Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Rudolfo Anaya's 'Walt Whitman Strides The Llano Of New Mexico'

Rudolfo Anaya's tribute to Walt Whitman raised a number of important questions for me, similar to some brought up when we examined Jack Agueros' 'Sonnets From The Puerto Rican' a couple weeks ago. Principally: how can contemporary writers, and specifically writers of color, re-claim/re-purpose literary figures who may have espoused values contrary to the empowerment/liberation of historically oppressed groups (as Anaya does with Whitman), or literary forms that may have been rooted in and connected to elitist/exclusionary notions of art/istry (as Agueros does with sonnets)?

As Stephani mentioned at the start of her post on this poem, Waltman is said to have been lukewarm to the idea of blacks gaining voting rights in the U.S. If that's indeed so, might it not then be contradictory for a writer of color to so embrace Whitman's work? Similarly, if sonnets, a form born and for a long time practiced primarily in Europe, were initially utilized to express/extend relatively individualistic notions of romantic love, might it not follow that they'd be of limited utility/importance to writers of colors invested in an exploration of social/political dynamics in their and their immediate community's lives?

Anaya's poem seems to suggest that such assumptions are wrong-headed, reliant on archaic notions of compartmentalization that inadequately account for the extent to which all schools of poetry, and all poets from the past, are available as means of inspiration, and models of innovation, to/for contemporary writers, regardless of whether some element of a past poet's persona/politics may have been oppressive/unsophisticated, or an ancient poetry form may have initially been utilized exclusively by Europeans, concerned exclusively with romantic love.

In 'Walt Whitman Strides The Llano Of New Mexico,' readers are treated to the sort of boundary transgression many of us have already named as a central tenet of Juan Felipe Herrera's performance/lecture. We are offered extensive descriptions of the New Mexico landscape, peopled by 'the Nuevo Mexicanos who kicked ass with our/ Indian ancestors, kicked ass with the tejanos,/ And finally got their ass kicked by the politicians!,' while the 'sky [turns] orange and red, nighthawks dart, bats/ flitter, the mourning call of La Llorona filling the/ night wind as the presence of the river stirred...' We are granted evidence of the historical and contemporary linguistic fluidity of the Southwest, as Anaya seamlessly code-switches/code-bends across English and Spanish. And, yes, we are granted a portrayal of Walt Whitman, white-bearded, white male poet of generations prior, as vital inspiration and vessel of poetry's/storytelling's power for a contemporary Chicano poet who Whitman may well have sneered at had the two lived in the same era (though he was at one point an advocate of abolishing slavery, he also apparently called out abolitionists' activism as infringing on the democratic process, and was said to be worried about the increase of blacks in the legislature following abolition). Evidence of how our traditionally conceived means of categorization are sometimes woefully inadequate, that there lives truth/value/inspiration even in contradiction... that a poet widely remembered for the sexual freedom his most lauded work encapsulated, could also espouse racist sentiment... and that so imperfect a person as Whitman could still serve as supreme muse to a poet of color living and writing in a place and era altogether different from that of the 'old father' with the 'coarse, scraggly... bigote.'

On Juan Felipe Herrera's Natural History Of Chicano Literature

A lot of great stuff's already been said about the Juan Felipe Herrera performance/lecture we viewed last week, in particular the extent to which his very presentation embodied the border-crossing/genre-bending he names as integral to Chicano literature, and the centrality he affords the concept of self-definition, returning over and over to the notion of writing/speaking "on our own terms," and engaging in forms of self-publication (the chapbook, principally), as a means of subverting the stranglehold mainstream presses have had (and continue to have, really) on writing (and art, more broadly) produced by people of color. Similarly, the importance Herrera ascribes to having/utilizing "as many mediums as possible, to express as many realities as possible" (a quote I believe encapsulates not just many of his performance's/lecture's themes, but much of his own work as a writer and storyteller utilizing a confluence/cross-pollination of genres and forms) has been highlighted as crucial to an understanding of his vision/aesthetic.

I want to raise another couple quotes, that I don't think have been touched on yet, but that I find similarly necessary to understanding where Herrera's coming from, and the annihilation of hierarchies (around who is or isn't an artist, around who is or isn't an activist, etc) he seems to so advocate for.

"Sometimes our imaginations are anemic," he states, discussing the extent to which many, especially in historically marginalized/targeted communities, don't have images of family members and ancestors as artists, but exclusively as workers or home-makers. He calls out this lack (of visual representation either actual or imagined) as part and parcel of the oppression wrought against communities of color, i.e. eliminating the very idea of creativity/artistry in said communities' imaginations ensures that vacuum's/absence's perpetuation. Herrera says that we need images/conceptions of our elders and ancestors as artists, as storytellers, to undermine the notion that artists are somehow other than, or outside of, ourselves. There is great power, utility, and agency in conceiving of the stories or sketches a family elder told or showed us when we were children, as art, equally if not more important than that which gets lauded in widely distributed anthologies or regularly attended museums. Understanding everyday people, and past/present family members especially, as artists, frees folks to conceive of themselves as such, and can remove the barriers around tapping into creativity so many experience as a result of art establishments' gatekeepers claiming that only a handful of people really qualify for the label.

I also found Herrera's emphasis on all of us being victims, as well as killers, and needing to be aware of that both/and dynamic, a refreshingly nuanced take on political consciousness. He names that each of our actions, and inactions, implicate us in the middle of pressing social issues, rather than just on the 'right' or 'wrong' side. That's why it's so hard to write overtly politicized poems that merely stake out one position on an issue, he claims. Because, if we're really invested in vulnerability and truth-telling (an approach any artist of integrity should be aspiring to), we must name and critique not only the ills and wrongs of the world, but also the extent to which we each participate in and extend forms of structural oppression, even if we generally conceive of ourselves as activists, organizers, or socially aware beings. Again, an intentional dissolving of hierarchies and binaries, a crossing of traditional boundaries and borders, an opening into wider/broader conceptions of self and community...


