Wednesday, December 8, 2010

La Pena Hecho en Califas festival: Mujeres en la Resistencia

La Pena's "Mujeres en la Resistencia!", part of the Hecho en Califas festival, on 11/14 was really amazing and different, not quite what I was expecting, but in a good way.
First of all, La Pena is a really amazing space. They have a beautiful mural on the outside that I spent a lot of time just staring at after getting my tickets. Then there is a cafe attached to the space, where one can get a drink and a snack while waiting for the doors to open, which I really enjoyed being able to do.
Yosimar Reyes, a poet from San Jose, introduced the evening and each performer. I really enjoyed his smart and funny words before and between performers, and the couple poems of his own that he read as well. His website seems to be down but his MySpace page, here: has some good info / sound bits.

TruBloo was the first performer - her website is also under construction but Facebook page is a good resource: I really enjoyed her performance - it was interesting to think of it in terms of this class because one's mind does not automatically categorize hip-hop as poetry, but that is really what she was doing - poetry with a beat behind it. Come to think of it, so was Amiri Baraka when he had the band behind him, drums, saxophone, etc at his reading. poetry with a beat behind it. So I guess the mainstream view of what is/isn't poetry is still a little limited, because TruBloo probably wouldn't be categorized as a poet, but I don't see why. A quote from her Facebook:
"In 2010, Tru Bloo’s music addresses issues of class, race, culture, gender and sexuality with a message of self-empowerment and self-realization."
Isn't that what poetry does too? And yes music and poetry are still different things, but I think TruBloo's music could be written on a page in the shape of a poem and it would work really well. So there is some overlap. There's a video on the Facebook page, as well as audio on her MySpace page:
Another quote, this one from her MySpace:
"Tru Bloo’s music often addresses what it means to be a woman, person of color, immigrant, poor person and/or queer person with a message of self-empowerment and self-realization."
This is what I found poetic and really compelling about Trubloo's music. It's not mainstream hip-hop, that sometimes does not carry much meaning and rarely addresses these issues, and it's really refreshing to hear good music that you could dance to but also makes you think as well - I mean really, wouldn't it be ideal if all music made us think (I don't know how much I believe in that statement though, sometimes we all need a song or two to just be silly and dance to, but I guess what I'm saying is I'd like to be rid of music that falls under the umbrella of "art (music) for art's (music's) sake" and hear more music that actually makes people think and give a damn).
Liza Garza was the next performer, and she really got into my head. Her work is also musical poetry and she read one or two poems that were just poems, sans music, as well. Or spoken poems with a beat behind them but not sung. She had a calm intensity about her that was so overwhelmingly amazing, and she radiated a kind of love toward everyone in the room from the stage. I almost feel like I can't say anything about her, because she got so underneath my skin in a way that one rarely experiences with such amazing poetry. I want to direct everyone to every link I can find on her, but here is her MySpace page with audio (listen to "My Everything" which she read at the event) and her official website (the song that plays when you open the website was another piece she performed at the La Pena event, and invited the audience to participate in too): and
I hope my inability to really talk about her work isn't seen as a cop-out, because she brought me to tears and I would go on about her for ages if I could - but she's literally stunned me into silence and I'm still trying to find the words. She has also been on Def Poetry and she has great video from that ("My Everything", again) as well as others on her youtube page
(She was not this intense - she brought herself to tears! - at the 11/14 event but she still made us all feel it to the core).

Digable Planets at Club Six

I know this is 15 minutes after the fact, so if it can't be counted, so be it...

Was trying to find the right YouTube clips to correspond with the post, figured I'd put this up anyway, even if a quarter-hour late...

See y'all tonight...

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Digable Planets perform at Club Six in San Francisco. For those unaware, Digable Planets is a hip-hop group that came to notoriety in the early ’90s. They’re widely regarded as being the vanguard of fusing jazz music and aesthetics with hip-hop lyricism that tackles a wealth of pressing social and political topics pertinent to communities struggling against structural oppression. In their far too short recording career (the trio produced two albums before disbanding in 1994) Digable Planets always managed to make listeners critically engage with issues pertinent to their own lives, but did so with such smooth musicality (working with both live jazz musicians as well as rhyming over as-yet-unheralded samples of prior jazz classics), that the process was a pleasurable one, even if the content spoke to an at times overwhelming struggle for dignity in the face of prejudice and persecution. Perhaps this has as much to do with their unique presentation as hip-hoppers not only tremendously influenced by jazz history, but also that of the ’60s psychedelic rock music scene and its own cultural signifiers. They’re alter-egos/emcee names, for example, drew from insect taxonomy, which certainly had a hallucinogenic connotation (one was named Butterfly, another Doodlebug, another Ladybug Mecca), and they’d be as likely to rock tie-dye wears and hippie-influenced decoratives as they would North Face fleeces and Timberland worker boots.

Digable Planets has had a series of “reunion” shows over the last few years, in which they’ve toured several U.S. cities and performed their widely revered catalogue with occasional live musical accompaniment (a live percussionist and bassist, for instance), but no album of new material has yet come from these gatherings. I caught word that they’d be in town with several other hip-hop heavyweights from the ’90s a couple weeks ago, and knew I had to make it out (even if it meant that they wouldn’t hit stage until 1 in the morning, wouldn’t be off until 2 or 3, and that such a late-night venture would likely mean I’d be in bad shape the next day, as I tried to push on with my end-of-semester, final-projects-need-to-get-handled agenda!).

Though I was extremely disappointed that Ladybug Mecca had been replaced (the trio’s sole woman, she’s apparently become quite ill in recent years, and is no longer touring with the group; a woman whose name escapes me replaced her that night, handling all of Ladybug’s verses on songs from the established albums), the group still put on a strong show, for a crowd that largely knew their music inside and out. The full live band accompaniment (drums, hand percussion, bass, guitar, keyboard, horns) felt especially noteworthy, given that many hip-hop acts choose simply to appear with a DJ and rhyme over pre-recorded instrumentals. In Digable Planets’ case, the concert actually was a live musical event, with the group’s emcees interacting with, and at times improvising along, the live instrumentation.

Given that so much of hip-hop’s power derives from the energetic reciprocity between performer and audience, the interactions on stage (and the energetic exchanges the crowd accordingly witnessed from song to song) provided a sort of template for how we, as audience, could also share of our excitement and enthusiasm, and return it to the artists giving us of their talents. The content of the set moved fluidly from sociopolitical issues that remain as relevant as when the group initially penned poems about them 15+ years ago (police abuse in communities of color, abortion rights, media control of our imaginations and interactions) to more playful, lighthearted content about romantic relationships, healthy eating, and even the state of today’s music industry. Witnessing Digable Planets’ deliver their unique, not-necessarily-reliant-on-rhymes lyrics, and seeing the extent to which they prioritized the enjoyment of the crowd even while they delivered searing social commentary, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the metaphor of sweetly flavored medicine as a means of ensuring quick and thorough recovery from sickness. If medicine tastes terrible, who wants to take it? But if it’s sweet, appealing, to the point that the person ingesting doesn’t even think of it as medicine, then that person’s likely to take more of it, and recover from their ills that much more thoroughly. The content of Digable Planets’ set at Club Six felt to me like the medicine. The ace musicianship, the banter with the crowd, and the energetic exchanges among the band—then between band and audience—felt to me like the medicine’s flavor, the means by which we would open up to that content and want more of it.

