Writers explore Planned Parenthood's mission with essays and poetry
A literary fundraiser can be quite romantic - especially if you can't get your lover to read you poetry. February 12 is the annual Planned Parenthood Valentine Party and art event, featuring 12 local writers reading poetry and essays. Poet Jenny Browne brings together writers whose works traverse the broad territory of planned and unplanned parenthood: from the sentimentality of sex to the reality of conception, and from the joy and complexity of rearing children to the pain and hilarity of being reared.
This will be Planned Parenthood's second literary event of the year. Last month its Government Affairs Council honored Roe v. Wade with a poetry slam at Tito's Tacos. Open to the public for a minimum donation of $3, it was more of a friend-raiser than a fundraiser.
"The most successful aspect of the Slam," says Jeffrey Hons, president of Planned Parenthood of San Antonio and South Central Texas, "was that we had young people there who were being introduced to Planned Parenthood for the first time."
With President Bush elected to a second term and Chief Justice William Rehnquist ill, Roe v. Wade faces a real threat, and supporters, such as the donors who attend the GAC fundraisers, fear that the next generation of women is not motivated to carry on the fight.
Judging from the roar of appreciation at Titos, they were happy to hear 22-year-old slam poet Genevieve Rodriguez declare "a revolution that will be televised / With headlines reading all around," punctuated with a promise to defend her reproductive rights at any price. "Because if you think my/generation won't pick up a speculum / in the back of a van you better think again." `Rodriguez' poem if printed in full, at the end of this article.`
Hons believes art successfully communicates across political divides because it allows people to see that every choice - birth, adoption, abortion, or none of the above - is a woman's story. And people can relate to stories.
"People are tired of hearing the political dialogue on women's reproductive rights; no one is listening, they've made up their minds," says Hons. "Art speaks to people in a much more humane way than politics ever can."
"Good writing and art ask us to pause and consider someone else's experience," agrees Jenny Browne, "and to think about how it is similar, or not, to our own."
Browne gave the writers no guidelines outside the title and her own inspiration for the project. While Planned Parenthood's detractors work hard to associate the organization with abortion, Browne would like to refocus the conversation on its mission, which is to "provide and protect the sexual and reproductive health care and information people need to plan their families."
"There are a lot of people who don't have healthcare, and that's a big part of what Planned Parenthood does, on a really practical level," Browne says.
A new mother at the time that she began organizing the event, Browne was also moved by Planned Parenthood's mission "to consider the parallels between the charge to provide and protect ... and the overwhelming responsibility" to provide for and protect her child. Riffing on how provide and protect might resonate with other choices, and other writers, became the scope for the project.
Reading through the chapbook, the diversity of voices and literary integrity of the writing is impressive; it's clear the authors' voices have not been subsumed by any agenda. "I didn't want this to be a political pamphlet, I wanted it to be a literary book," says Browne. •
By Susan Pagani