The city of Juarez, Mexico and other towns along the U.S.-Mexican border have been ravaged by violence between feuding drug cartels over the last few years. Poet Benjamin Saenz, who calls the U.S. side of the Juarez-El Paso border home, writes about his experiences living in a hostile, uncomfortable environment that he says defines him and his poetry.
"It's not a comfortable place to live," Saenz says. "And, if you want to be a writer, you don't want to live in a comfortable place."
Saenz's poems provide portraits of people living in the border towns, such as a young woman who is trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico and an old man who has lived in Juarez all his life and must now come to terms with the violence raging around him. Saenz recalls a time when Juarez was "a place where you could go and have a drink, meet people for dinner." In his most recent book of poems, "The Book of What Remains," he examines what has changed since Juarez's better days.
"This is the place that really defines me, because it is such a difficult terrain to negotiate, because there are no sense of certainties, the fixed ideas of one's identity, of one's natural boundaries, the way one uses words, that they come from all sides." - Poet Benjamin Saenz
"This is when borders do become fluid. Wealthy people can move anywhere they want. Wealthy people are welcome anywhere in the world, which then we have to say then borders are really to keep out the poor." - Poet Benjamin Saenz
1. Where is Mexico?
2. What do you know about the violence that has been taking place in towns along the U.S.-Mexico border?
1. Based on what you saw in the video, why do you think Benjamin Saenz continues to live in a border town even though it is a violent and "uncomfortable" place to live?
2. If you had to choose an experience in your life to write a book of poetry about, what experience would you choose? Why?
3. What do you think Saenz means when he says that "if you want to be a writer, you don't want to live in a comfortable place?"
4. How can poetry explore the issues of the border differently than a news article or other genre of writing?