In-Class Video

I took several very important points out of the lecture given by Herrera. First of all, he emphasized the importance of doing what you love -- not what others tell you to do. This truly resonates within me, as I have been going through personal issues that demand my choice, and not the choice of those around me. He told a story of a man he once knew who wanted to be a poet, but everyone around him told him to get a PhD. He went to go get his PhD, and ended up committing suicide, because he was not happy with his choice. I feel that this is one of the most important points of his lecture. It is important not to be influenced by what others want for you -- you must do what you need to do.
Herrera also stressed the importance of staying true to who you are and what you know. In his case, he stayed true to the organic nature of Chicano poetry. He expressed the feelings and scenes he experienced growing up, because that is what he knew. I agree wholeheartedly with Herrera. As a poet, one should write what one knows. Writing from your own experience is the only way to make your writing genuine.
Lastly, he brings up the point that poetry comes from all around you. Family members who tell stories are "poetry makers". The experiences you have in your lifetime are forms of poetry. As a poet, your responsibility is to record your history. I think this point is very profound, and I found it to be very interesting.
Overall, I think this lecture had a great many extremely important messages, and I'm glad it was part of the curriculum.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Willie Perdomo's performance on Def Poetry Jam

First of all, I'd like to say I love to see poetry performed, especially on Def Poetry Jam. It's a really great tool to give poetry to the people who would otherwise not have access to it. (As a side note, this is the link to my favourite poem ever performed on DPJ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eYH0AFx6yI)
Now to the assigned poem. I found Perdomo's performance very moving. His poem is a testament to society confusing race for identity. His ethnicity has always mattered to him, but it has been a source of confusion for those around him. Because of this, he is burdened with the troubles of many races (and even alludes to Kipling's poem The White Man's Burden). He has been both pushed away and welcomed by many different ethnicities all his life, creating a barrier between himself and most of society. His background is misunderstood, and therefore he is misunderstood. He just wants to set the record straight once and for all, so that he can go about his life undisturbed by questions of his ethnicity.
I, for one, don't think it matters anyway. It is one thing to be proud of your heritage and take ownership of your background. It is another to ask someone what race they are, and question their assertion of their own background. I think it is a beautiful thing to be so proud of your heritage. However, to constantly question a person about who they are, doubt them, correct them... That's borderline repulsive.

Quick Check In

Hi all, I am finally back from my trip. I'm glad to see some very good posts here!

Just wanted to let you all know I will have office hours down in the MH living room tomorrow, from 4 - 6 pm. Many thanks, and see you all tomorrow.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Alphabet City Serenade

Burns’ use of “serenade” to describe the one-sided snippets of dialogue shaped my reading of this poem, underscoring how often she must repeat these refrains of begging and pleading for the smallest amount of money (and recognition) necessary to survive. The repetition inherent to songs makes the line, “Brother, can you spare me a dime?” seemed all the more desperate, letting me guess the answer is probably no: no, you cannot have this small, hardly inconvenient amount of money to buy yourself something to eat.

That the person she asks probably denies her any money makes her use of the word “Brother” especially complex. Is she trying to create a sense of shared humanity with this random passerby? Is she ironic, using the word almost to shame the person who will inevitably say no? And how much does the assumption of the race of the Brother shape our reading of her use of such a familial term? If the Brother is a Native American, like her narrator, does the reader assume he is of a similar situation to her own, given the wildly disproportionate levels if poverty, alcoholism, and abuse in Native American communities (which she confronts in the previous poem, “Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question”)? If he is white, does the use of “Brother” seem less sincere, what with the wholesale decimation of the Native American community from which he ultimately benefits? If he is Black, is she attempting to relate to him using the popular (and less contentious) slang term that Black men use for other Black men? Or does she relate to him as one oppressed person to another?

While the above line doesn’t give away the other person’s race, and ranges from infuriating to poignant when we e-race the recipient of the question, the color of the person in the final line is obvious. The bookend of “so” and “huh” in “So you want to talk about gentrification, huh?” makes her incredulousness palpable to the point of comical, revealing a deep skepticism reserved only for those responsible for the very thing they want to talk about: i.e., the main benefactors of gentrification, i.e., white people. The image of a white person telling a Native American about displacement is also comical (in a laugh-to-keep-from-crying kind of way) and underlies a deep frustration many people of color have with white activists. Telling people of color about their own oppression is a common tactic, and is presumptuous at best and completely empty, tokenizing, and self-serving at worst. Why not tell other white people about gentrification? And why not do something about it, instead of talk about it?

I love love loved Diane Burns's poems this week. She so succinctly summarized the barrage of Otherizing questions white folks fling at people of color, and did so without once telling us what those white people said. She writes such deeply political yet immediate and funny works, I got shivers trying to figure out if I wanted to snirk or throw the book at someone. The interpersonal and political weight of these works is immense. I appreciate the opportunity to read them so closely.

Willie Perdomo and others

After reading Willie Perdomo's Nigger-reecan blues, I thought about questions of identity in society and what people may assume based on skin color and appearance. Often people are put in this bubble of being this or the other and because of close-minded views people are catergorized and racially profiled. I also feel that this poem represented multiple voices because the dialogue from the poem brought out many identities and gave agency to the surrounding people and or community of the situation. Language is also seen as persistent, questions answered but not the right answer, questions left unanswered, spanish, and deragaotory terms simplified. Especially in the last line,

Spic! Spic! I ain't noooooo different than a Nigger.

If there is no difference, there is definatelty similarity, which represents similar struggles and oppression. I feel that racial assumptioms are issues dealt with everyone. The subject matter is relatively real and timeless. This makes me think of Langston Hughes and how he was writing, the issues coming from real experiences and the expectations from audiences. I feel that Willie Perdomo is speaking from a genuine place and he recognizes his place in society. Assumptions of race and the theme of place is seen through a lot of the poems for this week. I feel like Diane Burns poem, Sure you can ask me a personal question, deals with a similar voice through identity and stereotypical views. Both poets own up to who they are as people with "this is my face" and can people just understand that?

