Priest-turned-poet shares ‘moving’ works during campus reading

Cardinal & Cream/MATT McDANIEL
Award-winning poet Benjamin Saenz shares his insights with students Feb. 7 outside Harvey Hall.

Jake Fain
Staff Writer

Benjamin Alire Saenz, Catholic-priest-turned-poet, read from his original works of poetry about life and loss at Union Feb. 7.

The 58-year-old Hispanic poet and novelist delivered his readings, which dwell on tragedy and sorrow, in Harvey Auditorium.

Jackson’s Friends of the Library funded the poet’s visit, including providing airfare from his home in El Paso, Texas.

Following his hour of reading and speaking to an eager crowd, Saenz held a meet-and-greet book signing at a table covered with his various novels, short stories and books of poetry.

“ It was very moving. One of his poems was somewhat shocking to me,” said Allison Bucknell, junior creative writing major. “I don’t usually get affected by poetry, but he was speaking about the realities of true tragedy. He’s very insightful.”

Saenz’s path to a writing career took several twists and turns.

“I grew up a devoted Catholic,” he said. “I grew up poor. I grew up reading books because I had four brothers, and we all lived on top of each other and I read to escape.”

Saenz’ studies led him to an interest in theology, which took him to Belgium for four years.

He eventually became a Catholic priest but decided at 30 that he was not pursuing his dream.

“We don’t pursue [happiness] seriously enough,” Saenz said. “Maybe more people would pick more careers that they really love rather than going to a job that they hate for 10 years.”

He eventually received a doctorate in American poetry at University of Iowa and Stanford University.

Winner of the American Book Award and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, Saenz has been a professor at the University of Texas in El Paso for the last 20 years and also writes children’s books.

“You just need to remember that if our literature dies, if our poetry dies, if our art dies, our country dies,” Saenz said.

Karen Martin, a language professor who lectured on Saenz’s novel, “Last Night I Sang to the Monster” in a Hispanic novels course last fall, praised Union for inviting the poet.

“This just goes to show the caliber of Union to be hosting him here,” Martin said. “‘Poets and Writers’ magazine listed him as one of the 50 most inspiring writers in the world.”

Image courtesy of Cardinal & Cream|Cardinal & Cream