Peña will be starting off our Winter Series at Henington-Alief Regional Library at 2 PM.
The following Saturday, January 12, we’ll be inaugurating a new annual offering, Prize Poets, at Central Library, also at 2 PM. This series will serve as a showcase for prominent, nationally acclaimed poets, starting with two winners of the Yale Prize for Younger Poets, Fady Joudah and Katherine Larson.
To round out this second weekend in January, come meet Fady Joudah and Katherine Larson at a casual brunch benefiting Public Poetry on Sunday January 13, from noon to 2 PM. Good poetry, good food, good conversation, all for a good cause! To come for brunch, click here.
Now that Public Poetry (PPo) is all of 19 months old (!!)- it’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a Public Poetry, isn’t it – we’re undergoing a major growth spurt! So, in addition to our collaboration with Mutabilis Press, publisher of two outstanding poetry anthologies, the most recent being Improbable Worlds, edited by former featured poet, Martha Serpas, Mutabilis serving as our bookseller for the library series, Public Poetry is also joining up with Dos Gatos Press, out of Austin, publisher of the Texas Poetry Calendar and Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry. Both of these excellent publications will be available at future PPo events. And, there will be Austin poets reading in our Fall library series at Vinson Neighborhood Library too, starting November 3.
But wait! there’s more! Public Poetry is also partnering with Houston Media Source, a fabulous resource that provides public access cable television programs and radio broadcasts. Expect PPo to use their TV studios and radio facilities to create original programs about poets and poetry for the delight and edification of all! Meanwhile, Houston Media Source is going to video our first Saturday of the month library series at Vinson Neighborhood Library at 2PM November 3 and December 1, so join us there and put yourself in front of the camera!
But wait! there’s more! Right now, Public poetry is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so that your contributions to spread poetry far and wide will be tax deductible! Won’t that be good!
But wait! there’s more! Actually, this time, you will have to wait, just a little while, for the official announcement of an exciting new poetry program, debuting in January 2013.
In 2011-12, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Public Poetry co-sponsored a poetry competition titled “The ARTlines.” Texas poets were invited to write about one of nine works of art selected by curators from the museum’s major collection areas.
Submissions were reviewed by a distinguished jury. The competition culminated in a public award ceremony at the MFAH during which the winners read their poems. The poems by the winners, honorable mentions, jurors, and invited poets are still available through the museum’s cell-phone tour program and in a booklet; both also may be downloaded from the MFAH Web site.2 [and from Public Poetry's web site]
One of my favorites in this poetry collection is the poem written by Lisa L. Moore in reference to “Anthropomorphic Harp,” an exquisitely carved musical instrument in the Arts of Africa collection.
The harp is striking in its appearance. Its slender neck is decorated with a carved human head with elongated skull, high coiffure, large almondshaped eyes and pursed lips. These features represent the aesthetic ideal of the Mangbetu people, who for centuries have been living in the northeastern area of what is known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apparently, this unusually shaped head was far from being poetic license. It was fashionable among the ruling class Mangbetu to bind infants’ skulls, which produced an ovoid head as well as uplifted eyebrows and stretched eyelids.
The inspiration for these musical instruments in Mangbetu culture could be traced to ancient Egypt. However, it was during the end of the 19th, early 20th century that production of Mangbetu harps drastically increased due becoming hot collector’s items among visiting Europeans. Ironically, in the process of creating highly decorative harps, their functionality as musical instruments was lost — they became completely unplayable.
In Lisa Moore’s poem, the harp is telling its story as if it were a human being remembering the past:
Wrapped in the spalted trunk of a sapele,
I heard the elephant splash and rumble
in the rainforest bai. This, and the bush
cricket, was my first music. Light poured
through the leafy canopy, every beam
sugaring carbon strings into mahogany
heartwood. This was before the sawmills,
the tree hewn by hand. Forged copper
scraped me a hollow body, elegant neck,
elongated head achieved by binding
the infant skull. The sharpest blade
cut me a mouth. The green mantis
folded its arms and prayed. I was made
to be African elsewhere, never learned
Mangbetu language, its voiced and unvoiced
trill. I speak only with a mouth carved shut. 3
Lisa Moore sets the scene by evoking sights and sounds of the rainforest — the elephant’s splash in the bai (marshy clearings in the forest, literally, “where the animals eat” in Ba’aka pygmy language), the cricket chirping, the sunlight pouring down through the luscious canopy. This is where the life of the future harp begins. Like a fetus in the womb, it lies “wrapped in the spalted trunk of a sapele” (a scented mahogany or West African cedar), with her “mahogany heartwood” already beating to the music of the forest.
The anthropomorphic association continues as the harp emerges out of the wood and is given “a hollow body, elegant neck, elongated head achieved by binding,” like an upper-class Mangbetu baby. With its long neck and small head, the harp also resembles the praying mantis, as a reference to its indelible link with nature.
The closing lines of the poem may be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the harp’s failure to fulfill its purpose. It is a musical instrument, yet it speaks “only with a mouth carved shut.”
At the same time, one may read this line as a transcendence of the harp’s inability to producesound. It still evokes the music of the forest with its shape and design.