Diane Burns and the Personal Question

The style of Diane Burns' "Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question" was really interesting to me in that it seemed to replicate a conversation. The first question "How do you do?" seems to almost be avoided with the reply "No, I am not Chinese." Through this sort of "non-response response," Burns depicts the many ways in which spoken language can imply these sorts of cultural codes and perceptions that are not as readily evident in written form. When reading the first two lines, one can almost imagine how uncomfortable this sort of exchange would look if heard. I felt like this sort of unsettling sense was carried throughout the poem and was really effective in conveying the blurred nature of boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate questions. I felt that this spoke more largely to a societal “regulation” of individuals by the dominant group. I understand this “regulation” to mean a set of societal codes and cultural norms that are conveyed through laws, policy, language, the media etc. to promote the interests of the dominant group in power. Within this poem, I see this sort of “regulation of bodies,” in this case being bodies that don’t adhere to a racial or cultural norm of visibility, to be commented on in an ironic and sardonic manner that conveys to the reader how these norms are culturally ingrained. The tension between the one asking the somewhat personal questions and the one providing the surface-level answers seems to depict this for me, although the identity of the speaker and the one responding is not explicitly stated or known. I find it interesting that the speakers’ position is ambiguous, and that upon closer look, one may read this as an internal conversation between the author and her subconscious – her subconscious expressing certain tacit, unspoken cultural codes that appear to “regulate” bodies that fit outside of a norm.

rudolfo anaya

i've never been a whitman lover. especially after i read somewhere that he wasn't a big fan of black people voting.

my appreciation for rudolfo anaya, however, which i didn’t think could possibly go any deeper, is changed now. i’ve always loved anaya’s novels, but somehow i never knew he wrote poetry. this poem really got to me, i understood it in a different way. i couldn’t tell you why he chose that particular style to write in, or his reasons for using this word or that, but it made sense to me because i understood the sentimiento. the love of the llano, the golden carp, ultima and her owl, the coyotes. the strange love of la llorona. i understand this poem because as walt whiman is for rudolfo anaya, so rudolfo anaya is for me. “your words caressed my soul, soul meeting soul, you opened my mouth and forced me to speak!” you believed in the Child of the Rolling Hills.


i love this poem because it is about new mexico. part of my home is there.

i love this poem for the "miracle child! strange child! dark child! speaks spanish child! has accent child! needs lots of help child!" and that child's resistance, sobbing "i'll show you" to the libraries and classrooms and all the people inside. he's telling me that all it takes is one book, one poem, one author to change "drop out child's" life. it could be leaves of grass or bless me, ultima.

On Frances Chung

I absolutely loved reading the excerpt from Frances Chung. What struck me the most was her examination of the liminal spaces between Chinatown and the rest of the world, where one can simultaneously be objectified and photographed by tourists (or strangers or foreigners) and still feel foreign in the place that you call home, unable to read the signage that will take you to the right subway stop. I love how the language is tender in recognizing the humanity in the Chinatown residents, like the bum who looks like a poet-- while still sharp in response to being objectified/dehumanized by others like the men at the lunch counter or NY tourists. She even implicates the reader in all of this, by using "(you must know which one)" to describe the tourist restaurant, and even more explicitly when she writes:

welcome to Chinatown ladies and gentlemen,
the place where you tourists come to look
at the slanted eyes yellow skin scaling fish

or when she continues:

oh look the cute Chinese children with their schoolbags
hurry grab your camera to take a picture
next to a pagoda telephone booth
to show your grandchildren what you know

In a way, the reader of the book is implicated not only in frequenting Chinatown to "go eat chinks", but also in reading her work for some kind of grand sociological understanding or for a literary escape into the rabbit hole of Chinatown.

References to your home as a ghetto. Ancient
tenements. Sociological labels. A Chinese
wonderland.

I never really thought about the idea of slumming in literature, but have been fascinated by the idea of slumming as a real tourist practice, after having witnessed it first hand while visiting a friend in Harlem, and later while living in Brazil, where people now pay for tours of favelas. I actually just found an interesting NYT article on the history of slumming in New York that says this type of cultural voyeurism has gone on sine the 1880s, and has historically included places like Harlem and Chinatown.

Anyway, I know she wrote this "For the Chinatown people," but the way the language is pointed, makes me feel like she didn't write it for them as an audience, but rather speaking on their behalf to the rest of New York -- which is totally different from the call-to-action types of poems that we've seen. This is more like a calling out.

On Juan Felipe Herrera

In reflecting on Juan Felipe Herrera's performance lecture, I am still most fascinated by the idea of the performance lecture as a vehicle to challenge the power structure within academia. In providing a timeline of Chicano literature, Herrera, on behalf of Chicano writers, is not only saying "Yes, we are here. We exist, and this is what we have done," but he is also making the point that this history that he's telling can't be easily packaged for a 10 minute discussion in some classroom during token Chicano week. In fact, by calling it a Natural History, Herrera is showing that this history isn't just the timeline of those publications, or the timeline of the Chicano movement, but it's a timeline of the Chicano people, and all those inherited histories of the cultures that have gone extinct as the result of America. I think he wants to show that part of the work of Chicano poets has to do with preserving that history, so that the Chicano experience doesn't end up literally "wiped out" from the history books. In the talk, Herrera uses the phrase "in our own terms" when discussing the folks who were publishing their books and chapbooks. Writing about ourselves in our own terms, I think, is crucial to keeping communities of color out of museums for the extinct cultures, and it keeps us from being otherized, objectified, and obliterated. When Herrera talked about these Chicano writers, his friends, and their movement, I really began to think about how many other movements and groups of writers have been systematically excluded from the American literary canon, and therefore silenced, and how that cycle continues to perpetuate itself in academia even today, of course with the exception of several pre-approved token authors of color, who then are given the task of representation by default. Herrera speaks to this point when he says, "We need as many mediums as possible to express as many experiences as possible," which, to me, poses a challenge to the idea of there being a singular representative, or a singular artist or writer, whose work will summarize the Chicano experience in the allotted week on a syllabus. Instead, Herrera reminds us to see our families as artists and the communicators around us as "poetry-makers", and he charges us with the duty to record those stories and messages and experiences because no one else is going to and because the more stories we poet-historians record, the richer and more accurate our grandchildrens' history books will be, so that there will be a multiplicity of historical perspectives, and a multiplicity of voices in the lecture hall, so that history will become less about what one man says is true, and more of a conversation about what really happened.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Willie Perdomo & Diane Burns

