Professor Marcos McPeek-Villatoro recently gave two special performances of pop-up poetry in which he read W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939.” The performances took place in the Chalon Campus’ Coe Library on Oct. 24 and the Doheny Campus’ McCarthy Library on Nov. 1.
“I think we need a revolution of poetry,” he told the audience at both events. He quoted El Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, who said, “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”
Villatoro’s passion was clear from his introduction and reading of Auden’s poem. “My love for poetry comes from my mother,” he recalled. He told the story of how his parents met and fell in love. His father is from Appalachia, while his mother is from El Salvador. His stories were infused with humor, giving background to his understanding and enthusiasm for poetry.
According to Villatoro, learning and reciting poetry is more important than dissecting it for meaning. “I memorize poems all the time just to have them in my head,” he says. Feeling disheartened about the current political climate, he turned to the poem “September 1, 1939.” The subject of this poem is a turbulent political time, with the world on the brink of war. Villatoro’s dramatic reading of the poem brought the emotion of Auden’s words to life, making them relevant to a modern audience.
Auden’s poem was written about Hitler’s invasion of Poland, which sparked the beginning of World War II. The poem takes place in a bar in New York City, where people are scared of what Hitler may do. At the time, Auden was frightened by the possibility of Hitler invading his native England. Much of the poem’s imagery is grim. Yet it also contains the iconic line, “We must love one another or die.”
Villatoro, and English professor, is also the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s. He has published six novels, two poetry collections and a memoir.