CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – While many readers often think of Shakespearean love sonnets when poetry comes to mind, that isn’t always the case. The People’s Poetry Festival centered around amplifying the voices of those concerned with social issues such as racism, gender, war, and border identity. The festival was a three-day poetry love affair lasting from February 23 to February 25. It spanned from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to Del Mar College to downtown Corpus Christi.
“The festival brings well-recognized and respected writers from around the Texas region and beyond to the people in Corpus Christi to celebrate our diverse ways of thinking, being and expressing through poetry,” said Dr. Robin Carstensen, Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Poetry illuminates through its lyric rhythms, narratives and meditations; poems sing to us and express outrage in calm river currents and swelling ocean crescendos; poems move us intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and viscerally.”
On Thursday, Feb. 23, the Poetry Festival kicked off at Del Mar with an opening and welcome by Tom Murphy, the Chair of the People’s Poetry Festival Committee and Professional Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The evening continued with readings by residents and students. Dr. Chuck Etheridge, Associate Professor of English at A&M-Corpus Christi, ended the evening by hosting the Robb Jackson Poetry Awards for local high school students. Dr. Robb Jackson was an English professor at A&M-Corpus Christi and co-founded and headed the creative writing minor for undergraduates. Jackson passed away in 2013, but his memory lives on in the imaginative hearts of students and colleagues.
Seven students received awards in the form of gift cards and signed editions of poetry by Alan Berecka, who was officially named Corpus Christi’s Poet Laureate. The Coastal Bend Writing Project at A&M-Corpus Christi donated $750 for the students’ awards.
The second day included a variety of panels and events at the Island University: Warriors & Poets, hosted by local poet Juan Manuel Pérez; Women, Gender & Health, hosted by Carstensen; Border Poetry of Resistance, hosted by poet and activist Odilia Galván Rodríguez.
As the only woman at the Warriors and Poets panel, Carstensen enjoyed the opportunity to share poems that explored her experiences of serving as a medic and orthopedic surgeon’s assistant in the United State Air Force during the 80s.
“I'm grateful to Juan Pérez for hosting and bringing this panel together. I appreciated that we were able to share our experiences in war and peacetime missions, respectively,” said Carstensen. “We were able to read and discuss with the audience such issues as violence, loss and sacrifice – neither glorifying the service nor disparaging those who choose to serve but illuminating the complex experience of military service, and social cultivation, reward and denigration of it, etc.”
At the Women, Gender, & Health panel, Philly Vasquez, a senior English student, dedicated a poem to Ann Winfred, a South Texas Scribes colleague and mentor who passed away in October 2016. Exploring mental health and illness, Philly went on to read poems on how thoughts exist beyond the mind.
“Unlike some of the other poems that I’ve written, these went deeper, exposing more about my reality, about my truth,” said Vasquez. “That’s always kind of risky, but also mental health isn’t even on the radar of mainstream conversation.”
Later, the festival moved off campus to Graffiti’s located downtown. Dr. Kathryn Vomero Santos, Assistant Professor of English at A&M-Corpus Christi, hosted poetry activities such a “poetry mad libs” and “poetry soup bowl.” The soup bowl activity proved to be a favorite with each poet who had to create a poem after drawing five words. The night came to an exciting conclusion with an open mic session hosted by radio voice and well-known poet, activist and South Texas spoken word performer, John Meza.
“I really love reading at open mic. The crowd and mood are more open than reading on campus, so I focus my readings on audience response and more liberal topics,” said Murphy.
The final day began at the Island University with more poetry panels: Nature and Environment, hosted by Murphy; Poetry in Spanish, hosted by Javier Villarreal; Local Poets, hosted by Berecka. This festival came to a stirring finale at Graffiti’s with another open mic.
The People’s Poetry Festival would not have come together without months of planning, coordinating and enthusiasm of local poets. The event was a success due to the following people: Alan Berecka, Dr. Robin Carstensen, Dr. Chuck Etheridge, Tom Murphy, John Meza, Dr. Kathryn Santos, Dr. Stefan Sencerz, A&M-Corpus Christi’s Creative Writing Islanders, Del Mar College and the many poets who participated.