Here’s a fan-recorded clip of Digable Planets performing their seminal hit “Cool Like Dat” at Club Six, then a clip of the music video for that song from back in ’93.

Nov 12, Amiri Baraka

Event info:
November 12, 2010 7:00pm: We Insist! feat. Amiri Baraka

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, and also featuring Amina Baraka and the Freedom Now Band

Eastside Arts Alliance
2277 International Blvd, Oakland CA, 94606 ph: 510-533-6629

Amiri Baraka's reading at the Eastside Arts Alliance was the most fascinating, real, and unique poetry reading / event that I've been to in a while. Having read and known about Baraka's work before, I was really excited to finally hear and maybe meet the man who has written such truthful and inspiring poetry.
First a little background on Amiri Baraka - he was born in 1934 in Newark, NJ and has written over 40 books in his lifetime. He is known as the founder of the Black Arts Movement, and in addition to being such a prolific contributor to poetry and the arts, he is, as his biography states "a revolutionary political activist." There is plenty more biographical info to be found on his website:

When we walked into the event at Eastside Arts Alliance, the night had not quite begun and people were milling around, drinking wine and eating snacks provided at the event, and perusing a table of Baraka's works - books, CDs, etc. While we were hovering over the merchandise table and flipping through books, the woman selling merchandise told us that even though it was advertised that she would be part of the event, Amina Baraka had elected not to come that night. According to this woman, Amiri and Amina had fought before they were supposed to leave and Amina had actually refused to get on the plane (!). So that was a little disappointing for me, but it was still exciting to be seeing Amiri Baraka in person.

Before Baraka came onstage there was a short film shown about Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, mostly of Abbey Lincoln speaking about the Freedom Now Suite, which was really great to see and give some context for people (like me) who had not heard of it before. Then Amiri Baraka and the Freedom Now /Muziki Roberson band came onstage, and the night proceeded from there. He didn't just read poetry, one poem after another, but talked to the audience for a little while first and stopped in between poems every once in a while to tell stories. He read a poem he wrote for Max Roach's funeral, called "Digging Max":

Digging Max

By Amiri Baraka

Seventy Five, All The Way Live!)
Max is the highest
The outest the
Largest, the greatest
The fastest, the hippest,
The all the way past which
There cannot be

When we say MAX, that’s what
We mean, hip always
Clean. That’s our word
For Artist, Djali, Nzuri Ngoma,
Senor Congero, Leader,
Scientist of Sound, Sonic
Trappist Definer, Composer,
Democrat, Bird’s Black Injun
Engine, Brownie’s Other Half,
Abbey’s Djeli-

ya - Graph
Who baked the Western industrial
singing machine
Into temperatures of syncopated

Out Sharp Mean

Papa Joe’s Successor
Philly Joe’s Confessor
AT’s mentor, Roy Haynes’
Inventor, Steve McCall’s
Trainer, Ask Buhainia. Jimmy Cobb,
Elvin or Klook
Or even Sunny Murray, when he aint
in a hurry.
Milford is down and Roy Brooks
Is one of his cooks. Tony Williams,
Jack DeJohnette,
Andrew Cyrille can tell you or
youngish Pheeroan
Beaver and Blackwell and my man,
Dennis Charles.
They’ll run it down, ask them the next
time they in town.

Ask any or all of the rhythm’n.
Shadow cd tell you, so could
Shelly Manne, Chico Hamilton.
Rashid knows, Billy Hart. Eddie
From Newark has split, but he and
Eddie Gladden could speak on it.
Mtume, if he will. Big Black can
speak. Let Tito Puente run it down,
He and Max been tight since they
were babies in this town.

Frankie Dunlop cd tell you and he
speak a long time.
Pretty Purdy is hip. Max hit with
Duke at Eighteen
He played with Benny Carter when he
first made the scene. Dig the heavy learning that went with
that. Newk knows,
And McCoy. CT would agree. Hey,
ask me or Archie or Michael Carvin
Percy Heath, Jackie Mc are all hip to
the Max Attack.

Barry Harris can tell you. You in
touch with Monk or Bird?
Ask Bud if you see him, You know he
know, even after the cops
Beat him Un Poco Loco. I mean you
can ask Pharaoh or David
Or Dizzy, when he come out of hiding,
its a trick Diz just outta sight.
I heard Con Alma and Diz and Max
In Paris, just the other night.

But ask anybody conscious, who Max
Roach be. Miles certainly knew
And Coltrane too. All the cats who
know the science of Drum, know
where our
Last dispensation come from. That’s
why we call him, MAX, the ultimate,
The Furthest Star. The eternal
internal, the visible invisible, the
From afar.

All Hail, MAX, from On to Dignataria
to Serious and even beyond!
He is the mighty SCARAB, Roach the SCARAB, immortal as
our music, world without end.
Great artist Universal Teacher, and
for any Digger
One of our deepest friends! Hey MAX!

Like all of the poetry Amiri Baraka, this poem was really well presented, with the band backing Baraka with music by Max Roach and other jazz icons. The drums really added to his performance in this poem especially, and it was a really wonderful mixture of spoken word and music. He also read poetry that he wrote for Abbey Lincoln, as well as a great grab-bag of his other poetry. A lot of it was very political, and he let it be political without being either too heavy or too nonchalant- he addressed serious subjects but he was funny, too, in his presentation:

"they warned us about the tea parties to come with the movie night of the living dead"
"the devil speaks perfect German - pretty good English, too"

He also read a lot of poetry in a form that he created called "Loku" - he explained this saying that he used to read a lot of Chinese and Japanese poetry, and really loved Haiku, so he created Loku as an Afro-American form. He said something similar to what he says here:
"...[loku] is just short. We don't have time to count the syllables. "

The lokus were short, and funny, but like a haiku, cramming a lot of thought into a short space. They addressed serious subjects, usually political, and I believe both statements that I quoted above were loku.

He also read one that was simply a repetition of the line "why are they so crazy" about eleven or twelve times. It was really interesting how complex one simple line could be when it is treated as an almost meditative thing. Given current political climates, it really made me think a lot and ask the same question myself - one which I think we may never stop asking.

The entire night opened up a lot of thought for me on different situations and theories that Baraka addressed in his work. It was one of those evenings where you walk out of an event thinking "WHAT just happened in there?" and have trouble coming back down to reality for a moment. We were also able to meet Amiri Baraka afterward, say hi and how much we appreciated hearing him, and even get a picture with him (though the person who took the picture had trouble with my camera and I didn't realize until later that the image was incredibly blurred.) :( I really appreciate his work and how relatable he makes it, how much he inspires his audiences to think and investigate a little deeper what is going on in their surroundings.

And we're done!

Thanks all for your marathon blogging. It's noon, so anything posted after this will not be counted. Thanks again, and see some of you this evening. Wishing you all the best, BJR

Frances Chung

"No one uses words such as
marvelous here. The scent
of incense trails through
the hallway in the early
morning. Buddhist altars
are erected loosely on
kitchen tables. The ashes
of the incense gather dust
as do the faded photographs
of families in China and the
calendars of nude redheads
on the wall. Listen to the
78 rpm Chinese records."

