This letter from WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler was published in the Sunday edition of the Houston Chronicle on April 13, 2014.
In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs of major corporations were asked which abilities were most highly sought in their hiring. The No. 1 answer was not math, nor science, but creativity.
Yet it is creativity that often suffers first in our public schools when budgets are trimmed. And it’s creativity that suffers first when strapped local governments have to choose between funding arts and culture and fixing potholes. Yet here in Houston, we see glimmers of hope: Grass-roots efforts are bringing creativity to the people through literary arts. These efforts must be nurtured, and National Poetry Month is the perfect time to start.
Last year, Houston became one of a handful of U.S. cities to have its own poet laureate, Gwendolyn Zepeda. Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston Public Library have worked hard to make poetry democratic and public through a wide variety of Houston locations – everywhere from the farmers’ market and Veterans Affairs to the downtown tunnel system and corporate board rooms. The city’s message rings loud and true: Poetry is for the people.
Houston has become a literary city. David Theis, author of “Literary Houston,” has observed a great deal of momentum. “When I published ‘Literary Houston’ in 2010, the title of the book felt a little aspirational,” he said. “But not any more. The seeds that were planted over years and decades by the UH Creative Writing Program, Writers in the Schools, Inprint and others, have suddenly become green shoots.”
Because of the renowned creative writing program at the University of Houston, some of our nation’s most talented writers come to Houston to write. While they are here, these writers become a part of our community through programs such as Writers in the Schools, sharing their craft with children in schools, hospitals, parks and community centers. Writers help children think differently and explore their stories; together, we have grown a generation of poets, storytellers and creative thinkers.
Creativity matters whether you are a CEO, an engineer, a parent or a poet. Poetry is an accessible kind of writing that is jam-packed with meaning. A poem can crystallize a complicated experience into a small packet of words. A favorite poem can become like a favorite song that you listen to in order to change your mood or outlook. A poem can evoke feelings of grief for a loved one, it can make you laugh aloud, or even draw you to fall in love! Students fall in love with poetry because they can easily write about the things they love: Legos, ponies, dragons or mom.
During National Poetry Month, Houstonians have a chance to experience poetry through poetry contests and public events. Writers in the Schools shares poems by local children published online and read on KPFT-FM radio. Public Poetry has organized The Game, a poetry scavenger hunt, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, with a reading on Wednesday by Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos. On April 24, families can enjoy El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) hosted by Arte Publico Press at the Carnegie Neighborhood Library. On April 26, teenagers will compete in a Meta-Four Houston poetry slam at Discovery Green to represent our city at the International Brave New Voices Festival. On April 28, Inprint will host a reading by MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’-winning poet Anne Carson. Houston will be a literary playground.
Everyone is capable of expressing themselves creatively – even writing a poem. Consider the words of this second-grader on the power of writing:
When I write,
I use my heart.
I listen to my soul-mind.
I use my hands,
and touch the tip of the pencil.
I write words.
I imagine things I want to do.
I can write a story.
I listen to myself.
I feel free.
– By Nathan, age 8
This April, dive in and take this challenge. Read, write or share a poem with someone you love. Listen to your soul-mind and imagine. Together, we will show the world that Houston is a city where words fly.
Executive Director, Writers in the Schools