In past classes we've discussed the "burden of racial representation" that artists of color bear. By this I mean that audiences may read a poet's work and interpret its content to represent the "experience" of all people of that poet's ethnic background, and based on this, how the poet chooses to respond or not respond to this assumption within his or her work. The poems of Willie Perdomo and Diane Burns speak a little bit to a similar experience that many people of color, artists or not, have in their daily lives. Perdomo and Burns navigate the assumptions people make based upon (in Perdomo's case) his physical appearance not "corresponding" to what people envision as a typical Puerto Rican, and (in Burns's case) being expected to fit into someone's expectations of Native Americans. These are burdens that I imagine most people of color have to bear at some point or another, and there are few forums in which to express the frustration that constantly being forced to identify oneself must engender. I cannot personally relate much to the experiences these poets describe, but I'm sure many readers do, and appreciate these poems for speaking to them.

Nature and Ancestor Worshippers transform on the West Coast of California

I love the earthiness of the "Rappin' with Ten thousand Carabaos in the Dark" Poems by Al Robles. Robles recounts visitations of the spirits of the "manongs" (meaning old brother in the Ilocano language), the pioneering generations of Philippino-Americans that immigrated during the 1920's and 30's. Event that phrase or definition is an enigma. Philippino-American and immigrant, well I guess due to the United States colonization, these mostly bachelors were considered Americans, but living in a similar identity limbo and the Puerto Rican/Boicua people, to come to the "mainland", you came as an immigrant. In his introduction "As a Poet", Robles proudly reminisces about his heritage and the earthy culture of his people - " I gathered up their history form Agbayani village to Stockton, in the farms and fields that stretched north, south, east and west. I followed them deep inside fish bellies swimming across the icy cold Pacific waters. Sat down with every single manong and watched as they weaved out dreams from fishnets beneath the trees, in the Kauai rains. I cried out for them across the sugarcane fields. Mudfish cut through my mind: manong-manong-manong-manong. the rain pounded my mind and heart still". In Tagatac in Ifugao Mountain, he discounts the written words of history of the Ifugao Mountains saying " all the things I've learned, I throw out of my mind, All the books I've read we not worth one roll of toilet paper" but here cherishes the spoken words of history - "All the stories I've heard have not been written down" and he continues his journey seeking his roots. He makes a "real person" connection with a Philippino fisherman who tells gruesome wild man stories of the "Tagatac", who for me symbolizes the spirit of the Ifugao people, that the poets is seeking on his journey to the homeland, who "drink blood from a wild mountain goat whose throat of he rips open with his teeth, splays the goat, throws it on the fire until the belly swells, then wraps the entrails of the animal around his body, then proceeds the eat the raw entrails. The fisherman, channeling the teaching of Tagatac, quotes the spirit saying " that to eat raw goat is pure Philippino, to eat with your hands is to be free". The Ifugao people were know to be the people of the mountains who are nature worshippers and ancestor worshippers. They often refer to the Man-nongan as the honorary dead and creators of things. Their myths and folktales related to gods and goddesses as supernatural beings, their ancestors and the forces of nature. Tagatac seems to represent such a supernatural figure. The fisherman further chastises the poet/seeker for his journey when he says " that looking for your roots will get you all tangled up with the dead past. Don't fool around with all that nonsense. Just Keep quite , shut your mount , Catch some fish." Definitely using roots to refer to the lineage and endurance/future of the Ifugao people, he also later presents a unique symbolic look at lineage when he says " the mind shouldn't bother with the roots so much. If the mind bothers with the roots. It'll forget all about the weeds. roots sprout up all over like wild locust. who is to say the weeds are not roots? Who is to say the roots are not weeds? When the weeds are all eaten up the spirit grows deep and when the spirit grows deep the weeds spread far and the roots grow strong. Even at the edge of a cliff weeds grow high and wide. Nothing stops them from shooting up. even in the ghetto roots spread." Robles honors the power of these traditions throughout his poems in this collection and listens to the voices of the ancestors when he ends this ancestral tail with "There is only one sound that comes from the Ifugao mountain. Tagatac says that it tells you all you need to know. An Ifguao mountain nose flute sound tells no lies".

Robles also uses manong respectfully in the titles of his poems in this collection " Manong Federico Delos Reyes and His Golden Banjo", "Manong Jacinto Santo Tomas" and "Manong Camara" (interestingly all Spanish names probably associated with the residue of the Spanish American War) and juxtaposed the connection they all have to heritage, culture, ritual and value of the old ways with the non-connected feelings and experiences of their either colonized or new mainland American lives, lives that were impacted by eating with forks, white women, exploitation in the workplaces, smoking " the manilatown cigars..... and blondies breast sticks" and jazz lamenting the struggle of this new life in pursuit of "Easy Living" a hit of the period written in 1937 and made popular by Billie Holiday - the lyrics he uses to close out the last poem.

This was a beautiful new journey for me and I am enthralled.

