Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Muse: Texas's Poet Laureate

. . . My work in all settings has been about opening doors, 
particularly for people who feel their experiences are not
the "stuff of literature". All human experience is vital
to know and understand. . . .
~ Rosemary Catacalos*

Rosemary Catacalos is the current Poet Laureate of Texas. Dean Young of Austin will succeed her in 2014.

This post presents information about Catacalos. A post about Dean Young is planned for November 18.

Background about the creation of the honorary position, which has no obligations or requirements, is in the June 21, 2010, "Monday Muse: Texas's Poet Laureate".

*  * * * * 
. . . [P]oems show different perspectives
and ways of understanding in the world and help us
negotiate that with grace.
~ Rosemary Catacalos**

Rosemary Catacalos of San Antonio, Texas, published her first full-length collection, Again for the First Time (Tooth of Time Books, Santa Fe) in 1984; that book, considered a strongly feminist work, was awarded the Texas Institute of Letters poetry prize. She also is the author of the letterpress chapbook As Long As It Takes (Iguana Press, 1984).

Wings Press of San Antonio has issued a 30th anniversary edition of Again for the First Time (October 2013) and a limited-edition, hand-bound chapbook, Begin Here

Folklore, myths, and history as well as family life, human emotions and relationships, community, time, memory, loss, and beauty figure prominently in Catacalos's poems. Her subjects also encompass racism, death, war, sense of place (specifically, the landscape of San Antonio) and perspectives on multiculturalism and borders. Critics remark on her clear language, precise imagery, creative use of allusion, and skill in balancing the universal with the deeply personal. Her lyricism is noteworthy.

Here are the opening lines of "Homesteaders", from Again for the First Time. Take note of how uncluttered, how economic, her lines are:

They came for the water,
came to its sleeping place
here in the bed of an old sea,
the dream of the water. . . .

The full poem has an almost hypnotic effect, as if chanted.

The following lines from "La Casa", also in Again for the First Time, give an idea of how beautifully — and without dressed-up language — Catacalos creates an image:

[. . .]
Our mothers are inside
All the mothers are inside,
Lighting candles, swaying
Back and fourth on their knees,
Begging The Virgin's forgiveness
For having reeled us out
on such very weak string. [. . . .]

And, finally, these lines from the lovely, lyrical  "Morning Geography" (dedicated to poet Naomi Shihab Nye) reveals deft use of enjambment and firm control over subject:

Suppose the flower rioting on my desk, its wild, shouting
yellow streaked with red and ruffled as an agitated bird,

suppose this flower, large as my hand, could be pulled apart
and the sweetness wrung out the way we did honeysuckle so long

ago, rhyming summer nights with fireflies: This drop of honey
for courage, this drop of honey for love, this drop for anything

you are dreaming of. . . Last night I dreamed a woman I love [. . . .]

Poems by Catacalos have been published in high school and college textbooks and in a range of literary periodicals, including The Bloomsbury ReviewParnassus: Poetry in Review, The Progress, Provincetown ArtsSouthwest Review, and The Texas Observer.

Catacalos's work also has been anthologized in, among other publications, Risk, Courage, and Women: Contemporary Voices in Prose and Poetry (University of North Texas Press, 2007), San Antonio in Color (Trinity University Press, 2004),  Best American Poetry (Scribner, 1996, 2003), Chicana Without Apology (Routledge, 2003), Texas in Poetry 2 (Texas Christian University Press, 2002),  Inheritance of Light: Contemporary Poetry (University of North Texas Press, 1996), Daughters of the Fifth Sun: A Collection of Latina Fiction and Poetry (Riverhead Books, 1995), In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States (Arte Publico Press, Houston, 1994), and Crossing the River: Poets of the Western United States (Permanent Press, 1987). One of her poems, "Crocheted Bag", appears in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems (Voice, 2011), edited by Caroline Kennedy. 

In addition to Pushcart Prize nominations, Catacalos's honors include a Dobie-Paisano writing fellowship (Texas Institute of Letters/University of Texas, 1985) and National Endowment for the Arts grants. She was a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellow (1989-1991) at Stanford University during a lengthy period (1989-2003) in California, where she also directed The Poetry Center/American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University. In addition, Catacalos was a visiting scholar at Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She directed for nearly a decade the nonprofit Gemini Ink, a San Antonio literary center.

A recipient of Macondo Foundation's Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award (2008), Catacalos, who is of Mexican and Greek descent and the first Chicana/Latina to be named  Poet Laureate of Texas, is featured in the award-winning documentary The Children of the Revolucion.

As Poet Laureate, Catacalos has been "stress[ing] the inseparability of literature and literacy", she told San Antonio Express-News, adding that "literacy is absolutely reinforced by creative thought." 


Photo Credit: Rosemary Catacalos by Michael Mehl/Fotoseptiembre USA via Wings Press

All Poetry Excerpts © Rosemary Catacalos

* Quoted in Bryce Milligan Interview at SA Arts, September 2013

** Quoted in Steve Bennet Interview Reprinted at Wings Press

Texas House Resolution 1536, April 26, 2013 (Announcement of 2014 Arts Appointments)

Texas House Resolution 1537, April 29, 2013 (Announcement of 2013 Arts Appointments)

Steve Bennett, "Rosemary Catacalos Named Texas State Poet Laureate", The Fine Print Blog, My San Antonio (San Antonio Express-News), April 19, 2013

Rosemary Catacalos Profiles at BookRagsTexas Commission on the ArtsWings Press

Rosemary Catacalos Poems: "David Talamatez on the Last Day of Second Grade" at Wings Press (Also at Texas Book Lover Blog); "Homesteaders" at Shambhala Sun; "Katakalos", "The History of Abuse, a Language Poem", "Keeping the Vigil", and "A Vision of La Llorna", in In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States at GoogleBooks; "Morning Geography" at Xican@Poetry Daily

Again for the First Time at GoogleBooks

Carolina Astrain, "Poet Laureate Praises UHV's Literary Diversity", Victoria Advocate, September 19, 2013 (Video of Catacalos Reading from Again for the First Time)

Steve Bennett Interview with Rosemary Catacalos, Reprinted at Wings Press (The interview follows a video on the page.) See "Negotiating Culture Borders Through Poetry", San Antonio Express-News, May 23, 2013.

Roberto Bonazzi, "Mythical Poetry from the Texas Poet Laureate", San Antonio Express News, September 22, 2013

Bryce Milligan, "Rosemary Catacalos: Creative of the Month", Interview, SA Arts, September 2013

Wings Press on FaceBook

1 comment:

Louise Gallagher said...

I love it when there are new State Laureates -- I get to be introduced to new and delightful poets by you.

Thank you Maureen.