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VOICES Reading Series: Ruth Irupé Sanabría

Thursday, April 13 saw the last of this semester’s VOICES Reading Series with a poem reading by poet Ruth Irupé Sanabría. Sanabría, whose first collection of poetry, The Strange House Testifies, won second place in the 2010 Annual Latino Book Awards, read six poems from her collection including Beasts Behave in Foreign Lands and The Cardinal Delivers Us.

The VOICES Reading was co-sponsored by the International Languages and Cultures Program, the Arts Alliance, and the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee.

The 30-year-strong program is currently headed by Professor Karen Anderson, and brings poets, writers, and thinkers to campus for personal readings. On Thursday, Daugherty-Palmer Commons was packed with students and staff present to enjoy Sanabría’s works. Both Anderson and Professor Jose Ballesteros took turns presenting Sanabría, jokingly adding that they were trying to “outdo each other”. Sanabría took the stage and introduced herself. She was born in Argentina, then spent her childhood between Seattle and Washington D.C. with her grandmother painter and humanist, Raquel Partnoy who taught her the liberating power of art and metaphor. She obtained her MFA from NYU and began teaching creative writing workshops in colleges and public schools. She now works as a high school English teacher and lives with her husband and three children in Perth Amboy, N.J.  

Sanabria shared some poems from the bilingual, The Strange House Testifies, which examines the internal landscape of a family confronting the aftershocks of genocide and exile which she encountered first hand. Ruth came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was a child after her parents “disappeared” in clandestine concentration camps where they were tortured for several months. Fortunately, she reunited with her mother, author and human rights activist, Alicia Partnoy as a political refugee in Seattle. She has been “lucky” to travel across the country giving readings with her grandmother and mother “blending their stories, poetry, film, and visual art to raise awareness of genocide in Latin America”. Most of her poems reflect her upbringing but she also “wishes concepts of her poems would be irrelevant” and not something that should have been a reality. Sanabría’s poetry explores themes of human rights and injustice, children as witnesses to state terror, and the role of art in resistance. Her commitment to these themes stems from her personal experience during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976 to 1983).

Sanabría’s poetry was clear and extremely tactile—her opening sentences, as well as her descriptive titles, placed the listener immediately and completely. She read most poems from her first collection including, Argentine Family Rejoices. This poem described the reunion of Sanabria and her parents at a “crowded National Airlines Concourse”. The Cardinal Delivers is a poem about Sanabría’s mother. She remarked that she used metaphors of birds in her poems frequently which is also observed in her poem, Morning Doves.

Sanabría also has a second collection of poems coming out this year which have received the 2014 Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Press Award. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Women Writing Resistance and U.S. Latino Literature Today.

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