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Tucson impressions

By Jeffrey McDaniel

One of the exciting things about being a poet is periodically getting to step out of my day-to-day and fly somewhere to read my poems. I’m in Arizona now for the Tucson Poetry Festival. Here are some random thoughts and impressions.

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Stepping off the plane, there seem to be a whole lot of white faces in the airport.

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There are an exciting variety of cactuses in people’s front yards.

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It is 92 degrees, with very little public shade. This would be a challenging place to be homeless.

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The discussion about immigration plays itself out here, in all sorts of ways. For instance, the graffiti on bathroom walls.

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In the Tucson Weekly, there’s an angry editorial about a recent student demonstration at the University of Arizona, where students erected a fence, the length of the quad, to dramatize the effect of the US’ border enforcement policies.

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The high school where we teach our poetry workshops is at the epicenter of HB2281, the bill aiming to shut down popular ethnic studies programs on the high school level. A school librarian tells me that the ethnic studies students use the library a great deal.

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Native American culture is celebrated here in art and home furnishing, yet there is legislative hostility towards people who come across the border, some of whom have indigenous blood.

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In some bars, there is a sign that says No Firearms Allowed. I am assuming that bars, that don’t have such a sign, allow firearms.

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I have not seen any guns yet, but the owner of a delicious Mexican place, Poco Cosa, has a sheathed knife slipped into her belt, as she jitterbugs from table-to-table, taking orders and dispensing hugs and witticisms.

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I am debating whether to ask one of the gracious organizers to drive me to the place where Congresswoman Gifford was shot.

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Our readings are held at the Hotel Congress, a groovy place where John Dillinger stayed years ago. (Apparently some of his guns are on display in the local police station.)

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At the festival’s poetry slam, one poet writes a fantasy poem about the US army invading Arizona. Another poet, The Klute, writes that “Arizona is shaped like the blade of a guillotine”.

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A number of the stores in town have signs in their windows that say No to SB1070, with the phrase: No Human Being Is Illegal. The sheriff of Pima County refuses to enforce SB1070, the strictest immigrant enforcement bill in decades.

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I have really enjoyed my time in Tucson. (Thank you Matthew Conley, and the other hard-working organizers.) I came harboring some two-dimensional, negative ideas about the state of Arizona (MLK Day and the Public Enemy song; Sherriff Joe in Maricopa; the Gifford tragedy), and my ideas have definitely been complicated. And I’ve had lots of rich conversations and experiences (and some delicious mole) along the way.


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, April 4th, 2011 by Jeffrey McDaniel.