Frances Chung seems to take a snapshot of her community, and she puts it all together nicely in the form of a poem. Many of her poems seem specific to a place and time in which she witnessed whatever events she is writing about, and they are very realistic. In this poem she writes about the traditions that are continued despite living in a new country. There is something about the poem that also seems like these traditions have had to change in order to accommodate this new space. The "Buddhist altars ... erected loosely on kitchen tables," sounds like it isn't normally where they go (though I can't be sure of this). I am focusing on this because of the description. If something is loose then it can't be very stable, and so if a tradition is not stable then something must be off about it. It's also interesting that the photographs are collecting dust. Despite having these memories they are slightly forgotten because they are accumulating dust. This is very subtle compared to other poems that speak about adjusting to a new country. I like that Frances Chung and place the reader in one moment of time and as a result you can share the experience with someone else.

Long overdue: Guillermo Gomez-Pena

Once upon a time earlier this semester I found myself at a poetry reading here at Mills for Guillermo Gomez-Pena. This was not your average reading, and I was well aware that it would be a very interesting experience. Guillermo Gomez-Pena is not just a poet. He is also a performance artist. I was really excited because I had discovered him a year ago in a cultural studies class. When I researched him I hoped to one day make the time to see him in San Francisco, but lucky for me he came to Mills! At this event he spoke about many things. He discussed technology, and how it replaces human interaction. When he spoke about this he changed the way he was talking by making himself sound more like a robot which was funny, but at the same time really disturbing because as he spoke it really drove home the point of how close we all are so reliant on technology. There are so many ways now to connect with people through technology, but at the same time it can be really isolating because that face-to-face experience, or even that voice-to-ear experience is lost in e-mail exchanges. It was very interesting to see him discuss this topic. He also discussed a more controversial story about one of his readings to a group of soldiers. They ended up not really liking what he had to say (to put it mildly) and was asked to leave. He told us that he had no regrets, and that even a bad performance can be a memorable one, because now he was sharing it with us. It was great to see how he would shift from one reading/performance to the next. It was really like he was changing characters. The evening became a little more interactive as he began chanting "Viva Mexico, viva Puerto Rico, etc" and he invited others to begin shouting the names of other countries to celebrate. It was not just about latin america, but all countries around the world. It was a nice way of embracing all of humanity. I think my review of this night does not give it enough justice. There is really so much behind his work, and I really recommend everyone to see him.

I Would Speak - Oteka McCovey

I chose this poem as my final poem to review because I felt like it was at the heart of this whole class. A simple homage to the varying places, experiences, cultures, lives, we all come from as poets or lovers of poetry (and both) that have come together to speak about poetry of color.

"I can't speak my language,
but I can name you the animals,
I can ask you for the time,
and when you feed me
I know how to say
thank you."

America (and any colonizing country) has a history, a system that is built around oppression of others and assimilation to dominant culture. It is in our history to strip others of physical life, language, communication styles, monetary wealth or ability to achieve such, education, etcetera in order to progress the American agenda. However, at the same time, when the government, when systems do something, anything, we expect a thank you, a glorifying of "us" that doesn't really exist. It only exists in the systems that governments try to create in order to further dis-attach peoples from finding truths and significance in themselves and their culture. Governments teach how to communicate but only to an extent where you won't die but you won't succeed either. That is the way it is built. You are shot down but expected to stand back up.

"If I knew how to say
I am grateful
for every word,
for every phrase,
I would speak."

If people of color were able to claim their language, demand changes, I would hope they would. I believe that is where this is coming from. A sense of feeling at loss without one's language, and that if it were possible to somehow claim it now, that it would be.

"If I knew how to say
without our language
we cannot be
Yurok people,
I would speak"

At the heart of theories of assimilation is a force and acceptance that is shoveled into the places that governments colonize and attempt to homogenize. Oteka-McCovey is not pleading or demanding but in between the two. People cannot be people if they are not allowed to celebrate and educate themselves and others with their language, traditions, music, song, dance, etc that exemplify the beauty and celebration of one's self. That is of course against the track of assimilation and therefore is never encouraged whether by force or another system to derail peoples from themselves.

A week ago, I went to a documentary screening on teaching second languages in public schools across America. Government officials, school officials, parents, students were all in the documentary and there were two clear sides. From systems and policies that government and school officials passed across the board (except for areas such as the Bay Area where even such a progessive area has pockets of deep conservatism), were programs and initiatives such as No Child Left Behind that forced assimilation in clear and hidden ways and tried again and again that learning other languages besides English was encouraging an unhealthy America and non-allegiance to America. There is such a great fear in our government that if people embrace their cultures that they will no longer be American, that they will not claim America as an identity. Yet that is what America portrays itself to be, a land of the people, by the people. Not a land of homogeny.

To My Countrymen - Carlos Bulosan

"With a stroke of my hand, I cut the tides
That swept the destinies of men,
Now in this field of combar, where my armies
Challenged the tragic course of history:"

To My Countrymen feels like a declaration of sorts, of place, of making change against the greatest powers out there.

"Look, listen: cries crescenting blood,
Crimsoning our island; because I came.
Here I slapped the earth to make you a home,
Confounding fate, even the farthest star,
Where light resolved itself into your faith;
Because I came to stake a claim on the world."

Imagery of blood, people filled islands looking lost, this person coming in the midst of the darkness of all, to find light and to bring back what first created these peoples, their culture.

"And across the flaming darkness of life,
I flung a sword of defiance to give you freedom:
Here in the seven-pillared wisdom-house of truth,
Where I knelt, where I wept, where I lived
To change the course of history; because I love you."

To My Countrymen is a poem that feels like a full waged war though the ending is simple and clear. That there is change because of this person's feeling of ownership to him or herself and this person's peoples, their sense of cultures, traditions, what encompass them as peoples. This is no God but a person who wants to change how history is formed, what the future will be, what it will say about these peoples, because there is a love that is above any evil.

Bury Our Hearts at Wal Mart, etc/ Peres Wendt

I like this book because it showcases the voices of indigenous writing which are typically marginalized in the U.S. especially in mainstream American Literature.

I like this poem because it shows how she has a sacred relationship to the earth and how the powers of exploitation and capitalism want to take the ground and build a Wal Mart for economic profit.

I like the form and structure of the poem. Her language is not complex or abstract.

O, The sands of my birth
The sands of my birth
Are digging places
Are trenching places
For excavators,
Earth movers,
And shovelers
For caterpillars,
And grovelers;

Capitalists - Dubin

Capitalism and the process of using one's people is evident in "Capitalists". How a simple transaction can further push a people's culture closer to American assimilation and further from one's own culture and traditions.

"Forty five bucks
and a good sweat later
the Shaman who said
he was from"

Forty five dollars which is still money, the word "bucks" makes me think that it is irrelevant, nothing at all to the other. Especially for the good sweat that was utilized in order to perform the duties. Shaman is capitalized, because Shaman is tradition, Shaman is who is fighting for personal culture.

"now received an
Indian education
a new spirituality
and to, next time,

take advantage of his
"Friends Drum Free" coupon"

American government, the system of government, is always trying to quickly assimilate peoples and thoroughly educates itself in a matter of days of traditions that have survived for centuries. The two verses above emphasizes the speediness that government demands and frankly does not care about when forcing assimilation. The only mark to this Shaman's culture is that he can give a coupon to this other, this counterpart that is against. The poem is a satire and emphasizes the truth that you cannot bleed out a person's culture and expect them to not still be who they are, where they are from.