Frances Chung

Frances Chung's poetry in the excerpt that we read from "Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple" is profound in forcing the casual reader to think about how places like Chinatown (and not just New York's Chinatown) are romanticized/tokenized.
Chung's poetry struck a particular chord with me because even though it is specifically written about New York's Chinatown, it brought San Francisco's and Oakland's Chinatowns to mind as well. Having spent a lot of time in San Francisco's Chinatown, I feel like the people and places she describes are the same, i.e. the tourists who gawk at how "exotic" the different aspects of Chinatown are to them: the "cute Chinese children" and "pagoda telephone booth[s]," etc. These are ordinary things but because they are Chinese they are exotic to the tourist/white viewer, as though they think that a telephone booth is something outstanding because it is topped with a pagoda, or it's fascinating that Chinese children go to school (like all children). These touristy viewers only see the surface and what is extraordinary to them, not the inner workings of the place, the real lives happening underneath what seems like a Disneyland attraction to them: they don't see the "faded photographs/of families in China" or "dreams wives and families/left behind somewhere far across an ocean."
She gets more obviously bitter on page 22 ("oh lucky me"), and understandably so: she reminds them of a Chinese restaurant that they took their families to, simply because she is Chinese and they associate her with all things Chinese based on her looks.
The last poem about riding the subway is especially interesting in the way it addresses living in a Westernized society that can make it hard for cultures/people to survive if they don't conform. If you cannot read the signs (because you cannot read the language and your own isn't included), you have to come up with your own system for getting off the subway at the right time. Likewise, hearing your home referred to as a ghetto (pg 5) and are labeled by society, it can be a difficult thing to digest as well.
The one thing I am trying to understand is the use of Spanish in the first poem. I wonder what her point is in using the language, and can't quite figure it out or if she is using it simply to use the word barrio and make a point.

Aloud- Poem p111 & p187

The poems by Willie Perdomo and Diana Burns discuss the dilemma of claiming one’s race or ethnicity without being subjugated to the prescribed stereotypical views of society. In Perdomo’s poem he is addressing the issue of being bombarded with some type of racial classification. He has to black because that is what his skin reflects, and society treats him accordingly.  I feel in society you are always racially labeled and you have to claim a racial identity, you cannot just be racially ambiguous. In this perspective Pedermo is forced by society to take on the identity even when he is not black. This is just an example how society judges a person off of  what is most easily identifiable. The part of the poem that puts everything in perspective is this: “… I ain’t even Black and here I am sufferin’ from the young Black man’s plight/ the old white man’s burden/ and I ain’t even Black….” Pg.113 He is forced to take on the identity and be punished by society. In either case being a minority is a plight and since his skin isn’t white he has to suffer. In Burns’ poem she discusses the issue of having to explain ones identity. She has to consistently defend her ethnicity and battle the many attached stereotypes.  I can relate to these poets. A person cannot just  be a person but has to be an ethnicity/race. Society pressures you to claim an identity , but anything that isn’t white isn’t right, and under scrutiny by society’s aesthetic and expectations .

location, location, location

What I've noticed, in general but also with this week's readings in particular, is that each poet writes about place- where they come from, but also where they are presently- with passion and fervor. Which makes a lot of sense, of course; places can be every bit as influential as one's background, genetics, etc. Where we live, work, drink, make love- 'place' shapes all of those aspects as well, and it can certainly be seen as influencing these poets work.

Willie Perdomo mentions 'downtown' in his poem "Nigger-Reecan Blues" right after refuting an assumption that he's black. Later in the poem, he references the Harlem River, and New Jersey. These references make the poem tangible, picking up the poet in our mind, and placing him succinctly in those places- we are able to see the lady clutching her purse, and the poet continually waiting for a taxi that won't pick him up. The next poem, "Reflections on the Metro North, Winter 1990" gives us a place right away in the title, and then mentions place names at least three times within the first ten lines: New Rochelle, points North, El Barrio, New York City. In fact, the poem is rife with names of places. Place- whether it's where you are, where you're headed, or where you're running away from as Perdomo is in this poem- gives the reader an image to give the poem context.

Jessica Hagerdorn also uses place names to conjure images for the reader. "Latin Music in New York" is named so that we arrive right there in the city with her, for the moment. Each time she repeats the phrase in the poem, we are brought back to "the alligator dream of a tropical night".

Nancy Mercado's poem Milla instantly transports her audience to Puerto Rico; we also travel- in a split second- with her abuela to the big city of Chicago. Mercado accomplishes this using two words in one line: "To Chicago". The effect is bound only by our imaginations.

At the same time, Rudolfo Anaya has us leaping from New Mexico, across the Mississippi, and over the Brooklyn Bridge with himself and Walt Whitman. As we do this, we comiserate with Anaya, and we begin to yern for a lost don Walt as well.

Most noticably, Francis Chung transports readers to Chinatown in her compilation "Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple." Her words, "some call it a ghetto, some call it a slum, some call it home" bring back the idea that where one hails from is different for everyone, but it's still just one place.


Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera basically blew my mind. I especially appreciated his love of chapbooks. Of course, it doesn't hurt that those particular chapbooks were made by people he knew and loved pretty intimately, it seems. But those little books represent something for each reader, regardless of whether or not we know the artist who made it. When I worked at http://www.elliottbaybook.com/ the owner, Peter Aaron was a poetry fanatic, and would keep a hearty supply of chapbooks in stock all the time, regardless of sales. He found all sorts of creative ways to display these gems so that they would not get looked over, as books without spines are apt to do. He knew the appeal of the chapbook, as does Herrera.

They're more than a book, they're art. They're more than art, they're someone's work and life. But they're more than that too, they're a gift. They're someone's gift to themselves, really. I think the chapbook in all its forms is the perfect representative of Herrera and Chicano literature, but really too it's the perfect form for anything so close to the heart and organic. It reminds me of when Herrera recalls his big old friend saying, "On our own terms Jean Felipe, on our own terms," when they were just getting started. The chapbook accomplishes just that idea. And it's true too, that as an artist, you shouldn't wait all the time for other people to make your shit come together- that's just a bogus excuse. Even if you sew a little canvas or cardboard together on your own, it makes the work that much more intimate and true. And extremely appealing to your friends, family, fans and collectors after you're dead and gone, I suppose.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Juan Felipe Herrera - T0 GO BEYOND BORDERS

This video recording of Juan Felipe Herrera giving a lecture on "A natural history of Chicano literature" so resembles poetic performance art, you can clearly see the impact his exposure to theater and song n his early elementary school days, had not only on his ability to express himself in written word but also in an entertaining format. As a child of migrant campesinos from Mexico, it is said that Herrera did not feel confident to speak in english as a child and was withdrawn and not very conversational. But the encouragement of his teacher to right his first poem to work on his english gave voice to a phenomenal and inspirational educator, writer, performance lecturer and champion of Chicano history and literature.

