#NPRPoetry: Alberto Rios On The Power Of 'Or'

Apr 21, 2019
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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

And now our continuing celebration of Poetry Month. We've been asking listeners to share original tweet-length poems. And each week this month, we've been reading through your submissions. With us this week to go through the submissions is Alberto Rios. He's the poet laureate of Arizona and an English professor at Arizona State University.

Alberto, thank you for doing this with us.

ALBERTO RIOS: Thank you so much for having me.

PFEIFFER: You have picked poems that you like from Twitter this week. What's top of your list?

RIOS: Yes. Well, the top of my list, if I can just characterize it first as an ethos, is exuberance. For example - and I can tell this one was from Arizona - this was by Casimir Wojciech (ph).

(Reading) The air is warm with mesquite dreams and the silence of rattlesnakes and the wind and the San Aritos (ph) and the muskrat still digging and the earthworms and ants and these finches tied to each branch who would rather die than stop singing.

PFEIFFER: I like that one. It was a very sensory. You could hear and see and feel the landscape.

RIOS: You could. And the word - that and - there's - it's written here as an ampersand in tweet fashion. But I'm always intrigued by the smallest, little pieces of language, the littlest signposts. And I think of and, one of the coordinating conjunctions - and, but, or, nor, for and so - as the chicken soup of the English language. And says you're not alone. There's something more. You're connected to something. And that very sort of comforting and, and, and, and - I love the idea that nature is combining to overwhelm us with something good.

RIOS: What else did you like that you saw this week? This is from Jenny Karr (ph).

(Reading) Tiny fists punch crashing water as the ocean is reduced to a series of one-foot-high waves. Nothing compared to their vitality, their power. The boys fight with such gleeful determination one can't help but think they may just win.

PFEIFFER: Right. That was fun because it sounds like they're fighting small waves, but they feel like they're fighting the whole ocean.

RIOS: I know. I know. And we can see it as an adult. But in their moment, in that small battle that little boys have with a wave, I - you can feel what that means.

PFEIFFER: We have another reader submission. And in this case, the poet introduces himself.

DAVID FOSTER ENGLER: This is David Foster Engler from Portland, Ore.

(Reading) I'm walking a poem home. It's a late night out, arm in arm, stumbling in the dark, trying to stay between the lines a little like a bear cub. Don't get between us. I'm helping a poem out of its clothes and encouraging it to drink water. Too much of anything can make you a mess.

PFEIFFER: It's a great one.

RIOS: I love that. I love that - the personification of the poem itself - such a meta-statement. I loved it.

PFEIFFER: Exactly - the poet...

RIOS: (Laughter).

PFEIFFER: ...As a person stumbling home drunk.

RIOS: Drunk with itself. I love it (laughter).

PFEIFFER: Do you have any advice to share with listeners who want to submit a Twitter poem of their own?

RIOS: Yeah. I think there was a lot of humor, a lot of joking. And I have a lot of fun with that. I love humor. I respond to it. But I have to say, it comes off as a defense mechanism, and I would say if you're going to contribute a poem, speak from the heart. Say it true and stand with it.

PFEIFFER: That's Alberto Rios, Arizona's Poet Laureate and author of "A Small Story About The Sky."

Alberto, thank you.

RIOS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OLYMPIANS' "APOLLO'S MOOD")

PFEIFFER: And to all our listeners, if you'd like to hear your original poem on the air, tweet us @NPRATC with the hashtag #NPRPoetry. And your submission may be used and distributed by NPR as part of our April Poetry Month celebration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.