Speaking English is Like - Kristin Naca

Immediately, the layout style of this poem caught my attention. Naca double spaces between lines and titles her poem making you wonder "and what's the rest of the sentence"? She uses creative examples of what speaking English is like such as,

"The lonely woman secretly dying her curtains red at the Laundry

"The path along the lake lit up with the pitch of purple stars."

"Endings that are dirty tricks and also feathers."

"The curtain flicker in the leafy, August breeze."

"Her body oils like sage in a shirt, in the bed sheets."

"Pigeons on a line and in the gutter."

All imagery makes me think of another world where everything is saturated in color and we can only half feel things that are presently progressing. Speaking English is uncertain, beautiful and ugly, smells good and smells like nothing, mistaken but useful, contradicting opposites always in her verses but never saying directly what they are. The fact that every line has a sense of magic realism to it further encourages this idea that speaking English is like everything and nothing we do.

Shaunna Oteka McCovey

I really enjoyed reading "I Still Eat All of My Meals with a Mussel Shell." I really appreciate how she used the form of her poem to tell a different story. The non-italicized lines of the poem appear to be a straight forward description about creation stories and the history of her people. It's interesting that she starts the poem by saying "Creation stories / have long been disputed / by theories of / evolution and / strait crossings." It sounds like what students are typically taught in history classes. I remember learning about Native Americans, and the lectures would of course skim over their history because the focus would be on those that crossed over from Europe consequently "discovering" this country. This is where McCovey begins to use the space in between the lines to tell a creation story of her own. It's interesting that the italicized lines are compressed as if barely having enough room to exist, which again reminds me of how history is taught regarding Native Americans. In my experience I never learned anything besides the common idea that they were "discovered" by Europeans and as a result were forced off their land thus leaving them with a diminished population. I think what McCovey is saying is that there is way more to the story than most people recognize. Already she is contrasting those ideas about evolutuion and how people came to live in a certain place, by saying "thespiritbeings/ emergedfrom/ theground/ atKenek." This poem reminded me of the poem we were shown last week when someone (can't remember her name - sorry!) presented her class syllabus about online poetry. The poem was shown on an otherwise empty page but if you scrolled to certain blank spaces the rest of the story would appear in hyperlink text. In this class we have pondered "why poetry?" as a form of expressing oneself, and to be honest (in my opinion) it seemed like there was a struggle sometimes to say everything in what can sometimes be a confining space. I think that is shown when some poets experiment with the form of their poetry, like we see here in McCovey's poem. Saying that which is not normally said in that in between space is really powerful. So often we only look at what is on the page, and sometimes we forget to realize what is not there.


I remember our class discussion and watching Pietri perform Puerto Rican Obituary. It made me and still does make me shiver with how dead and alive Pietri's voice sounds. I can feel the voices of the dead, the voices that are dying and soon to die, only trying to live another day, survive for the better of their children and their children's children's...

Puerto Rican Obituary is the greatest tribute to obviously Puerto Rican peoples but it can also translate for any brown culture that has had to live through generations of suffering in order to simply survive, never mind succeeding by American standards. This poem exemplifies the struggles that brown people are born into in our America but it is not pointing figures or trying to find a person to blame. Rather, it is taking the graves and the living of Puerto Rican peoples and allowing us into their world for those of us who do not know what it is like to be raised in a society that automatically deems you as nothing forever life and forever dead.

"Here lies Juan
Here lies Miguel
Here lies Milagros
Here lies Olga
Here lies Manuel
who died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Always broke
Always owing
Never knowing
that they are beautiful people
Never knowing
the geography of their complexion


The listing of names, no last names, no specifics, but the claiming of names makes me wonder what this poem would sound like if it were for other cultures. It stirs feelings of "how can this be" that we live in a world where people live and die like flies and are treated as such, yet the world still moves, the world still lives, and everyone rides on the backs of others.

Miguel Pinero's A Lower East Side Poem

I like this poem because its shows Pinero's love and pride for his neighborhood/ community in the Lower East Side of NYC. He is reflecting on his life in this opening stanza and the importance for him to have his ashes scattered in the LES. I think section of the reading and learning about Puerto Rican poetry and poets especially in the NYC area.

Just once before I die
I want to to climb up on a
tenement sky
to dream my lungs out till
I cry
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

He describes LES and the neighborhood sounds dangerous, but he loves it and it is his home.

There's no other place for me to be
there's no other place that I can see
there's no other town around that
brings you up or keeps you down
no food little heat sweeps by
fancy cars and pimps' bars and juke saloons
and greasy spoons make my spirits fly
with my ashes scattered thru the
Lower East Side...

I like the closing stanza because he has pride in LES and feel more connected to LES than Puerto Rico.

I don't wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
I don't wanna rest in Long Island Cementary
I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
gambling fighting and unnatural dying and new birth crying
so please when I die...
don't take me far away
keep me near by
take my ashes and scatter them thru out
the Lower East Side...

Bob Kaufman - Celestial Hobo

I really liked this poem because I couldn't understand it. So I decided to take it line by line and read it aloud and see what came of it.

"For every remembered dream
There are twenty nighttime lifetimes."

For every nigh you live, there are twenty things that have happened to you or twenty memories that follow you. Perhaps lives that you could've had.

"Under multiple arcs of sleep
Zombie existences become Existence."

Sleep to what is going on the real world, multiple arcs of inconsistencies and injustices, and zombies, the people that do nothing or the people that do terrible things, are real.

"In night's warped rectangles
Stormy bathtubs of wavy sex"

Night when evil perseveres, rectangles, not equal square. Stormy bathtubs where only sex can happen.

"Come hotly dawn.
Everyday, confused in desperate poses,
Loses its hue, to Dada prodigies to black
There never was a night that ended
Or began."

This verse I couldn't make sense of Dada prodigies. I feel like Kaufman was writing this poem to show that some things never begin or end because in our hazy view, we aren't able to ever start.

Sadie and Maude - Gwendolyn Brooks

The journeys of Sadie and Maude, perhaps the class systems that exist where you are either given the opportunity to achieve higher education, a different life, or not.

"Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb."

Brooks utilizes short and simple sentences that carry us through a series of events, a story. A fine-tooth comb makes me think of 10 cent stores in the older days and for some reason, reading this poem felt like it was in the early 60's with an open porch in the South. A fine-tooth comb refers to one purpose, one use, perhaps all that is expected and given to Sadie.

"She didn’t leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land."

Chits according to an online dictionary means "A signed note for money owed for food or drink." While Maude was in
college and able to stand on her two feet, Sadie was able to use what she had, her one purpose, her comb, and keep
her head combed. It meant she had to rely on chits and was a nobody in society's terms.

"Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame."

What happens to Sadies.

"When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house."

We have a conception of success in this country that is always correlated to wealth and higher education. Maud, our
hero of the story is no hero in this poem. For all that she did (though Sadie had her challenges too), Maud was a bland
nothing who just lived. Who really had the better life and who didn't, both went such separate paths but both left little

Frances Chung - Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple

"One woman has discovered the
secret to one-on-one correspondence.
She keeps the right amount of pennies
in one pocket and upon arriving in each
new station along the way she shifts
one penny to her other pocket. When all the
pennies in the first pocket have disappeared,
she knows that she is home."