I feel in love with Herrera and the colors in his literary palette as he paid respect to a vast array of writers, mostly chapbooks (self published works), who had something to say "in our own terms", a phrase he used and credits Jose Montoya. As a painter, poet, and activist, José Montoya has played a leading role in the Chicano cultural movement. He founded the Royal Chicano Air Force, a California arts collective renowned for its political murals and community projects. His poetry is widely anthologized and has promoted new interest in Chicano literature. Montoya, who was named poet laureate of the city of Sacramento in 2002, is recognized as a legendary figure in the movement for recognition of Chicano culture. Saturday night, September 24, 2010, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of an exhibition celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Galeria de la Raza on 24th street in the Mission District of San Francisco. The art on display, like the writers and poetry Herrera recognizes and entertained us with his stories of how each one of those writers had crossed his path/entered his life, was emblematic of the "expression of crossing the borders between brush strokes/photography/collage/etc and knowledge, between language and knowledge, the organic nature of artistic expression and makes the abstract accessible through storytelling - visually and literally - of the history of Mexican people across borders (Mexico and United States), of the pride of Azatlan, sun, earth, colonizing, change, revolution, walking down the streets of the cities of the USA, in the barrio, the stories of everday life - the good the bad and the ugly, all worthy of recognition and expression.

I respect and embrace the fearlessness and creativity of the writers, who sparked new systems of knowledge for those of Mexican American decent who were seeking to understand and transform who they were (calling themselves Chicano, in this land and their mother land with publications and literary festivals, like Flor Y Canto by Alberto Urista Heredia, with who Herrera had a long term, deep and strong connection through the written word, and Tomas Rivera, son a Texas campesinos also, who achieved social mobility through education and as Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, also became a champion of education as a tool for the advancement and enhancement of the lives of Mexican Americans.

Herrera breaks it down to the bone when he says that "our lives are balanced on the blood and bones of many people", "we are the victims and we are the killers" and that poets are capturing the moments of the people around us who are the "poetry makers" - "the stories they tell, the lives they live, they turn you into a poet, they are the whispers in your ear" and that the resources of a poet/performance poet range from using different media like collage, newspaper clips, doodles, writing even when they are not writing to expressing many moralities.

I believe that the passion and flare Herrera displays stems from joy to be able to pursue his cultural journey, his sense of community with the many Chicano poets/writers and the honors he has received for his expansion of academia with his performance lectures and his position so the endowed chair of the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside and his belief that a writer should be honest to who they are, the writing is a secret ingredient that bends time and keeps the dead alive, that Chicano literature has life, vision, spirit and history that doesn't have to be endorsed by any publisher - you can resist and transform the borders - just write!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Juan Felipe Herera Response

I thought that Herera's lecture was very refreshing and entertaining. He talks about the Chicano culture as a tranforming culture. He brings up the importance of chat books representing history and accounts story tellers bringing themselves to life and it's about the dedication to people after they are deceased that keeps them living. I think that chat books are important to him because it is a process that is easy and writers don't have to be proned by expectations from others such as big time mainstream publications.

I also appreciate the idea of writing being an ingredient that bends time. There is something reminiscent about transcendence and the emotion that people feel toward literature over time, being something that is always relevant. HIs lecture was very intriguing, not your average boring informational tone presentation. He brought life to his people and you can see his enthusiasm throughout. I think that his statement of "writers always writing even if it doesn't look like writing," is very powerful and also goes back to what people expect "writing" to look like. It is always important to recognize experimental writing and the leaping stages to create something unique to readers/audiences.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

juan felipe herrara

his entire presentation was a wonderful embodiment of the idea of crossing borders. he mentions crossing borders in the beginning as the "xican@ dream..." but is it a dream or is it an experience? i'm not sure if there is such a thing as a life without crossing many borders. for xican@s in particular, there are many borders to cross. reconnecting with an oppressed and colonized history, making connections with people who share similar experiences, physically moving from one part of town to another.... 

even the way he makes his presentation is true to the xican@ way of meandering speeches.... he gives a mixture of lecture, history lesson, and personal anecdote that, at least in my own experience, is characteristic of xican@ speakers (whether they are official speakers or family storytellers). as herrera speaks of crossing borders, he crosses the border of traditional lecture to a colorful story-lecture, with many in-betweens.

i love listening to speakers such as this. of course the personal stories about the "vatos" and "my tio chente..." only deepen the meaning of his point: xican@ artists must be hybrids, fluid with borders, people that hold the tools to turn those borders into bridges.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Response to Herrera's "A Natural History of Chicano Literature"

I felt that Herrera's lecture really embodied a "practice what you preach" attitude in that he seemed to do a good job of expressing how individual voice fits within a larger collective Chicano poetry movement. Although he emphasized contributions to the movement from mostly male, and seemingly heterosexual identities, I felt that he provided a snapshot into the breadth of the collective movement. He begins in articulating the Chicano movement as one that crosses borders of language, knowledge, and family. I took a class on the U.S./Mexico Borderlands region, and within this course we similarly explored the region's transcendence of firm or static lines and understandings of identity, culture, and experience, but mostly in terms of the contested spatial area of the region. Herrera's speech seemed to emphasize the ability of language, rather than space, to embody overlapping and intersecting understandings of experience and identity, which I felt was a different perspective than I was accustomed to viewing. The excerpts that he chose to read all seemed to be from poets that he had had some sort of personal relationship to or interaction with, and he prefaced each reading by articulating this relation. I felt this was really important in reflecting and embodying a sense of the Chicano movement in a collective sense, in that he articulated individual contributors' stories, while simultaneously placing their stories within a larger context of culture, time, and history. The way he spoke seemed to also reiterate this transcendence of border lines, as his language flowed from English to Spanish and vice versa seamlessly. At one point, Herrera appears to mock seemingly restrictive traditional forms or styles of poetry, when he discusses the sonnet and iambic pentameter with a somewhat mocking tone. In doing so, Herrera exemplifies the ways in which Chicano poetry needs "as many mediums as possible" to express as much feeling and experiences as possible. I wish that I could hear more about his feelings towards Chicano/a poets with different experiences and identities, such as perspectives from women, LGBT individuals, and those of different abilities/disabilities and classes. Within his 58 minute lecture, however, Herrera seems to individualize the larger Chicano movement, and relate it to individuals' experiences, calling upon them to recognize their ability to contribute to the collective movement. He states, "we're all victims and we're all killers," which appears to call upon the interconnectedness of each individual to all things, people, the land, history, and experiences. In recognizing the potential and responsibility of each individual contributor to the movement, Herrera also situates Chicano poets within a political context that translates personal identity into a greater transnational cultural movement.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blog Posting For the Next Two Weeks

Hello all, thank you once again for some very good discussion in class. I know it's late in the evening, and even I start to wilt after a few hours!

