In a moment of shared frustration following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, local poets Christopher “Rooster” Martinez and Chibbi Orduña had the idea to put together a small anthology of work by Texas poets that speaks to the political moment.
With a pivotal election looming, and amid a tense political and social climate, Contra: Poets Speak Out, out at the end of the month, aims to reflect on these times and inspire action. A virtual reading of some of the poetry included in the book will take place Friday at 7 p.m.
Martinez, a poetry slam veteran who released his first collection of poetry, A Saint for Lost Things, in April, described the feelings that led to the project as “three years of rotating embarrassment and crisis and tragedy and embarrassment and crisis.”
“I was done waiting for November 3rd,” he said.
Orduña said that he sees this project as a way to “actually do something … to move people to understand the gravity of this election.”
After putting out a call for submissions, they soon found that other Texas poets were hungry to get active, too. They also found out that this wouldn’t be such a small anthology after all. The end result is just shy of 200 pages, and features the work of nearly 50 poets from around Texas, including Gregg Barrios, Wendy Barker, Octavio Quintanilla, Naomi Shihab Nye, and San Antonio poet laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson.
Orduña said that the work submitted for the anthology has naturally lent itself to division into four sections, based on mood and subject matter: poems of reflection, poems of dismay, poems of anger, and poems of hope.
The whole, he hopes, inspires people to participate in the election process. “Apathy isn’t an option anymore,” he said.
“Part of the idea of this project is to show people that they are not invisible and that there are people out there working through the same stuff … and if we can come together we can start to make change.”
The duo recruited the help of writer and graphic designer Priscilla Dominguez and took the project to McAllen poet and FlowerSong Press publisher Edward Vidaurre.
Dominguez said that she was happy to work on this project because she sees potential for Texas to be a battleground state.
Vidaurre, for his part, contributed three poems to the collection in addition to publishing it. He sees the text as a “historical document of our times.”
“If helping put a book out there helps bring awareness and helps people get out and vote,” he said, then it’s the least he could do as someone who seeks to be “a responsible artist.”
The group determined that MOVE Texas would receive all proceeds from the book, for its youth-driven focus on mobilization and empowerment, and that the whole thrust of the project would include a push for voter registration and participation.
One of the best things about CONTRA, to Martinez is the fact that “there are nationally recognized spoken word poets next to nationally recognized page poets taking a stand against fascism, violence, racism, xeno-prejudicial hate and advocating for pro-democracy, pro-community, pro-people.”
That this collection includes a diverse selection of poets from Texas is something that he sees as important and hopeful. For Martinez, it is “the poet’s obligation to create the platforms and write the words that are critical, endearing, and honest about this country and its people.”