Chung finds a way to explain the challenges of non-English speaking-American-living Chinese (and a list of other non-English speaking-American-living peoples can be easily thought of) in a way that is sincere and non-victimizing. I've subconsciously always shied away from Asian-American poetry after feeling numb to the victimization that I constantly see in Asian American writers. How hard it is to not speak English, lessons with Grandma, dragons and New Year's...and stereotypes and cliches that I don't want to read. Frances Chung does not do this at all. She does not make any excuse, she has survivors. She utilizes imagery that is simple and concise but not stereotypical or easily assumed. I appreciate that she began her poems with "Yo vivo en el barrio chino de Nueva York". For anyone who has gone to New York's Chinatown, you hardly can tell what neighborhood you're actually living in. Every Chinese person speaks Spanish, just as the Chinese folks here in the Mission speak their own version of espanol. Growing up in a Latina-culture-background, I've never felt like I could relate to Asian American writing except that I generally knew about the traditions and had a mother who was surviving through the American system. Chung breaks down the systems that these people are living in and praises their life. The verse that I quoted struck me because I feel like I've met those people before, that I know my mother had her own creative ways to know when her bus stop was here, such as counting street lights. The idea of home and place gets to the root of Chung's poetry and I feel like I am in her Chinese Wonderland.

Bob Kaufman's West Coast Sounds and Howl the Movie!!!

I enjoyed learning and reading the poetry of Bob Kaufman. I’m very familiar with the Beat Generation, but I never heard of Bob Kaufman. The only Black writer I knew was Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka). Its unfortunate that his work is not more visible within the beat generation writing. I recently saw the film Howl about the controversial poetry book Howl and the life of Allen Ginsberg. The book it documentary, animation, and feature film. I didn’t know the book poetry was so controversial during its release and was on trial for content. The film was educational and I will buy it on DVD. Its that Bob Kaufman and Leroi Jones are both marginalized in the movement. In Bob Kaufman’s poetry there are several reoccurring themes like West Coast, jazz, cafes, Africa, and Charlie Parker.

West Coast Sounds-1956

In the poem he is writing about the West Coast Beat Poetry, jazz, and their intellectual culture. He writes, San Fran, hipster land, / Jazz sounds, wig sounds, / Earthquake sounds, others, / I think that earthquake sounds is a metaphor for the literary movement.

The Beat writers live a sexually loose lifestyle and have migrated from NYC to SF. He writes, Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, / Swinging, in cellars, / Kerouac at Locke's / Writing Neil / On high typewriter, / Neil, booting a choo-choo, / On zigzg tracks.

Some of the Beat writers fell victim to drug addition and died young. They traveled to other cities like Monterrey where the temp is cooler. They travel to Mexico City where Kerouac writes his famous book "On Road".

Now, many cats
Falling in,
New York cats
Monteray scene cooler,
San Franers, falling down.
Canneries closing.
Sardines splitting
For Mexico
Me too.

Link to recent 4 part radio documentary piece about Bob Kaufman I found:

the iguana in san jose

I've been coming here for the Monday and Thursday open mic nights since I was in high school (and for their yummy burritos with jalapeno and homemade horchata). It's literally a burrito shop that turns into an open mic at night hosted by Jonah, a well known local poet and musician. Two weeks ago, I made my way back to San Jose to meet a friend of mine who performs frequently at the Iguana Open Mic and memories of high school and McDonald's filled the air. There were no big names in the crowds or poets that I've ever met until then, but there was a strong sense of community in a small room of people who didn't know each other but wanted to share words (or songs). It was really informal and was a "sign up" and "perform" with Jonah leading the crowd. I enjoyed hearing pieces that were polished and others that were not. It made me think about poetry as a use of politics and a use of story telling, less emphasis on style and more on purpose. One of my favorites was this older man who was recounting his days in the 70's where "you could have sex just to have sex" and it didn't matter if it was a man or a woman, folks just didn't care as much as they do now. Sitting at the Iguana with burrito and horchata in hand, and listening to poets as young as middle school to as older as grey hair life livers, I was reminded of why I love poetry.

Adrienne Su's The English Canon/ NEW Asian American Poetry

I like the form and structure of this poem. She uses basic punctuation and language is easy to understand. I like this poem because it gives voice to women. I like this anthology because it showcases the voices of talented Asian American writers.

Adrienne Su's The English Canon

It's not that the first speakers left out women
Unless they were goddesses, harlots, or impossible loves
Seen from afar, often while bathing,

She writing about women from the past and ancient times and that men left out women from history.

And it's not that the only parts my grandfathers could have played
were as extras in Xanadu,
Nor that it gives no instructions for shopping or cooking.

I like this line because her father would be limited to sterotypical roles in movies like Xanadu.

The trouble is, I've spent my life
Getting over the lyrics
That taught me to brush my hair till it's gleaming.

She has spent her life brushing her hair to be straight to model an image of white beauty.

Stay slim, dress tastefully, and not speak of sex,
Death, violence, or the desire for any of them
And to let men do the talking and warring

She taught to stay in her place in society and be quiet and don't question or challenge society.

And bringing of the news. I know a girl's got to protest
These days, but she also has to make money
And her share of journalism and combat,

And she has to know from the gut whom to trust,
Because what to do her teachers know, living in books,
And what does she know, starting from scratch?

Central American Poetry Reading

I recently participated in a reading of Central American poets in Leisy Abrego's Central American Studies class at UCLA. Leisy is the first tenure track professor in Chicano/a studies at UCLA in Central American Studies and is a big inspiration. One of the many ways she marked this occasion was to invite us to read together and present in her class. Some of us have been friends for more than ten years, and a few of those present were writers who had heard of the group of poets and found a way to connect with one of us.

It is rare these days that we read together, maybe once a year if at all. I always have the sense that reading together with any number of the poets I have know from this loose collective contextualizes each other in a way that reading alone does not. Many of us touch on themes of home, migration, identity, dictatorship and loss, but a love poem or a snapshot of city life or the hybrid existence of being from here and there and someplace new builds a new image, a broader picture, another voice to a chorus of individuals with chris-crossing existences. These voices add nuance to the one dimensional or barely visible images the mainstream rarely lets us see. When we are together in this context the laughter and longing seem that much sweeter and fuller.

The poets present were myself (Maya Chinchilla), Rossana Perez, Leyda Garcia, Gustavo Guerra-Vasquez, Arely Zimmerman and Oriel Siu. Leisy also read a poem after much urging from her class and read a beautiful about the transition from living in one bedroom apartment with her husband and two sons, always living in close proximity to her family and noisy neighbors with questionable activities, to owning a home and her discomfort at the new experience as a new professor mingling with different levels of privilege at wine and cheese events.

This poem marks the moment of an immigrant child, 1.5 generation Salvadoran woman feeling the conflict between success, upward mobility, while remembering her roots and all the struggles she and her family made to get her to this place. It was maybe uncharacteristically "real" for what is expected of a professor with a background in sociology facilitating her first class. That is why it was so powerful to hear from this hardworking, soft spoken overachieving professional. This is one of the markers I think, of this group. None in the group would soley identify as poet or artist except maybe me, and I at least get to tack on graduate student and educator.

After the reading, the poets met to "convivir un buen rato" and Arely or maybe Oriel asked the group what would it take to support your writing. What do you need? The answer was a resounding need for space that is no less urgent than ten years ago: a gathering place and time. To be encouraged. To be valued for this work. Somehow we know in the back of our minds how valuable the space to create is as all the community and family work each one of us does but unfortunately gets pushed back down the list of priorities when making rent and picking up a child at school comes first.

