As organizers at Inprint were finalizing the details of the upcoming 42nd season of its Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, one slot in the line-up was still open.
Then, Ada Limón was awarded the country’s highest honor in the field of poetry – the position of U.S. Poet Laureate – as announced on July 12 by the Library of Congress.
Acting quickly, Inprint reached out to Limón to invite her to come to Houston next season, adding her to the 2022-23 roster, which also includes six award-winning novelists and current U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
“We were thinking of including Ada in the upcoming season since her fantastic new collection The Hurting Kindwas released in May – and I was just about to invite her, when we received the news,” said Rich Levy, Inprint’s Executive Director.
“All the joy in the community about her appointment sealed the deal! We were lucky she was available. A brief email exchange, and we were set,” he said.
Days later, Inprint announced its 2022-23 season – its first full, in person season since the pandemic – with Limón scheduled to appear in a poetry reading and on-stage interview on March 6, 2023, the venue still to be determined at this time.
Levy says he is “thrilled and delighted” at Limón’s new national role.
“Personally, I am a great admirer of Ada’s work – “The Raincoat,” from The Carrying, is I think one of the most moving and concise tributes to the unselfish energy and love of mothers that I have ever read,” said Levy.
Limón begins her term as U.S. Poet Laureate on September 29, succeeding Harjo, who will appear on Inprint’s upcoming season on November 14, 2022 at Rice University’s Brockman Hall for Opera.
“I really truly believe with my whole body in the power of poetry and in the power of poetry to heal and bring together communities and celebrate the interconnectedness that we all have with each other,” said Limón in an interview with the Library of Congress. “And I think this is a huge opportunity to really honor those beliefs.”
Organizers at Inprint say that they loved the idea of presenting both the 23rd and 24th U.S. Poet Laureates in the same season, as part of their mission of championing poetry and nurturing writers everywhere – but also at this moment when poetry may be on the rise.
“It seems in the U.S. and elsewhere that more and more people are reading poetry, and feel empowered to write poetry. And if the pandemic has introduced some folks to the joys of poetry, then I am grateful for that salubrious effect,” said Levy.
“For too long, poetry was an elitist enterprise. I think both Joy and Ada are part of the trend among our Poet Laureates and in general to enlarge and enrich the canon and the field,” he said.
Complete information about Inprint’s season, which includes virtual options, is available here.
Since 1980, the Inprint Brown Reading Series has featured more than 400 award-winning writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from 37 countries, including 19 U.S. Poet Laureates. Limón previously appeared in a joint reading with Pultizer Prize-winning poet Gregory Pardlo in 2017.
Houston Arts Journal reached out to Avalon Hogans for the following interview and permission to reprint her poem written for March for Our Lives Houston. Note: Hogans is now publishing under the name Avalon Jaemes.
A Lesson on the Intruder Drill Alphabet
When I was a little kid, I knew my ABCs A, as in apple, the red fruit we eat. A, as in ant, the small bugs by your feet. A, as in alarm, the one booming through the intercom, as you hear the principal yelling, “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”
B is for be, and C is for calm. Be calm, because if you B as in breathe too loudly, then the B as in bad guy will find you. So, be calm, and do so with C as in caution. D is for drill, as in, “It’s okay sweetie, it’s just a drill, and when it’s all over you have that math test still.”
E is for eggs, elephant, elbow, and “Everybody get down!” F is for fear. G is for “Get away from the windows and door!” H is for how and happen. How could anyone let this happen? Because I, J, K, I’m just a kid.
L is for look. Like don’t look through the window, just look down. M is for mommy, who you miss and wish you were with, instead of here where N, nobody is telling you what’s going on. Except to say it’s going to be O-kay. But you know it’s not, so you ask your teacher if you can P, please go home. You’re shushed and told to just be Q, quiet.
R is for rabbit, rocketship, rainbow, and reform, a word you’re still too young to know but will learn to advocate for as you grow, because the S, silence is T, too loud. And twelve years later, when you’re older, U as in Uvalde will be V, very deeply grieving in that sound.
So child, I know you’re scared that you can’t even so much as W, whisper, ask questions, or even look around, let alone X, the second letter in explain, how you’re feeling now.
Y is for you. You will be okay because this is just a drill. You are one of the lucky ones.
Z is for zebra, zucchini, and zoo. You made it to the end of the lesson today, school is over, how blessed are you.
Can you tell me a little bit about the process of writing this poem? What “inspired” it and its form? What were you thinking and feeling as you wrote it?
