Preservation Meets Poetry

By Judy Jensen, THC Senior Graphic Designer

Historic preservation and the arts came together most unexpectedly at the recent KinCity Reading Series at The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio’s historic Pearl Brewery complex. The spring reading featured seven poets and a short memorial for San Antonio poet H. Palmer Hall. One of the poets, Janice Rebecca Campbell, read a poem about Fort Griffin State Historic Site. She and her husband had enjoyed a visit to the site and learned a lot from the site’s friendly staff. She found the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd and its single-star brand particularly intriguing. Janice encouraged people to visit Fort Griffin and other Texas forts, too.

Fort Griffin, 1867–1881

The wind blows hard at flag level
38 stars snap, halyard hardware clangs
over the Texas prairie.

A 21st century visitor to
old Fort Griffin cups an ear to the past,
hears a bugler sounding reveille at dawn
the crackle of fires in the bakery’s ovens
murmur of men
wet slap of laundry on washboards
nails being pounded into cottonwood too green
to keep out the cold…

From the parade ground come shouts of
Atten-HUT! For’d MARCH! as troops form and
reform in precise ranks so this fort will be ready
for whatever rides up over the rise…

…But it was the future that rode up over the rise
and silenced Fort Griffin.
All that remains of the fort
and its mission at the edge of a frontier
is a lone chimney
stone walls, roofless, open to the sky
a dry cistern, empty powder magazine
and the bakery, long cooled, now quiet.

The wind blows hard at flag level
38 stars snap, halyard hardware clangs
over the Texas prairie.
And on the old parade ground,
only butterflies gather
all disorderly.

I was caught off guard by this melding of my personal and professional lives. As THC’s graphic designer, I have designed many print pieces featuring Fort Griffin, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear Janice’s poem and be so familiar with the imagery she evokes.

Award-winning University of Texas at San Antonio professor Mariana Aitches and I co-founded KinCity Reading Series to build a stronger community among the poets living along the I-35 corridor between Cedar Park and San Antonio. Each reading, which alternates between Austin and San Antonio, is self-curated as the eight poets who read in Austin one season will invite the next eight poets who will read in San Antonio the next.

The series has been a standing-room-only success for a variety of reasons. The poetry is as eclectic as the poets themselves, who range from self-taught writers, students at highly-regarded creative writing programs (Texas State University or The Michener Center for Writers at The University of Texas at Austin), published poets, editors at small literary presses, teachers, professors, and retirees. Mariana and I have created a warm, supportive atmosphere, bolstered with her homemade cookies baked from her grandmother’s Latvian recipies and custom, hand-set commemorative postcards, letterpress-printed on a 1908 Golding Jobber #6 under the imprint Float Press—which works with poets to design and letterpress print poetry postcards, chapbooks, and broadsides, with 50 percent of proceeds benefitting the nonprofit of the poet’s choice. Currently on our press are thank-you postcards for those who contribute to the Martin-Davis Benefit Account—KinCity Reading Series poet C.J. Martin lost two family members in the Granbury tornado; a third was hospitalized, and this fund helps the family cover medical and burial expenses.

If you enjoyed Janice’s Fort Griffin poem, see more of her work in her book pink merrymaking allowed in the midst of green geometry.

Fort Griffin State Historic Site is located 15 miles north of Albany on U.S. Hwy. 283, in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

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