They are the most successful touring band in music history and before every U2 show on their current world tour, fans are treated to some poetry by an Arizona State University professor.
“The Border: A Double Sonnet” by Alberto Rios is one of several poems projected on a screen while the crowd waits for the band to take the stage.
Rios said he was not aware the band was using the piece until his son’s friend texted an image of the poem at a concert three weeks ago in Los Angeles.
A few days later, Rios said his editor called to inform him that U2 had sent over a licensing agreement and he would be making a small licensing fee.
“I said, ‘Oh no! There goes my pro-Bono joke,'” Rios quipped.
Rios originally wrote the piece for use in a play that debuted at the Mesa Arts Center in 2011. He re-published it as a poem in his book, “A Small Story about the Sky,” in 2015.
Recently, however, he says the poem has taken on new life and meaning with all the political focus on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“What I'm trying to say [in the poem] is that the border means many things. It is never reducible to one definition or one person's version of what the border is,” Rios said.
The poem is in the style of a Spanish "Greguería," with short, often humorous lines that constitute individual thoughts.
The title, "The Border: A Double Sonnet," suggests that "two sides equally bring a history and an elegance and a meaning to that meeting place," Rios explained. "When I say a 'double sonnet,' it's not one side that writes the sonnet; it's both sides."
How U2 found the poem is still a mystery to Rios, but the band was vocal in its opposition of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall during the campaign.
Rios, Arizona’s first poet laureate, shares that opposition. He grew up in Nogales near the U.S.-Mexico border with family on both sides.
“When I was young, I could walk through different worlds. That was an elevation of the spirit,” he said in an interview. “I could walk from here to there. Different set of rules. Different set of colors. Different set of fruits in the market.”
“There was something transformational about that,” he continued. “It meant that there was not one way to think about the world, ever.”
Rios’ poem will be projected throughout U2’s 15-country tour, which commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Joshua Tree Tour. The original 1987 tour started and ended at Arizona State University.
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