The form of this poem was inspired by the alphabet. I chose this as inspiration because growing up, I learned how to recite my ABCs around the same time I learned how to hide from an intruder at school, much like most children in America did. As I was writing this, I was thinking about what it was like to be a child learning how to read, write, and speak, but still not knowing the words to describe how fearful and wrong it is that they must have frequent drills for a possible school shooting.
The school shooting in Uvalde came less than 2 weeks after a horrific raciallymotivated shooting in Buffalo (and since then there have been more). Would you share how you felt during those days, how you processed the news?
During those days, I felt completely anchored by grief. As a poet and activist, it’s my job to write and speak. But some days it’s impossible to verbalize the magnitude of such tragedies. My heart truly goes out to all the families and friends of the lives we lost. May we continue to fight for this overdue justice.
What has it been like for you to grow up during this “era” of school shootings? How has it shaped or impacted your school experience?
Growing up in an era of school shootings has definitely impacted my school experience. It has made me feel very anxious and cautious at times as a student.
Amanda Gorman and other Houston poets have also written poems in response to Uvalde in its aftermath. While many people have connected profoundly with those poems on social media, others express skepticism of the importance of poetry during times of crisis. How do you respond to that – why write poetry when poetry alone cannot literally “fix” something?
Poetry may not be a tangible solution to any social issues, but it serves as a megaphone to these issues. Poetry is a form of spreading awareness. Words hold power. Words are not actions. Words command actions. Poetry is important during these times because it connects people together, verbalizes problems and goals, and inspires others to use their own voices.
What are your college and future writing plans? And in the short term, what else is on your plate – and your goals – for the remainder of your term as HYLP through fall 2022?
I’m very happy to announce that I will be attending Rice University in the fall. I plan on majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and minoring in African American Studies. I hosted my Poet Laureate service project in mid-June at Black is Primary, a Juneteenth event curated by [Houston Poet Laureate] Outspoken Bean at Post HTX, where I read poetry, donated books to kids, and hosted a drive where I gathered hundreds of other books to donate to local schools. As for my goals, I want to continue pursuing writing. Earlier this summer, I had my first live spoken word set in a major city outside of Houston, so I am hoping to continue expanding my audiences. And as always, I plan on continuing to use my voice and spark change.
In the wake of yesterday’s horrific shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers, poet and activist Amanda Gorman responded with a short verse that trails off, capturing a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety:
Gorman, a former National Youth Poet Laureate known for writing and performing President Biden’s Inauguration Poem, also condemned gun violence in a series of tweets and urged the public on Instagram to take action toward greater gun safety.
Amidst national mourning as the names of victims were released into the night, Houston poets began writing and sharing poems on social media to process their anger and grief, to reach out to the community, and to create conversation or prompt action.
Bruno Ríos, an educator, Latin American literature scholar, and founder of Books & Bikes, wrote the poem “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT”:
Ebony Stewart, an international performance artist, activist, and author of BloodFresh and Home.Girl.Hood, shared her poem-in-progress, “Untitled in 4 Parts”:
Aris Kian, 2022 winner of the Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing, tweeted her poem “In Texas We Pop Prayers Like Pills”:
2022 Texas State Poet Laureate Lupe Mendez shared a poem that he wrote in the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting, “When I Hear That They Want To Let Teachers Carry Guns”:
Information on fundraisers and blood drives to help the Uvalde community is available here and here.
Following the February 24th Russian invasion of Ukraine, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner condemned the attacks:
“In Houston, we stand for freedom; for democracy; and for the safety and security of all our residents. We join with cities and countries around the world calling for an immediate end to the violence, to protect human rights, and for the return of peace in Europe.”
Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston
The city’s buildings have also been lit in the colors of Ukraine’s flag as a symbol of solidarity with the Ukrainian people in Houston:
Local artists – like Dominika Dancewicz, Axiom Quartet, the Russian Cultural Center, and Holly Lyn Walrath – have responded to the war through their art or through fundraising efforts, as have national artists, like poet Ilya Kaminisky.
Houston Arts Journal invited Houston Poet LaureateEmanualee “Outspoken” Bean to write a poem in response to the Russia-Ukraine war. His poem “lower cased shells at the capital” is published below.
A nationally recognized performance poet and educator, Bean was appointed in April 2021 to serve a two-year term as the city’s fifth poet laureate.
“Outspoken Bean will demonstrate to the state of Texas and the nation that Houston is resilient, and that arts and culture are part of the strength of our resilience,” said Mayor Turner in a statement last April.