I would like to add a portion of a write up a student did after the class (unprompted and unassigned
I wanted to comment on Tuesday's class. I think it's great to see positive role models that come from the same background as many of us. Through their poems I feel that more awareness was brought to everyday issues and became more personal rather than [soley] academic writing. I was not a fan of poetry until this class. These poems are different from those I have read in other classes because they are relevant to my community and experiences. I remember friends from high school that would write wonderful short stories and poems, but ended up deciding not to go to college. Seeing how one of the guest speakers is finishing up her Ph.D in Spanish literature, I think it would be a great inspiration to many high school students that may not be aware that their writing can take them far. Also if it weren’t for this class I would not really know that these poems or groups existed. I was just wondering where readings or special events held by the group are advertised because seeing the passion the speakers performed their poems with is something to be very proud of.

on The Wind Shifts

In the introduction the Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, editor Francisco Aragon attempts to both qualify these “new” poets as connected to previous traditions of Latino/a poets and distance them from some of the more recognized tropes of overcompensating essentialized identities. He writes in the introduction that “...poems that address the social and the political continue to be vital strands in Latino poetry today. But if this focus...was the dominant mode in years past, the work in the Wind Shifts suggest that the canvas is now larger...” and that the work in the anthology is “work that is equally, if not more, informed by an exploration of language and aesthetics.”

While it seems that politically charged poetry aimed at moving the masses to action may be thought of as a crutch in Latino/a poetry, I worry that Aragon is not recognizing strands in Latin American poetry that historically have worked within forms and possess high aesthetic value. The danger in overlooking the aesthetic value of the “yo soy/ I am” self mythologizing poem, is to downplay the value of the use of Spanglish, codeswitching and vernacular, or the poetics of witness. This may cause us to miss the precedent of writing Latino/a stories into poetry and overemphasizes the desire to validate ourselves to a mainstream audience. Without the infrastructure of previous forms there is no space for these “new” and experimental forms to emerge.


A quote from Asian American Poetry: the Next Generation

I think I am fascinated with poetry anthologies and the way the introductions and forwards can give such a range of insight into the moment and time period that work has been gathered. Marilyn Chin in her forward to the anthology Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation speaks to so many points we have covered this semester: “The postmodern critics love to tell us over and over that there is no such thing as an authentic voice in late capitalism, that everything has been consumed and spent, that poetry workshops are sprouting all over the country like malls and that the voices are indistinguishable from one another...Meanwhile, a new patriotism springs out...We, from the margins are expected to realign our allegiances and work with the majority. We are called to put down our ethnic pride and to fall into formation, front and center. To collect the “next generation” of Asian American poetry at this moment means both to assert our “specialness” as well as to showcase our spirit of cooperation and togetherness...This anthology serves as part showcase, part call to arms. We must march onward, bear witness, and work with a conscious effort to build a magnificent, dynamic canon.” xiii-xiv

On Performance Poetry, Orality and "Spoken Word"

What has been called Spoken Word in the last two decades in particular has had a profound impact on poetry moving the word back to the street corners, cafes, community centers, bars, classrooms and taquerias. The rhythms and orality inherent in poetry are meant to be shared, performed and draw on many oral traditions that have roots in many diasporic cultures. Images string together, pounding out movement as if they were pulsating drums and syncopated clave hits. Bellowing from roof tops and hoarsely whispered in classroom hallways these words wake us up and make us listen and learn from our own reflections.

While I am still interested in publishing my work and the artistry of using the page to allow a poem to travel, I have in the past few years begun to take the performative aspect of the words I write just as seriously as the stories I have to tell. These hybrid performance forms include movement, teatro, music and group choreographed performance pieces. Exploring this stage of my poetic journey I always give thanks to the words that bring me on new roads and discoveries. Nothing I am doing is particularly new because these are forms that have been with us for centuries. What is new is also what is old in that we are recovering what we can and reinterpreting, repurposing and naming forms that work for this time and place. I continue to search for a balance of speaking from my own true voice as well as pushing the heights of my artistry, craft and dicipline. People will always say that this or that art form is played out or that identity politics are dead, but it is only in the challenge of creating spaces where there were none and continuing to challenge the silences, where the art grows vibrantly.


Spoken Word vs. "Serious Poetry" a false dichotomy?

I particularly enjoy the way Tony Media points out in the introduction to Bum Rush the Page that "Serious poets who also happen to perform well on stage are being constantly being called spoken-word artists and are not taken seriously as writers. Poets (especially those of color) who use the word (use language) to effect change are therefore ghettoized by those in the academy and those at the gates as solely (or "simply") oral, urban, or street poets." (xix) I am exhausted and frustrated by this experience. While much of the poetry I write or like may have some relation to spoken word "that which lives in performance" poetry should always maintain as Medina says, "the integrity of the page, of the written word." Punto. It's got to be about something and then each word has to be considered.


June Jordan Quote

“You cannot write lies and write good poetry... Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.”
June Jordan from Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint


November Lunada at Galeria de la Raza

I went to the last Lunada full moon monthly Literary Series at Galeria de la Raza located on 24th and Bryant in the San Francisco Mission District. This month the reading coincided with Galeria’s 40 year anniversary celebration which I am sure drew an even larger crowd than usual. Felicia Montez was the featured reader visiting us from LA not only to feature her hip hop-mujerista poetics but came with tempting table of goodies ranging from the Mujeres de Maiz publication to her indigenous weaving inspired hoodies, t-shirts and dresses. Sandra Garcia-Rivera has newly been anointed with the hosting duties of the night which includes an open mic which book ends the evening’s features. Since Felicia was the only feature that evening the list of open mic presenters was a broad spectrum of characters well known at Galeria as well a healthy representation of new faces.

Vickie Vertiz is always a favorite with her biting wit and uniquely Mexicana-Angelino
story telling. I’ve seen her writing grow over the years and in recent times her readings of her vignetted tales-slash-budding novel has become fearless, reliably nuanced and always a treat. There is a tragic comedic sadness to her writing that at the same time has you laughing with not at her ever flawed characters. Another highlight was Roberto Tinoco Duran
who performed a piece that used his entire body and the space to emphasize punch lines and unexpected turns of phrases.

The evening came to a close with Galeria favorites Leticia Hernandez, Tomas Rivera and Norman Zelaya. Leticia read a poem that she wrote about the founding of the literary series and it’s beginnings in San Jose. I am sure there are some insider secrets in that poem because she always tends to turn toward her husband with some skinny knowing looks. She infuses the poem with her canto call to the luna and the full moon calling us to share poetry and art. She also used her time to announce the upcoming date of her annual women writers event: “Amate”, once a Galeria staple, has now moved to Intersection for the Arts. This is one of the elements I enjoy about this open mic is the way it is a community news service. Tomas shared a poem in a smooth verse that called out the way hipters reveal themselves in the Mission, even when they don’t think they are hipsters evolving into a mediation of sorts.

If Norman Zelaya gets on the mic at the end of the night you now the evening will leave you on a side splitting note. His well drawn out story of a day in the life as a elementary school teacher and the dangers he may face on any given day surely delivered. His use of repetition as he builds his a simple moment into an absurdist folly has you wondering, how did he just do that? He’s making me laugh about the children’s fear of poo?

