“It’s okay, you may make a whole lot of noise if you need!” mentioned poet Joseph Rios as he inspired the viewers of the primary Stegner Fellow studying of the 2023-2024 tutorial 12 months. The occasion, which featured first-year fellows Joseph Rios and Hassaan Mirza, introduced each tears and laughter to its viewers.
Each writers employed humor in reflective private items that paid homage to their US cities of residence — Fresno, California and Cincinnati, Ohio. Mirza is initially from Lahore, Pakistan.
The studying started with items by poet Rios, Fresno’s 2023 Poet Laureate and winner of the American Guide Award. Rios opened with a nod to the previous, reciting a poem from his e-book “Shadowboxing and Different Impersonations.” The poem, titled “Curse of the San Joaquin Valley,” paid homage to a previous Stegner Fellow and fellow Fresno resident, Victor Martinez ‘79.
Rios explores the town as a once-lush valley now choked by smoke, concrete and carcinogens. Protagonist Josefo and his quick pal Victor Martinez marvel at “the look of the San Joaquin valley earlier than the dams and the canals / the wildlife the marshland the tabletop mountains the seashells / nonetheless coating the Valley ground.” The poem ends when Victor Martinez dies by means of lung most cancers, exhibiting Rios’ grief for the panorama and lives that the valley has misplaced to industrialization and massive agriculture.
He continued with a poem about his late pal “Doña” Michelle Cerros, changing into emotional when eulogizing her in a not-quite-ode that began, “This might have been an ode / to your fur coat / to your gold footwear caught within the mud exterior Salinas.”
When the writers have been requested how their respective hometowns knowledgeable their items, Rios mentioned that his love for his hometown motivated him to write down, and that exhibiting his work to his household, whereas terrifying, set him free.
However Mirza famous that he resented the query as a result of “typically that query will get requested of writers from different nations a lot, and that’s the primary query that’s requested.” He famous that whereas he felt nostalgia exterior of the web page, when he wrote about Lahore, Pakistan, it was often from a spot of ache and anger.
Mirza as a substitute shared poems honoring his US metropolis of residence, the place he’s additionally presently pursuing a Ph.D. in Artistic Writing on the College of Cincinnati. The magazine-published poet learn an unfinished brief story entitled “Identify, Place, Animal, Factor,” which follows “a white woman married to a Pakistani man who lives in Cincinnati, subsequent to the Cincinnati zoo.” His story introduced themes that first appeared unrelated — similar to bonobo intercourse and COVID — but by the tip made up a riveting storyline.
In Mirza’s story, the narrator slowly reveals her id to the reader, recounting first her seven daughters along with her Pakistani husband. She then unravels the connection between her and her mother-in-law, Ammaji, who can solely share fragments of dialog resulting from a language barrier. Made each comical and vulgar by Mirza, their dialogue confirmed the stilted natures of two individuals who cared equally about their shared household, however might by no means fairly reconcile their completely different backgrounds.
However essentially the most strained relationship in Mirza’s story involved one of many narrator’s daughters, who returns to dwell at residence throughout the pandemic and grapples along with her biracial id by lashing out at her white mother. Mirza explores this complicated dynamic in an unlikely approach — by pictures of two bonobos having intercourse on the Cincinnati zoo, in the midst of the pandemic.
The narrator, watching the bonobos as a result of she will’t stand to go and socially distance from her husband, muses: “Have been they making a mockery of us, rejoicing our long-awaited demise? Or have been they completely detached to our plight?”
Certainly, the pandemic itself represents a time when, amongst such tragedy, many people have been left with nothing to do however face the conflicted realities of household.
Each writers agreed humor allowed them to strategy these tough subjects from a better angle. Rios, who had beforehand utilized to the Stegner Fellowship earlier than being accepted on this spherical, learn his uproarious preliminary private assertion: “Please present an introduction to your work, 250 phrases / Response / My poetry comes from a giant water truck / bouncing and exhaling smoke over dry molds of wheel marks made by different vans that move the identical approach.”
The gang — notably the English division college and Stegner Fellow admin — laughed instantly. Rios continued, “That is the poetry of a person / within the passenger seat of mentioned truck / He’s making an attempt to mild a cigarette amidst all of the vibrations / and the rattling truck retains shifting.”