~from Katie Haggstrom

The most recent Creative Writing Reading Series event took place in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art. The venue created a powerful dynamic between the blending of visual arts with literary arts.

This reading was set apart from others because both poets, Emily Pérez and Lauren Haldeman, were published by our own Center for Literary Publishing. Emily Pérez’s House of Sugar, House of Stone (2016) was chosen for the 11th Mountain West Poetry Series. Lauren Haldeman’s Instead of Dying won the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry.

MFA student David Mucklow introduced Pérez as a mother, poet, and scholar. He explained that in Pérez’s work, both terror and pleasure collide. Even a love poem needs to have darkness in it sometimes.

David Mucklow

This theme of terror and pleasure was prevalent as Pérez moved through her different types of poetry. To kick off her reading, Pérez read a love poem and then oscillated between a mixture of love poems that shared her insecure post-college love or chronicled her brother’s wedding and married love.

Some of Pérez’s poems also took on a heavier tone. Pérez described one poem as blend of flash, non-fiction, and prose poetry that worked through her biracial identity (she’s the daughter of a white mother and Mexican father) while living on the Texas-Mexico border. Through this poem, we learned about her journey of renaming and claiming her own name instead of taking on the labels of others.

Emily Pérez

What set Pérez apart were her fairy tale poems, and the magical way she mixed these stories with the voices of own her children. But even these poems moved towards a deeper meaning as she used her son’s words to explain a practice school lockdown. What her son described as “hugs around ourselves” and “bubbles in our mouth” that need to be kept unpopped resonated as the larger truth of what terror is present even in our elementary schools.

MFA student Sarah Green transitioned us to Lauren Haldeman’s reading, which also carried similar weight. Her Instead of Dying works through her brother Ryan’s death when he was murdered in Denver. These poems run through scenario after scenario of what her brother could be doing, “instead of dying.”

Sarah Green

This reading brought Haldeman to Colorado for the first time since her brother’s murder. One of Haldeman’s poems talks about her process of viewing the corner where her brother died through Google Maps Street View. Through this visit, Haldeman was able to visit the scene of her brother’s death for the first time, becoming a different person from the Haldeman who wrote that poem.

But these heavy poems were also contrasted with Haldeman’s more whimsical “mirror poems,” a style she invented. Instead of her poems taking up one page, she wrote them across the page, each poem mirroring the other. One mirror poem described her relationship with a spider, and “maybe I should give this spider / a chance.”

Lauren Haldeman

Green also explained her first encounter with Haldeman at her reading in Chicago where she turned out the lights and enacted one of her poems as a puppet show. While Haldeman’s reading at CSU did not include a puppet show, she does always bring props with her.

Haldeman pulled out a set of “child” or “adult” cards, inviting people from the audience to join her in a game of “Who Said It? Haldeman’s daughter or Haldeman herself?”

Prize for “winning” the game

The end of Haldeman’s reading left the room with a blend of heavy words and lighthearted humor. Both Pérez and Haldeman took us through the themes of motherhood, their poems guided at times by their own children’s voices. Poetry is often influenced by the experiences we have, whether heavy or lighthearted, and the power of those unique journeys.