My Houston Laureate Project:
Houston's Favorite Poems
About Houston’s Favorite Poems
Houston’s Favorite Poems is an initiative of the City of Houston Poet Laureate Program and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and is modeled on former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project and his national anthology, Americans’ Favorite Poems. In spring 2016, the Houston project—with the support of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office—made a call for favorite poems to those living in Greater Houston, and received approximately 400 poems in response. One hundred eighty-five poems, submitted by 233 Houstonians, are included in the volume released by Calypso Editions in 2018.
Of the Houstonians who shared favorite poems, you will see occupations as varied as a biostatistician, a cattle rancher, and a woodworker—as well as accountants, attorneys, bankers, clergy, engineers, electricians, health care professionals, museum attendants, musicians, visual artists, and many writers and teachers. Contributors range in age from 18 to 85 and live throughout Greater Houston within more than 100 zip codes. The volume’s contents is as diverse as Houston itself—including 119 poets from across the globe from such national and cultural origins as Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Greece, El Salvador, England, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Palestine, ancient Persia, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, Somalia, and Wales. Further, many American poets are represented—ranging in ethnic background from such African American poets as Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Nikky Finney, Langston Hughes, and A. Van Jordan to Asian American poets Amanda Huynh and Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan, Mexican American poet Juan Felipe Herrera, Native American poet Joy Harjo, and Sudanese American poet Safia Elhillo.
Israel * (1924 – 2000)
This poem comforts, haunts, and challenges me. It demands I stop and reflect on the imagery it creates. After my mother passed away we discovered a file folder holding poems she valued enough to save. This was the poem that brought all of us to a halt. While sorting through her “galleries of the past” we discovered treasure.
–Susan Mitchell, Caregiver
Wildpeace (Translated from the Hebrew by Chana Bloch)
Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.
United States * (B. 1990)
. . .By employing images of Arab music icons, Elhillo captures the rich history of Arabic lyricism. I love how ambivalent Elhillo’s versions of Abdelhalim, Fairouz, and Oum Kalthoum are: these giants I grew up listening to are caught between moving and settling in a bitterly human way. In a time when many people cannot imagine Arabic as beautiful, and when my concept of home as a Lebanese man in the United States is blurry, this poem’s wit and gravity touch my heart.
–Ayman Itani, Student
fact: the arabic word هواء (hawa) means wind
the arabic word هوى (hawa) means love
test: (multiple choice)
abdelhalim said you left me holding wind in my hands
abdelhalim said you left me holding love in my hands
abdelhalim was left empty
abdelhalim was left full
fairouz said o wind, take me to my country
fairouz said o love, take me to my country
fairouz is looking for vehicle
fairouz is looking for fuel
oum kalthoum said where the wind stops her ships, we stop ours or
oum kalthoum said where love stops her ships, we stop ours
oum kalthoum is stuck
oum kalthoum is home
United States * 1936–2010
Poetry is a safe harbor, and Lucille Clifton’s lyrical beauty is the boat that brings me there. This poem is inscribed on the wall of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where Ms. Clifton was Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Chair of the Liberal Arts. I turn to this poem when I need a blessing of words, a spiritual uplifting when I’m surfacing from loss onto a new shore. The poem is about the journeys we all make into the unknown (after the loss of a country, of loved ones, of childhood innocence, or after awakening to new visions, new possibilities after deferred dreams)—and the letting go by those who love us. The poem speaks of movement and hope. . .
–Long Chu, Program Officer, Houston Endowment
blessing the boats
(at St. Mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
Houston’s Favorite Poems demonstrates the vigorous life of poetry in a great American city: poetry in various lives, a fundamental art. This is a welcome book of surprises and affirmations, variety and community.
U.S. Poet Laureate (1997–2000)
Houston is a brash, pragmatic, resilient American city, and Robin Davidson has now touched its diverse inner life, its secret literary soul, in this marvelous anthology of Houston’s favorite poems. Who touches this, touches a man, a woman, a child, and sees the tender heart beating under the bright façade.
Poet and President, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation
Houston’s Favorite Poems reminds us of the democracy of poetry. Time and again, I was moved as much by the commentary as by the poems, chosen by people from throughout the region of every background, every walk of life. Like Houston, this anthology “contain[s] multitudes” who tell us, sometimes in a whisper, why a particular poem is meaningful to them. More than an anthology, Houston’s Favorite Poems is an affirmation of a great city, and an announcement of passion, joy, sorrow, triumph, pain, dedication, love—a treasure of which we can be proud and for which we should be grateful.
Poet and Executive Director of Inprint
From a vast community living across a vast landscape of bayous, prairies, lawns, and concrete, a gathering of loved poets across time—Victorian, modern, contemporary, and present tense. Houstonians in all their vibrancy and vagaries have given all of us a great gift: verse that says, these are the words that enflame our souls, that endure and sustain. Close your eyes and see by this light.
Poet and Professor, University of Houston