Just as poetry has helped Houstonians through the COVID-19 pandemic, now –in this time of heightened international strife – poetry may play another role in offering hope, healing, and strength.
lower cased shells at the capital by Outspoken Bean, Houston’s Poet Laureate
lower cased shells scattered across Ukraine’s capital. bruised broken skin only braises Ukrainians’ spirit lighting ragged russian vodka bottles burned when there is only round tables no position is turned strength is found through vantage surviving a home invasion creates new adages to share which is the receipt of the living.
heroic to leave courageous to stay cowardice took trains from moscow to Ukraine bordered door as war knocks to answer is with molotov cocktails to answer is with dismantling street signs to answer is to court your home’s advantage to take it here when it was brought from there if resistance finds comfort reject its advances.
the language of collision is comedic but not comical it’s Kyiv slapstick, rocks, and slingshot starving out goliath tanks the gigantic are hearts wrapped in blue and yellow and the tongue of strength says “I’m not hiding.” so that their people can.
Walrath created an erasure poem, which she considers a “form of resistance.” The poem emerges from the words that remain on the page, after portions of a found text have been obscured.
“Literature for Ukraine” by Holly Lyn Walrath
Walrath started with text from the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on Russian Literature.
“I drew flowers over the dictionary page and hand-painted over them, leaving the words of the poem to read,” she said. “The paint is acrylic, but I watered it down to achieve a stained-glass effect.”
Walrath also shared her thoughts on poetry and war in the following interview:
What inspired this poem?
I kept thinking about the video of the Ukrainian woman, who told Russian soldiers to put sunflower seeds in their pockets so when they die on Ukrainian soil, a flower will grow. “Put the sunflower seeds in your pockets, please. You will die down here with the seeds. You came to my land. Do you understand? You are occupiers. You are enemies.”
I think this woman struck me and many others as very brave. But the idea of sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine – growing from the corpses of soldiers is a complex and heartbreaking image. War obliterates both sides, on a human level.
What is an erasure poem?
Erasure or blackout poetry is the act of erasing certain words on the page. The words that remain become the poem. It can be done in lots of different ways, but the most common form is to “black out” with a black marker the lines on the page.
This technique mirrors censorship in most government “censured” documents, which use tape or black marker to remove sensitive information. Other techniques include digital erasures, which use font/color to erase words, visual erasures using images or collage, and cut-out forms.
What draws you to this form? What are you trying to achieve each time you create one?
A friend commented that the erasure put into words what she had been struggling to say about the order. This kind of engagement helps me process world events.
You recently tweeted: “In the face of war, write love poems.” What do you mean by that? Do you consider this poem a love poem?
I think all poems are love poems, ha. All poetry is about love – whether it’s about grief or the body or nature. To write a poem about something is to love it, I think. Because something has to bury itself deep in your creative consciousness in order for you to want to write about it. I like to say, “write what you love, love what you write.”
What are your thoughts on the purpose of art and poetry during times of war and crisis?
I am struck by the story that Ilya Kaminsky, a Ukrainian-American poet, told on Twitter. He said he reached out to Ukraine to a publisher to ask if they needed anything – how he could help. They told him to send poems.
At face value, Ilya is a popular and successful poet. So publishing his work would boost the publisher. But on a deeper level, I think people crave art in troubling times. We cling to things we love and that spark joy for us. We watch movies, TV, read books and comics to process the world. There is so much we don’t have control over. It’s terrifying. But in the end, I do believe poetry matters. I do think the Ukrainian poets who are writing during a war matter.
In a tweet following up with the publisher, the man said, “I need nothing. I feel I am a witness to a catastrophe, but I need to live through it like everyone – and together with everyone.” Poetry is a way of living through something.
Would you like to share any personal thoughts on how the war in Ukraine has affected you?
From a very young age, I declared myself to be a pacifist. I think any death is a catastrophe, and perhaps that makes me naive. Call me Pollyanna, I’d rather be full of hope than full of hate. While I am not directly impacted by the war right now, the entire world is and will be impacted by this situation for years to come. We don’t know still what is to come. Writers and artists need to be witnesses to this disaster, and we also need to balance that with activism to force our leaders to stand up for displaced people worldwide.
When the Sin Muros Teatro Festivalbegan in 2018, actor and writer Jasminne Mendez called it “groundbreaking”– the first of its kind in Houston to center several days of performances on the stories and voices of Latinx playwrights and actors.
