Just Deserts

Have we lost all sense of the real desert? What we most commonly associate with that landscape and ecosystem is an air-conditioned and cartoonish representation of its former self. In places such as Las Vegas with its infinite lights, California's Inland Empire with its sprawl, and greater urban areas such as Phoenix and Houston, cacti and tumbleweeds are often plasticized relics of the romantic American West. But reality’s loss is folklore’s gain. The desert and all that it once represented is the central theme in “The High Desert Revisited.” Poets Andy Anderson, Philip Hackett, and Carl Wiener have a wealth of experience traveling through these bastions of nothingness and everythingness. Wiener, who has published notable works such as Fifteen Poems and Niagara, finds beauty in the details as much as the abstract ideas of place and being. In his 2007 poem “Of Las Vegas,” he muses “I now think of her as the visible spirit of that/place, who grew in memory to signify ‘desert’:/not only the surrounding one of sand dunes/and flats, but even more so the verb form,/as when we speak of abandonment, or/leaving someone without intending to return.” Anderson, having worked for the advancement of Native American education and health, has a distinct take on the desert and its ability to be a home, however unforgiving and harsh it may seem. Hackett, who has championed upstart and published poets in and around the city, lived in the California desert for five years and wrote about his experience there.
Tue., Jan. 11, 7 p.m., 2011

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