Poetry and human rights

Washington state poet laureate Claudia Castro Luna speaks for WWU colloquium

Claudia Castro Luna, Washington state poet laureate, visited Walla Walla University on Tuesday, April 17. Castro Luna shared her poetry as well as that of other Washington poets and spoke on the importance of using poetry to remember the past.

Speaking to a packed room, Castro Luna said, “We must fight historical amnesia,” by recording the events of the past. She and her family fled from El Salvador to the United States in 1981 to escape the country’s civil war, and the impact of that exodus influences her poetry today. Her poem, “Monseñor Romero,” captures some of the pain and fear of those turbulent years. Castro Luna reminded her listeners that the United States cannot divorce itself of blame in the conflict because it bankrolled the Salvadoran army and provided the weapons used to massacre civilians.

Castro Luna’s book of poetry “Killing Marias,” also remembers the dead. Hundreds of women and girls have been violently murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, since 1993, and no definite reason or rationale has been given for the deaths. Likely explanations are gang and cartel violence, and patriarchal backlash against women who work in factories along the U.S. border. Castro Luna addresses her poems to the murdered women and speaks to the feminine experience. “It is a book of protest against violence,” she says, “and a book of alliance with women everywhere.”

Castro Luna also gave advice to aspiring writers in her audience. “Where do you find the confidence to present your poems in public?” one young poet asked. The secret, Castro Luna confided, is in letting the poems go. “Once I was able to let go,” she said, “I was not worried anymore.” For a poem to live it must be read aloud, and after that first act of performing and letting go, presenting poetry becomes much easier. “Once a poem lives, it lives outside of me,” she said, “it is no longer mine.” Now it belongs to everyone.

Learn more about Castro Luna on her website or at wapoetlaureate.org. The Washington state poet laureate program is run jointly by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission.

Posted May 10, 2018

Portrait of Claudia Castro Luna
Castro Luna is Washington state's fifth poet laureate.