So I wanted to clarify blog posting, etc. before I leave town (I am gone 9/20 until 9/27). Some items:
  1. Week 5: Please DO post your responses to the Juan Felipe Herrera video, "A Natural History of Chicano Literature." You can post your responses AFTER watching it in class and discussing it with Natalia on Wednesday 9/22. (Of course, feel free to watch the video and post your response beforehand.) Additional information on Herrera: "Reclaiming the Sleepless Volcano."
  2. Week 6: It's back to the regular schedule. Please post your responses to Perdomo, Hagedorn, Chung, Robles, et al. by Sunday 9/26.
  3. Finally, please leave in a comment by FRIDAY 9/17 which week and poet you will present in class. Reminder: Weeks 10 and 11 are open. Schedule is here. (The alternative at this point is for me to assign you a week and poet.) 
  4. Re: upcoming papers, you may come to my office hours when I return, or you may make an appointment with either Nicole or Natalia. I may need reminding to talk about this at the beginning of class on 9/29. 
Many thanks! See you all in a couple of weeks.

[PS: In case it helps, I've also been blogging about the issues we're discussing here.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A meta-reading of Miguel Algarin's HIV. (subtitle: better late than never)

The first time I read this poem, I thought "wow, that's a lot of fluid," and "gee, that sure was homoerotic." Without knowing anything about the author, I absolutely thought the poem was written by a man for another man. Only later, when I read a poem that was clearly written about a woman, did I revise my earlier assumption--"maybe he's straight? Bi? Queer?" But why did I care?

I sat with that question for a while-why did I care? And where did this assumption come from? Is it because the author compared his semen to milk, and milk comes from a woman's breasts? Is it how he called his sexual fluids a "bitter balm," and balm is typically a cleansing agent, and cleansing is a maternal act backed up by images of women like Mary Magdalen? Or is it my assumption of the "male gaze"? Ohh, that's interesting. I thought about that: when I read poems, I usually assume the poet assumes that I am a man. "HIV" is a sexual poem, and a very intimate sexual poem. Many straight men don't feel particularly comfortable talking about such intimate sexuality with other straight men, as discussions of intimacy "feminize" the author. Because we live in a culture that does not particualrly like femininity, especially in men, and especially in straight men, I figured the intimate sexual poem was not by a straight man.

But this isn't just an intimate sexual poem. This is an intimate sexual poem about HIV, written by a Latino man in the early-to-mid 90's, The only images I have of Latino men with HIV in the early 90's are gay latino men--in fact, immigrant gay Latino men--from Pedro Zamora on the Real World San Francisco to Antonio Banderes in Philadelphia. Whoa! It really struck me, how my presumptions about the poem, its author, and its audience were so clearly effected by the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality, through the lens of disease.

In light of our numerous discussions on whether we can/should read poems by people of color without racializing their poem, I found this poem illuminating for the various identities that emerged while reading, and re-reading, and re-reading my re-reading. And I wonder how often we remove (or add) other identities in our reading because they do or do not fit an image we have of that person. There are discussions in social justice circles of how the image of "a black person" is usually "a black man", and "a woman" is usually "a white woman." By stripping a narrative of race to get to "a humanity", what other identities do we submerge or subvert? Is it good to do that? Do we have to take away "Other" characteristics to get to humanity? And what does that human look like?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sandra Narua Esteves: PRD #23 "Portrait in Raising Self-Esteem

This poem is flush with important images for me.

"Survival manna"- the nourishment that sustains us and keeps us alive;

"every car and plastic bag, a failure"- how do we ever have any sense of accomplishment or indeed, self-esteem when this is what society at large is telling us all the time?

"there are no joysticks to the inner life" connotes a feeling of lack of control.

I could go on- every line in this poem is rife with meaning. I love how she incorporates this desperate capitalist ambivalence into such a beautiful poem. ("who can harvest the stars around the moon") It really speaks to the predicament that we are all in, of recognizing beauty and the sacredness of everything amidst such shallow behavior on the part of society at large. That dichotomy is difficult to capture on the page, I think, yet Esteves does it with ease.

She ends the poem with "But for real." This is a modern colloquialisim, one I hear nearly every day with my junior highers, but stuck down at the end of this poem, it resonates as something extremely profound and poignant. Like if we all adhere to her receipe

"the names of all things are sacred
like thoughts breathing clean air
More than loving
living means giving
Like homegrown food
from the eternal harvest within"

it will actually come to fruition. I'm gushing, I love it. And I hope she is right.

Monday, September 13, 2010

This "Thing" In Nuyorican Poetry

“We are at the Café, the Poets Café, the Nuyorican Poets Café, home for the tradition that has no home but your ear. The home of the art that has been homeless ever since Plato kicked the poets out of the Republic.” The idea of a poet having a home, in the ear, in one’s head, in one’s body, as home within a place that isn’t a fixed point, calls upon the power of the poetry to serve as a constant source of knowledge, inspiration, or awareness once initial exposure to it has been made. Bob Holman’s Invocation draws the reader in, reorienting the way in which poetry is typically viewed, as something not just on a page and separate from one’s life and body, but as something that is not only relevant to one’s life, but also inextricable from one’s life – as an expression, outlet, and source of inspiration all in one. Holman says, “This is where you actually see the Thing Itself explode and then watch the exploded bits themselves explode,” referring to this abstract “Thing” as both a uniform “thing” gained from the experience/poems of the Nuyorican Café, but also as an individualized “thing” that each reader/viewer may perceive. I am interested in this “Thing” and how that is explained as an entity that is unique to poetry, especially that out of the Nuyorican Café, and as that which informs one’s personal politics and life choices – “poetry is alive; poetry is allowed.” Miguel Algarin’s Introduction expounds upon this in his initial excerpt, “The Scattering of the Ashes: The Burial of a Poet.” I found this section really inspiring as it didn’t just “tell” the story of Miky’s death, but rather invited the reader into the experience of being a part of the community which experienced his death, and how his individual contributions to his larger community served as a source of hope even after he passed on.