Each Lunada is a unique moment in time and a great place for bilingual lovers to try out new work. I am more than a fan of that space and it was really nice to take a break from the stress of my super intense final semester. It’s a shame I’ve missed so many great events since grad school has overtaken my life and am looking forward to making it out to more events such as this cherished Mission staple.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hiromi Ito Poetry Reading

WHAT: Literary Events: Fall 2010 – Spring 2011 Contemporary Writes Series

WHO: Poet Hiromi Ito and her daughter Kanoko Ito

WHEN & WHERE: October 19, 2010, Mills Hall Living Room

The writers’ series gave some background on Hiromi as such:

Born in Tokyo, Hiromi Itō is regarded as one of the most prominent poets of contemporary Japan. Since her debut in the late 1970s, she consistently has expanded her creative spheres: from issues of sexuality to the oral traditions of Native Americans, the lifecycles of plants, and migrant and transnational experiences. About Itō’s first U.S. edition of work, Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō, renowned poet Anne Waldman writes, “Her poems reverberate with sexual candor, the exigencies and delights of the paradoxically restless/rooted female body, and the visceral imagery of childbirth. . . . Hiromi is a true sister of the Beats.” Itō has published more than 10 critically acclaimed collections of poetry; several novels; and a dozen books of essays, including Oume (Green plums, 1982), Watashi wa Anjuhimeko de aru (I am Anjuhimeko, 1993), and Kawara Arekusa (Wild grass upon a riverbank, 2005), which won the prestigious Takami Jun Prize.

I attended both readings completely unaware of the Hiromi’s and Guillermo’s backgrounds, styles or writings. But what a pleasant surprise both readings were in entertainment, creative escape and literary stimulation. But there were some minor similarities between the two poets for me. Each possessed a commanding presence during their readings. Each conveyed a political and cultural undertone in their writing. Each spoke in their native language in their poetry – Hiromi in all of her poems except for her speaking in between poems and Guillermo mixed English and spanglish in his poems and in his explanations. I did not get to hear the full Pena reading. So I will only discuss Hiromi’s reading.

Hiromi began her presentation by sharing a bit of foundation information for her creative journey. She described the nature of the women’s political movement in Japan and noting her student activism in the time prior to her graduation from university in 1973. But then she says that she that her post graduate efforts were not for society but for herself. She found herself focused on “the body” and how to speak about all the unspeakable activities and parts of the body as relates to women. She found herself using “words that were not my words like fuck, cunt, abortion….” She explained how she has been in the United States for over fifteen years and while she uses English in her daily life, she does not really write in English. Even all of her editors are in Tokyo. In order to accommodate her audience, Hiromi utilized a project of the translation of her poems onto a large white screen which was placed directly next to her podium (it had the feeling of either a multi-media presentation or a lecture with powerpoint). Fortunately, it was not a distraction but a window into another level of Hiromi’s work. Hiromi reads with a rhythm that conveys some urgency and intensity on moment then soft and tender in the next. I think those shifts can be attributed to the content and context of the poetry, the insecurity, frustrations and clumsiness of learning English; recounting the details of miscarriages, abortions, the post partim thoughts of abortion, uterine cancer, the savagery of breast feeding, the mixed feelings of parenthood of the mother and the several of her works from “Enjoy changing of my body”; “Mistreatment of Language”; “Nashite Mounen (Nasty Morning)”; and “Killing Kaneko”.

Hiromi’s poetry is filled with irony and indignation. Her energy is free-spirited and magical. In her poem, “Nashite Mounen” which was her poor English presentation of “Nasty Morning” she tells a story of enthusiasm of her English husband teaching her the language. As she phonetically learned the language, with a Japanese dialect, “More than through skin, more than through sex
Unease is something that becomes clear through language” is how the poem begins and continues to playfully share the joys and folly of learning English. She says that she was jealous of the language and how her learning process was “my language percolated through his voice”. I was totally amused by this piece, especially the lines

Dee suiiteshita retoru omen (the sweetest little woman)

He taught me this once
De suiiteshita meen (the sweetest man)
I imitated him

To get a real experience of Hiromi’s style, visit her reading of “Killing Kaneko” at

Hiromi reads through this piece with such speed, as though she is in a race. She recounts her motherhood feelings “the experience of having a baby was wonderful. The women before me usually did not have babies, the life of artist did not afford it. My generation could have everything we wanted. Hiromi recited this poem with musical accompaniment on the Biwa, a long acoustic stringed instrument, by her daughter (a former Mills graduate) Kaneko Nishi. A little bit of irony since the poem is actually about her daughter Kaneko and the issues of women dealing with abortion. The subject matter is quite challenging as she explores the forbidden thoughts and feelings women may be having such as “dispose of that little brat”, “I want to get rid of Kaneko without melancholy without guilt”, (breast feeding) “something sweet to come out where there was nothing”, “Let’s get rid of them all together, all the daughters, all the sons, who rattle their teeth, wanting to bite your nipples”, “congratulations on your destruction”. So many forbidden thoughts presented at a breakneck speed and between the poem and the improvisation, the audience was taken on a journey of fear, love, conflict, the challenges and conflicts of being a woman,

Hiromi’s style was influenced by her exposure to contemporary performance style and Japanese storytelling and how the storytellers traveled town to town telling stories mostly about the lives of women. Hiromi’s says that her presentation style is influenced by the space or pause in contemporary and improvisational music. Hiromi spoke of how her poems are written in Japanese and translated by someone else, and how she never even reads those translations. Hiromi is so connected to the unspeakable functions of the body, she even describes her disconnection to reading the translation of her poems by saying “It is like your poop, you don’t want to touch it, right?”.

Hiromi is so real and so vibrant, you become entranced by the rhythm and rhyme (she repeats lines for impact in and throughout some of her poems).

To see and read more of her work visit this site:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beyond the Stacks Reading

Beyond the Stacks: The International Poetry Library of San Francisco hosts Five Local Poets

Café Que Tal, 1005 Guerrero St.

Mahnaz Badihian is a poet and translator with five publications. She is editor-in-chief of and currently working on translations of protest poems from Iran.

Tianna Cohen-Paul is a Jamaican spoken-word poet who has performed on numerous stages including the Apollo, the Blue Note, the Green Mill, and Yoshi’s.

Keetje Kuipers is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Her book, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Prize and was published by BOA.

Kenji C. Liu is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey. His writing arises from his work as an activist, educator, and cultural worker.

Truong Tran is a poet, teacher, and visual artist. His most recent book, Four Letter Words (2008) was published by Apogee Press.

I attended this reading briefly after the WritersCorp reading, and was interested in the ways that the older generation was different from the younger. While the reading didn't really seem to pick up until Kenji Liu performed poems about his great-great-great (etc.) grandfather accompanied by a guy playing a small whistle-like instrument, I was mostly interested in the two closing pieces. Second-to-last to take the mic was Tianna Cohen-Paul who performed the usual spoken word fare about some unmemorable things. Since no one else at the reading had performed spoken word, I found myself anticipating that she would also do something else. Anyway, the point of her performance that I found most interesting was when she decided to create new poems on the spot, using topics thrown out by the audience. Disappointingly, instead of going for a unique topic, Cohen-Paul went for topics that she's probably already written poems about like religion. Anyway, I suppose I was just disappointed by her lack of range. Next up to read was Truong, who before he started reading from his new erasures project, talked about how he felt like his older poems were not completely true, how he had felt pressure to say and not say certain things as a younger poet, how one particular poem about Whitman was full of unexpressed desires. Admitting that he has been doing more art than writing lately, Truong decided to read erasures from one of earlier books, in which he was decided to remove anything that had not felt genuine or true. I really admire his willingness to admit to the pressure that he had felt to write about being Vietnamese American as a younger poet. Rarely do poets admit the type of posturing that comes early in our careers, so I was glad to hear Truong call it out, especially after the reader before him seemed to be stuck on reiterating a certain type of identity as a young, black woman poet that I personally found limiting and frustrating...