A festival co-founder, Mendez continues to serve on the task force of writers, performers, and scholars that organizes Sin Muros each year, along with her husband Lupe Mendez, 2022 Texas Poet Laureate and this year’s festival coordinator.
Now in its 5th year, Sin Muros has grown to encompass the largest number of Latinx theater-makers in its history – more than 30, including playwrights, directors, cast, crew, and stage managers from local colleges and universities.
“On behalf of the Sin Muros Teatro Festival – we welcome you back to the magic making – al puro son del corazón! Come see what all the buzz is about, come see cutting edge work from every kind of thing that is Tejano.”
The festival also honors Ruby Rivera, Artistic Director for the Texas Salsa Congress and a leading female Salsa organizer on the national scene. Rivera will be presented with the 2022 Premio Puenta, an award bestowed by festival organizers on “an individual or organization who has demonstrated great skill, talent, drive, or care in serving the Latinx art community in the Houston area.”
The festival schedule, with play descriptions, can be found here.
Houston Arts Journal reached out to Lupe Mendez for the following interview:
Why is this festival needed?
Though there are some really good spaces and people creating Latinx theater, we don’t have one space to call our own. From Gente de Teatro to Teatrx, there are no (to my knowledge) full-on theater spaces dedicated to Latinx theater.
It’s been a problem for a long time. The spaces that should have it, that you would expect for it to exist in, can’t afford it. It’s part of the institutional racism legacy of major cities – we know who has the dollars to invest in the arts, and it is always the case that artists and theater-makers of color have to jockey for space and money. This festival is necessary because it provides a space to celebrate, to honor, to catch a spark of Latinx playwrights and build connections to hopefully one day see these amazing works in full productions.
Any thoughts on how it reflects – or maybe even leads the way – in what is happening nationally in theater and efforts towards diversity?
Oh yes, I feel that when spaces like Stages are willing to open their doors and do so with care, with a “Hey look, we got this space and we got these resources, tell us what to do” attitude, you are literally inviting in a community to make a new home and it becomes a moment where everyone benefits. They listen. They ask questions. They trust, and I want other communities to find this kind of support. It is out there. You don’t have a space of your own? I am hoping you can find it in theater-making spaces who will trust you and open doors.
What are the goals of the festival?
The goals of the festival are to highlight the work of Texas-rooted Latinx playwrights with play-readings still in the developmental process. We are now moving into the next phase of the festival – finding ways to ensure that one play moves on to be a part of Stages’ regular season, thus creating a pipeline and launching pad for Latinx playwrights. Can you imagine?
How have you seen the festival impact the community and artists over the past four years?
LEGACY. I am serious. I had posted on Facebook that 20+ years ago, when I was a younger actor, I had a hard time getting cast in shows (we know why) and I gave up my acting dreams and focused on poetry. And now, as the Festival Coordinator for Sin Muros, I am in a different position to help provide space for some of the actors I used to work with. Some of the actors that have come to Sin Muros love it so much, they came back as Assistant Directors and now, Directors.
We are helping build resumes and artistic CVs. Hell, we are creating work worthy of archival acknowledgment. I told that to the artists who are a part of this year’s Sin Muros: “Be aware that you are making history. You are a part of a larger plan, a larger momentum. Stages holds its archives at Rice University and this whole program goes there.”
We make history every day we move forward. We are worthy of being spoken about, of being researched because this work is vital, it is necessary, it is grand. So yeah, study us, you future academics looking into what makes up Latinx theater. This is a part of your knowledge base. See how we build dreams.
Writer, activist, and senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Avalon Hogans was recently appointed Houston’s sixth Youth Poet Laureate. She will serve from fall 2021 – fall 2022 and receive a $1000 scholarship.
During her tenure, Hogans will create and implement a civic engagement project. Past youth poet laureate projects have included reading series, workshops, book drives, and podcasts. Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean to develop her own project to serve the community. The position also aims to empower young people and to address a social issue through poetry.
Houston Arts Journal reached out to Avalon Hogans for the following interview and permission to print her poem “Big Red Road.”
When, and how, did you fall in love with poetry?
I fell in love with poetry in middle school. Back then, I would use poetry as an outlet for my angsty emotions. I remember in eighth grade, I got really into reading verse novels like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Solo by Kwame Alexander. But it was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo that I was truly in love with. At 14 years old, that novel heavily influenced my writing style and my love for writing.
