ABR speaker focuses on Cajun culture, roots

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

April 6, 2017 at 11:30 p.m.
Updated April 7, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Martha Serpas

Martha Serpas   Contributed Photo for The Victoria Advocate

Simone Tipton, of Victoria, said she gained some insight into Louisiana culture through the poetry of Martha Serpas, a University of Houston English professor.

"You can see the difference in cultures even here," Tipton said, explaining her interest and the entertainment value of Serpas' poems.

The University of Houston-Victoria hosted Serpas at the American Book Review Reading Series on Thursday.

Serpas has published three collections of poetry: "Cote Blanche," "The Dirty Side of the Storm" and "The Diener."

Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Image and Southwest Review and has been anthologized in the "Library of America's American Religious Poems" and "The Art of the Sonnet."

During her presentation, she read poems from "The Dirty Side of the Storm," "The Diener" and two new poems.

"The Dirty Side of the Storm" contains poems that focus on the eroding bayou country and culture.

The poems in the collection were written before Hurricane Katrina.

"My part of Louisiana is dispersing faster than any landmass on Earth due to fertilizer runoff into the river that kills the marsh grass," she said.

The oil industry and dredging canals increase the erosion, she said.

"You save one place, you sacrifice another place," she said.

"The Water" is the opening poem in the book about Serpas taking her students to visit Louisiana while teaching at Tampa, Fla. She wrote from the perspective of imagining the trip.

Another poem she read was "Fais do-do," meaning "makes sleep," about families who brought their children to a dance who didn't have money to pay for a babysitter.

For the Cajun visionary, faith and inquiry are complimentary.

"I'm a bayou girl at heart," Serpas said.

Images are a focus in her writing.

"Without the image, there is no poem," she said. "The process of getting down the most specific images is the way to the idea."

During her lecture, Serpas offered advice to her audience. She told them to write a poem when they are anticipating, experiencing or learning something new.

"If I don't discover something in the writing with the poem, then I know someone won't discover it when reading," she said.



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