City of Stairways Reading

WHAT: City of Stairways: Exploring Place in San Francisco

WHO: WritersCorps teaching artists Anhvu Buchanan, Rick D’Elia, Minna Dubin, Aracely Gonzalez, and Carrie Leilam Love.

With WritersCorps students Indiana Pehlivanova, Annie Yu, Marcella Ortiz, Nicole Zatarain Rivera, Sandra Pulido and Robin Black

WHEN & WHERE: Phase 2 of Lit Crawl: Saturday, October 9, 2010, 7:15 to 8:00 pm
Serendipity, 803 Valencia St, (near 19th St)

During Litquake, nearly two months ago, I attended a reading by teachers and students from WriterCorps. The reading called "City of Stairways: Exploring Place in san Francisco" was was a celebration of the program's most recent book released earlier in the Summer. Since the program is made of up of poets (and fiction writers) of a variety of ethnicities, the reading provided some interesting insight into the concerns of a younger generation of poets of color from the Bay Area. From what I gather, a majority of the teachers are recent MFA grads appearing to be under 35, and the students are high-school and college students who live in and around San Francisco. The idea of place is really crucial to the younger generation of writers because technology has made us so "mobile", able to navigate borders much more easily than in previous generations. In fact, a couple of the student were bilingual - one student-writer read her poems in Spanish then in English, and another student was a recent immigrant from eastern Europe (Bulgaria maybe?) whose participation in the program helped her to learn English. I suppose I'm interested to see how bilingualism will play a role in the poetics of the next generation. Anyway, as for the teachers, one of the most interesting pieces was Anhvu Buchanan's reading of his alphabet poem about phobias, which is apart of a longer project that about mental illness. Since mental illness is a taboo subject in certain communities of color, I do appreciate Buchanan's interest in the topic, though I am unsure of how much he has consciously connected it to the idea of race. Since lots of younger poets of color tend to write a lot and grapple with the idea of identity, I think it's really refreshing to see when that pattern is broken. I was also very happy to see that not all of the student-writers have been pushed into the spoken word / slam aesthetic that seems dominate in youth poetry groups. Melissa Hung, the emcee of the reading, and program manager of WritersCorps shared some of her own poetry at the end of the reading - Haiku restaurant reviews inspired by Yelp. Although the link to technology in those poems is very minor, I do think that poets of color will have some interesting ways of dealing with the internet in the coming years,so it was quite appropriate that hung closed on that note. Overall, I was very pleased by the range of the work presented by these young writers, and left the reading feeling very excited for the what will come in the future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Poetry (Berkeley studios) November 6,2010

On November 6, 2010, I was invited to participate in a poetry circle, where myself and a few others read our poetry where it was being filmed to be broadcasted in the future. Well I will count this as my second performance and even though I participated I was excited and intrigued by the other poets craft and creativity. The first poet that performed had a connection with memory and the past. He entitled his piece "Whatever comes to mind" which was totally amazing being that everything he was speaking came as a freestyle-poetry performance. His intention was for his mind to be clear to represent something ideally new in his mind even if he didn't make since at all.

Making since...well he did just that! From what he ate for breakfast in the morning to watch he watched on the news, everything seemed to be relevant to what people do in society everyday. He makes points about language and everything being political, even the the most arbitrary things in life. He talks about the things that we may take for granted in life and about life in general. He also speaks about identity and also questions it: He repeats various lines that point to him being a black man and a victim in society which reminds me of "praise song for the anynomous brothers" as well as "Usual Suspects" He not only talks about himself, he talks about other Black men that face similar circumstances in society and how can he tackle them or can he not tackle them?

He leaves a lot of questions open-ended to make us think and this is how the audience is an active-participant. I would further discuss others performances but I felt that this was most relevant to our class. It was a great experience! I truly enjoyed it! :)

D'bi Young at Oasis Bar (Setember 9th 2010)

I know this is a late post but this performance is forever in my mind. D'bi Young, a poet from Kingston Jamaica who now is based in Toronto, Canada has a unique way and aproach to lyricism and political issues. She fuses dub-poetry, a mixture of music and rhythms along with spoken word to convey reggae dancehall, hip hop and poetry into one mesh of approaching issues with her style of storytelling. These issues range from opression, womanhood, stereotypes and violence. Her storytelling and rhymes convey an entertaining approach to serious issues, commentating on social norms with the intention to spark awareness through a political force.

A lot of her poems speak through repetition, allowing the audience to be a part of the musical intention and as well as being enlightened with political awareness. In one of her performances she speaks about love and the different types of love in reference to history and integrity. There are patterns of language and learning as well as recognizing ancestors who have held onto themselves. This to me speaks to me as having a responsibility to love others, embracing culture, and recognizing ancestors before us. She repeated "We" as a community to have this connection with the audience. As she performed this piece she walked around the room and made eye contact with each and everyone of else which was very up close and personal. I felt that she was successful in getting her message across.

In connection with the class, we have discussed and read poets who speak about embracing identity, acknowledging their roots as a way of moving on toward the future. We have also read poets that have forgotten their native language and feel that they have to learn, or either feel exiled from a place in which they should feel at home. This is indeed relative to the many topics we have discussed in class. I just want to say that D'bi Young creates an experience that fuels your way of thinking, her approach and style is unique as she continues to question not only her position but our position in a living society.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Suheir Hammad's Mike Check

Suheir Hammad's Mike Check

I like the political poetry of Suheir Hammad because she gives voice to Muslim women in the U.S. The poem starts with a scene of Suheir at an American airport and she is being harassed by a white American man named Mike who is checking the luggage at the airport. This poem is written Post 9-11 and how Muslims who are Middle Eastern were harassed in American airports. Suheir has a fierce voice in this poem about an important topic of racial profiling of Muslims. Also this larger question of who is an American?

I like that she switches between mic and mike. Its goes between her as a poet and the story that she is telling through her poem.

Mike checked
my bags at the air
port in a random
routine check

i understand mike i do
you were altered
that day and most days
most folks operate on
fear often hate this
is mic check your
job and i am
always random

i understand it was
folks who smelled
maybe prayed like me

Suheir knows that she is been harassed because she is Muslim. I like the line "maybe prayed like me" because Muslims are so connected to their religion.

can you hear me mike
ruddy blonde buzz
cut with corn flower
eyes and a cross
round your neck

I like how she describes a white American man with a Christian cross. This is a nice image of the man who is racially profiling her.

mike check
folks who looked like
you stank so bad the
indians smelled them
mic check before they landed

The Europeans and Native Americans during the colonial period in the U.S.

they murdered one two
one two as they prayed
spread small pox as alms

thanks mike you
have a good day too one
two check mike
check mike

a-yo mike
whose gonna check you?

I like the end of the poem because when is leaving baggage claim with mike, but she questions who is going to check mike.