I remember I started writing poems inspired by Acevedo’s, and I would share them on my Instagram at the time. My friends would reshare my poems and give me positive feedback. It was such an amazing and affirming feeling as a young aspiring poet to evoke feelings from others using my writing, even if it was just on a small scale.
How would you describe the kind of poems you write and themes you’re interested in?
I would describe the kind of poems I write as authoritative, identity-based, and charged. Most of the poetry I choose to share and/or perform center themes of Black pride, womanism, anti-racism, and social change.
How does a poem begin for you? Do you have any writing rituals?
I don’t have any specific writing rituals. My poems typically begin with a brain dump on a blank Google Docs page or in my notebook. I prefer to write a poem all at once with minimal distractions. Usually, I have Thesaurus.com and my Kendrick Lamar playlist on deck in case I’m needing some extra inspiration.
What are your plans as Houston Youth Poet Laureate? Will you have a specific project?
As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, I’m currently in the running for Regional Youth Poet Laureate and I’m planning out my service project. So yes, I will have a project. I’m very excited to work on it. I plan on centering it around teaching anti-bias and anti-racist practices. I love teaching. I’ve taught middle schoolers and elementary students creative writing and artivism through volunteer programs at my school, and it has always left me feeling fulfilled. I just want to be able to give as many people as possible the resources, awareness, and courage it takes to be an artist, ally and/or activist.
Why do you think poetry is important – why should people read or write it?
Poetry is important because it unifies people through emotion and experience. Spoken word poetry has the power to create change because it commands and demands ears. Written poetry has the power to create change because it requires patience and consideration. This art form makes people listen and think. People should read poetry to listen to new ideas, and people should write poetry to share their own.
Has the pandemic impacted you as poet?
The pandemic has taught me how to be patient and flexible with sharing my craft. While it was uncomfortable performing spoken word to a mass of silent, staring video squares, I was able to adapt. I collaborated with many local advocacy groups for virtual fundraisers, info sessions, and rallies. I taught writing skills to younger students virtually. I had more time to read. During the pandemic, I wrote a lot of poems that I couldn’t perform or workshop, but I believe that taught me the significance of self-critiquing, revision, and it gave me time to plan ahead for future live readings.
Regarding “Big Red Road,” could you tell me a little bit about what inspired this poem? If there is a story behind it, I’d love to hear.
I wrote “BIG RED ROAD” in June of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was a time when George Floyd’s name was trending, and protests were occurring in most major cities. I felt compelled to write this piece as an attempt to express my feelings of grief and anger. A friend of mine helped me revise this, and I shared it on social media. I captioned this poem saying, “Red represents destruction, both good and bad. Because it takes destruction in order to rebuild. And we have a lot of rebuilding to do.”
BIG RED ROAD By Avalon Hogans
it’s taking no peace to know peace.
our lives are prizes for easy prices in their eyes.
but what they don’t know is, our Red is coming, and they won’t be able to catch us after the pride stampedes.
i see Red in their vile souls; i see Red in the streets. big Red road where the intersection meets.
big Red fire trucks, big Red graffiti. big Red anger marching through the city.
Red eyes over blue uniforms and the 99 sheep.
blood on my fallen brothers and sisters.
it’s taking no peace to know peace.
the power hungry can’t tell right from wrong; blinded by privilege and deaf to kendrick songs.
but only justice can relieve the Red away. ignore our voices, and Red is here to stay.
it’s taking no peace to know peace.
loud Red static all around the nation. take a step back, america, and look at your creation.
In a ceremony on November 17 at Writers in the Schools, Avalon Hogans officially took the helm as Houston’s 2021-2022 Youth Poet Laureate.
Through a citywide application and interview process, the teen writer was selected for the position, which is a joint initiative of Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library.
A senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Hogans is a storyteller, artist, and civil rights activist. She also volunteers as a creative writing teacher for local elementary school students. Her poetry stems from a passion for social justice, and she is “determined to change the world through her talents,” as described in a press release.
At a time when poetry has been on the rise nationally – with visits to Poets.org up by 30% during the pandemic, a spike in online poetry events, and the popularity of Gorman’s Presidential Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb” – the art form is also seeing increased interest in Texas. Both Austin and Dallas have launched youth poet laureate programs this year. Dallas has also announced a search for its first adult Dallas Poet Laureate.
During her one-year term, Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, to develop a civic engagement project to serve the community and address a social issue. Other duties include speaking and performing at city events.
Hogans will have the opportunity to apply to become National Youth Poet Laureate and to act as a youth poetry ambassador for the Southwest region. She receives a $1000 scholarship.