Recap #2: Poetry/Truth/History

Next Richard Vargas raised issues of history and truth using this quote by Plato. “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”

Joaquin jumped on that, saying he enjoys writing poems based and steeped in history, talked about finding out that a family member 7 generations earlier was Witchita, a Native American tribe in Texas. He likes looking at a subject from a distance and challenging himself to connect, and then he read a stunning poem called Reinventing the Enemy’s Language, which begins with an incident November 29, 1864, when three soldiers used an Apache child as target practice. The poem moves beautifully into language, redefining blanket, blood, skin and more. The word corpse transforms into chrysalis.

Jessica used to struggle with the idea of duty. She has learned that for her, writing deeply personal and “confessional” poetry is a way of speaking that also can speak for others. As a woman, a survivor of domestic violence and addictions, she says, quite simply, “Writing is revolution and completely altered for the positive my life and my daughter’s.” She talked about poetry as a vehicle that allows her to be part of community, even various communities. Through her writing, she tries to represent what needs to be said out loud.

Mary was passionate in the way she agreed with Plato. She said, “Poetry is always more true than history, because history has an agenda and is told by conquerors…” And then shortly she floored everyone with a poem about the firebombing of Tokyo, “Tokyo Untold,” from her book Spirit Birds They Told Me.

Seth almost subversively reclaimed the question. He told how since he’s been touring on the road (about three years) he’s developed a penchant for going to free art museums around the country. And one day he had an epiphany: Artists Make History. He also takes an “extreme stance on social responsibility” and talked about how people need to be thorough and authentic, and if writing beyond their own experience, they need to do the research deeply. As a poet who lived through Katrina, with seven feet of water in the house, he was troubled hearing non-survivors claim Katrina as a topic. He simply wants to see justice done to the subject, whether a personal or persona poem. Because, and I’ll just quote a line from the Adam and Eve persona poem he read, “We have a world to create.”


There was another round, but it addressed questions of gender differences in writing and reading, and actually turned out to be too hilarious and gestural for me to capture. I’ll just say you missed a good one and thank everyone involved: that’s Mary Oishi, Seth Walker, Jessica Helen Lopez, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, moderator Richard Vargas, and everyone in attendance. Let me close this recap with a quote from Mary,

“I just can’t imagine a life without poetry.”

Thanks everyone.