Arizona Borderlands The Subject Of New Book Of Poems

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 8:19am
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(Courtesy of Jimi Giannatti)
Logan Phillips is a poet who calls the Arizona borderlands home.

Logan Phillips' poetry book, "Sonoran Strange," is dedicated to the landscape and contradictions of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands he calls home.

Phillips, 31, is a second generation Arizonan who was born and raised in Cochise County. He spent a chunk of his 20s in Mexico. He now lives in Tucson.

To Phillips, poetry is about trying to say with words that which is unsayable.

“Almost like something dancing in our peripheral vision that we try to bring into focus,” Phillips said.

In "Sonoran Strange," Phillips tries to bring into focus the history, tensions and juxtapositions of this place, as well as its historic role as a crossroads.

“All of these people, from all these different places, finding ourselves mixing with these folks that have been here for thousands and thousands and thousands of years — if not  forever — in a land that is so beautiful that it hurts, that is so rugged that it kills,” Logan said. “That it is so other than human.”

A reoccurring theme in his work is who has a right to be on this land.

“There are lines drawn all across this land,” Phillips said. “You know, military testing grounds. National parks. Indigenous areas. The U.S.-Mexico border and all of these lines, you know, represent power.”

The poem "Sky Islands" is about the mountain peaks that dot the Arizona-Sonora border region, surrounded by what he calls a "sea of desert."

And it is here that the great spine of the continent goes underground.

No Rockies, no Sierra Madre Occidental, but instead only isolated mountains of pine

rising thousands of feet above the desert floor; sky islands floating in a sea of desert,

surrounded by coral of cacti.

Millennial migratory route for thousands of bird species

and millions of humans, this is the far northern range

of the ghost-like Mexican jaguar and the parrot-like Elegant Trogon,

moving between islands of prehistoric tropics.

This is where Aldo Leopold coined the term conservation.

This is where hundreds of people are left to die every year,

lost at sea, an ocean of desert, náufragos.

Náufragos, the Spanish word for shipwrecked castaways, used here to describe migrants dying in the desert.

It’s an example of how Phillips weaves two languages through his book.

With the title and refrain “Sonoran Strange” Phillips highlights the paradoxes and ironies here. For example, how despite the fragile water supply, we’ve built so many thirsty golf courses in the desert.

“It gets called a love letter, it gets called an indictment of human folly,” Phillips said referring to the book of poems. “It is kind of all of the above.”

Phillips was inspired to start this project after Arizona’s tough immigration law SB 1070 thrust the state into the media spotlight, prompting a backlash, including artist boycotts of the state.

That made Phillips want to share his own understanding of his home.

Mexican narcos stage here before smuggling into Arizona.

Phoenicians escape here in summer, to second homes.

Tucsonans slide here in winter, on Sonoran ski slopes.

Homeland of the Chiricahua people, homeland of the Huachuca agave.

Where the O’odham were born, where the thunder is born; psychogeographic landscape of myth.

Hollow with limestone caverns, punctured by prospectors. Lost treasure and endangered species.

Extinct zip codes and boomtowns and the holiest of places.

Baboquivari and Ramsey. Timber and perennial springs. Suppression and crown fires.

Santa Rita and Catalina. Pinaleños and Peloncillos. Tumacacori and El Tigre.

Sky islands float like blue mirage, under black thunderheads

and above waves of irradiant desert summer.

Phillips and artist Adam Cooper-Terán have created a mixed media performance art piece — also called "Sonoran Strange" — that incorporates Phillips’ poetry. They’ve taken that piece on tour all over Arizona and even abroad.

In addition to performing and writing, Phillips teaches youth poets, and he DJs under the name Dirtyverbs.

Wednesday’s book launch, though, will be more of a traditional poetry reading.

Phillips will perform a selection of poems that will be accompanied by projected images, which he found by inputting lines from his poems into a Google image search.

Arizona’s poet laureate, Alberto Rios, will also share some of his own poetry. Both poets have roots in the border region, though Rios is of an earlier generation than Phillips.

“They are in their own ways demonstrating the role that a poet can play in society,” said Casandra Hernandez of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The organization is co-producing the event, along with Arizona Humanities and Arizona State University’s Performance in the Borderlands.

The commission supported Phillips work with a grant in 2012, and it also runs the state’s poet laureate program.

“To have these two poets engaged in conversation for the first time and to hear their separate understandings of Arizona I think is really exciting,” Hernandez said.

She said the goal of the evening is “to highlight the contribution of literary artists to our Arizona communities and to our understanding of what it means to be an Arizonan.”

The book release is at The Icehouse in downtown Phoenix at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the event is free.