Serpas, Martha

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Serpas, Martha

PERSONAL:

Born in Galliano, LA. Education: Louisiana State University, B.A., 1986; New York University, M.A., 1989; Yale Divinity School, M.Div., 1994; University of Houston, Ph.D., 1998. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES:

Home— Tampa, FL. Office— University of Tampa, Box 53F, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33606-1490. E-mail— [email protected]

CAREER:

Poet and professor. University of Tampa, Tampa, FL, associate professor of English. Stuart C. Henry Lecture in Religion and the Arts, Duke Divinity School, 2004; visiting professor of religion and literature, Yale Divinity School, 2005. Member, Scholars Forum, Franciscan Center, Tampa, FL. Poetry coeditor,Tampa Review.

MEMBER:

American Academy of Religion (member of steering committee, Arts, Literature and Religion section).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Outstanding new faculty member, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Tampa, corecipient, 1999-2000; David Delo Faculty Research Fellowship, 2000.

WRITINGS:

Côte Blanche, New Issues/Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI), 2002.

The Dirty Side of the Storm, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Image, New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Christian Century, and Southwest Review.

SIDELIGHTS:

University of Tampa English professor Martha Serpas's poetry reflects her upbringing in the Cajun culture of Louisiana. She evokes the swamps and bayous of her home in her work. Those areas were heavily hit by the hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and the storms left her native Galliano, Louisiana, in ruins. "She lived her first twenty-two years immersed in the brackish water and Catholic-infused rituals of south Louisiana," explained Rebecca Catalanello in the St. Petersburg Times. "For the past 18, she has observed from the standpoint of an exile the slow erosion of her coastal home." Louisiana's decay has been hastened by man-made forces as well as natural ones: oil explorations and the resultant pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River, and the impact of the levees built to protect New Orleans from flooding have all been factors in the washing away of the land. "In my first book,Côte Blanche, " Serpas stated in Image magazine, "I write about the exile of the living and begin to describe the tragedy of wetland erosion as a metaphor for theological longing."

In her second collection,The Dirty Side of the Storm, Serpas explores the same metaphors that had appeared in Côte Blanche. She declares that the destruction brought about by natural and unnatural forces is regrettable, but also necessary in order to bring about the recreation of the area. On a theological level, the poet shows, the same sort of destruction is necessary to rediscover one's own spirituality: a process called "decreation" by the radical religious philosopher Simone Weil. "One must dismantle the ego to join with the Divine," Serpas stated in Image. "The poems … grapple with the paradox of advocating for change and accepting the land's inevitable death." "Water gives life and takes it away," Catalanello declared. "Home beckons, but the reality of home is most clearly viewed from a distance. Ours is at once the ‘divine earth’ that ‘takes everything in its wounded side and gives back wholeness,’ in a poem titled Psalm at High Tide." "While these are not religious poems per se," Library Journal reviewer Karla Huston stated in a review of The Dirty Side of the Storm, "each is a manifestation of the divine in devastation." "Though Serpas … finished all but one of these poems before Katrina," declared a Publishers Weekly contributor, "the shadow of hurricane, flood and subsequent carnage falls over these Louisiana laments."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Library Journal, April 15, 2007, Karla Huston, review of The Dirty Side of the Storm, p. 95.

Publishers Weekly, March 18, 2002, review of Côte Blanche, p. 95; November 20, 2006, review of The Dirty Side of the Storm, p. 39.

ONLINE

Image Magazine, January, 2007,http://www.imagejournal.org/ (November 5, 2007), author biography and review of The Dirty Side of the Storm.

Norton Poets Online,http://nortonpoets.com/ (November 5, 2007), author biography.

St. Petersburg Times (FL) Online, November 7, 2006,http://www.sptimes.com/ (November 5, 2007), Rebecca Catalanello, "Overflowing Emotion: Poet Martha Serpas Remains Drawn to the Water, Even as It Tries to Swallow the Land Where She Grew Up."

University of South Florida (St. Petersburg campus), College of Arts and Sciences Web site,http://www.stpt.usf.edu/ (November 5, 2007), author biography.

University of Tampa, Department of English and Writing Web site,http://www.ut.edu/ (November 5, 2007), "Martha Serpas, Associate Professor, English."

Western Michigan University Web site,http://www.wmich.edu/ (November 5, 2007), author biography.