Poet Craig Santos Perez shared his poetry at the English Reading Series as part of the Archipelagoes, Oceans, Americas Symposium.
(PROVO, Utah) Oct. 7, 2016–Craig Santos Perez is a poet with a cause. A Chamorro native from Guam, he now lives in Hawaii and writes about his island home, Guam, and its history, the environment, and other social topics in the hopes of educating people about his heritage and encouraging them to be more aware of the impact their lifestyles have on others and on the environment. The work he read for the English Reading Series was part of the Archipelagoes, Oceans, Americas Symposium held by BYU’s Humanities Center. The symposium aimed to explore the history and identity of the Americas in relation to its oceans, islands and archipelagoes.
“Praise Song for Oceania,” a poem that Santos wrote for World Oceans Day, is a tribute to the ocean’s interaction with the human race, at times reverent towards the ocean’s power and diversity and other times condemning the abandon with which humans have been known to exploit the waters of our planet. The poem begins with, “Praise your capacity for birth, your fluid current and trenchant darkness. Praise your wave contractions and dilating horizons. Praise our briny beginnings, the source of every breath,” and later moves from life to death, reading, “Praise your capacity to bury the ashes of our loved ones, to bury the bodies of soldiers and terrorists, slaves and refugees, to bury the despair of every suicide, every last breath.”
Not only does Santos view the ocean as a source of life, but his poetry has a distinct environmental protectionism woven into it. To the ocean he said, “Praise your capacity to endure the violence of those who claim dominion over you, who divide you into latitudes and longitudes, who scar your middle passages … Praise your capacity to survive our trawling boats reaching your open body, taking from your collapsing depths.”
This theme of exploit is mirrored in the first poem he read, “Thanksgiving in the Anthropocene, 2015.” By turns funny and accusatory, it shines a light on the labor and pollution that goes into mass-production of the food Americans eat each November. “Thank you, canned cranberry sauce, for your gelatinous curves. Thank you, Ojibwe tribe in Wisconsin. Your lake is now polluted with phosphate-laden discharge from nearby cranberry bogs. Thank you, crisp green beans. You are my excuse for eating dessert later. Thank you, indigenous migrant workers for picking the beans in Mexico’s farm belt. May your children survive the season.”
Not only did Santos read his poetry, but he routinely incorporated the audience, bringing the messages closer to home. At the end of his Thanksgiving poem he asked all audience members to join hands with those next to them, bow their heads and repeat the closing lines of the poem: “Let us bless the hands that harvest and butcher our food. Bless the hands that drive delivery trucks and stock grocery shelves. Bless the hands that paid for and cooked this meal. Bless the hands that bind our hands and force-feed our endless mouth. May we forgive each other and be forgiven.”
Perez also remembers marginalized groups of people. Another poem he performed, “written in solidarity with Syrian refugees,” is called “Care.” He compared his current life to what it might have been if he had been a Syrian refugee. “what if Pacific trade winds suddenly became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel indiscriminately barreling towards us. What if shadows cast against our windows aren’t plumeria tree branches but soldiers and terrorists marching in heat?” Speaking directly to the refugees, the poem continues, “I hope your love will teach the nations that emit the most carbon and violence that they should instead remit the most compassion. I hope, soon, the only difference between a legal refugee and an illegal migrant will be how willing we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and carry each other towards the horizon of care.”
–Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’17)
Olivia covers events for the Humanities Center for the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language and a minor in writing and rhetoric.