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 & pimps’ bars & juke saloons

& greasy spoons make my spirits fly

with my ashes scattered thru the

Lower East Side. . .

“The poem began to leap off the page and become the thing itself – words were becoming action.”

This excerpt and quote seem to explain a “poem” in terms of words and this unnamed “thing” as action. This forces the reader to not only read the poem, but to internalize it in a way that encourages them to react with more than just thoughts or feelings, but with thoughts or feelings that can be directed towards something to enact some sort of result. In reading Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” I was able to read Lorde’s analysis of how poetry can serve as a revolutionary tool in inspiring one to take action, but in Holman’s and Algarin’s preface to Aloud, I felt that they expanded upon that in “practicing what they preach” by writing of and relaying the message of this “thing” in a really tactile and tangible way. I feel that another aspect of this “thing,” is a common knowledge base held by the audience, this common knowledge being the positionality of Nuyorican poets as those whose identities, backgrounds, and experiences cannot be described with any single word qualifier or category, but most effectively through poetry and patterns of sound that may transcend static understandings of “immigrant” experiences or “Puerto Rican-American” experiences, etc.

Introduction and Pedro Pietri's "Puerto Rican Obituary"

In Miguel Algarin's introduction, he talks about the idea of taking poetry into action and a poem even after death moves and bonds people. Though Pedro Pietri talks about the deaths of particular people in his poem, his poetry and content speaks to others as a living art form. The politics of his poetry creates a direction for people to listen and create social change. Pedro Pietri's message conveys the repetition of working and not being rewarded for efforts and never being good enough to make it into society because of waiting for tireless dreams. He names Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, and Manual as inviduals dealing with similar problems. Naming them gives them a sense of agency even after death, even after the struggles of being oppressed by the system.

The community can relate to their stories, take it in and do something differently to create change. Sometimes talking about the reality of a community, the hopelessness and doubts can create a since to change and become more of a "we" then an indivualistic take on problems that affect people collectively. Pedro Pietri writes

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


He explains people that have died waiting, dreaming, hating, but never people who came together collectively with their issues to help one another and to support one another and I believe his message his clear about never forgetting about your land and your people. It is that interaction that creates social change and without it will be even more depressing without a sense of direction within a shared community and shared identity.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Puerto Rican Obituary" by Pedro Pietri

I really enjoyed this poem for a number of reasons. It was a story about Puerto Ricans that are struggling to make ends meet. He presents you with names, "Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, Manuel" which in my opinion brings in something a little more personal. I've noticed that in some of the poems we have read there is a collective "we" or "us" but in others like "Sadie and Maude" or "The Ballad of Rudolph Reed" we get the story of the individual. However this isn't limiting at all, because in a way the reader can understand that Rudolph Reed can exist in many people / communities. Juan, Miguel, and Milagros can represent the aunt, the uncle, and the cousin, and I got the impression that the more he repeats their names it doesn't exactly reinforce that he's only speaking of these five characters, but instead a very large community that faces these exact struggles. Being able to listen to Pedro Pietri recite his poem was also fascinating because I don't think I would have read it the same way. After a couple of stanzas I started thinking about the way catholic prayers are spoken in mass. I'm not sure if this is just a coincidence but I think it would make sense if it was intentional since it seems like a prayer for the lost lives he is referencing. I think that with the repetition and the lengthiness of the poem it brings to mind a sort of endless cycle. These people (Olga, Milagros, etc.) are not the only ones that will face this struggle, and it seems like it will continue on.

comment on the importance of orality

with regards to "An essay on william carlos williams" by victor hernandez cruz, page 313 of Aloud.

as a musician, i've often found( in my own limited experience) that poetry is limited to the page. perhaps i just haven't had enough experience with spoken poetry, but there it is. this is completely personal. because of what i feel is the limitation of poetry, restricted to pages and binding, i've often felt that people of color are facing an uphill battle with regards to their art. how to re-create nations that were first built on orality by relying on the imposed written form of the conquerors? if a nation and a culture is truly to be rebuilt, the entire vocabulary must be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with the way we speak. as in using our mouths to speak!

this poem was a pleasant surprise to me because it articulated in a graceful way the finer details of this sentiment. the idea of thoughts being expressed verbally, and "not held inside and rolled around for some properly schemed moment." the beauty with orality is that you know it was not revised, edited, deleted in parts, added to.... it just is! some of the most beautiful stories and songs that i've come across have never been written, and are not meant to be! the most important piece of this poem to me, however, was in the end: "the tongue itself carries /the mind /pure and sure/ sudden and direct." this is how art began! with the spoken word! oral history! writing was not imposed as the only "valid" form of communiction and history until we were conquered.  a fusion language (both writing and orality) must be created to express the modern-day peoples' needs, sentiments. afro-caribbean writers speak of the need for an "oral literature." i didn't quite understand that term until reading this poem.

On Algarin's Introduction and, briefly, Cruz's 'An Essay On William Carlos Williams'

What I appreciate most about Miguel Algarin's introduction to 'Aloud: Voices From The Nuyorican Poets Cafe' is his continual emphasis on poetry as an urgent, interactive art, best realized when there exists a legitimate exchange and relationship between writer/performer and reader/audience, such that there grows from a poem, its recitation, and the reactions it generates, the very real potential to impact/improve social problems and cross-cultural perceptions/relations.

Referencing the themes, concerns, and styles of multiple poets who have passed through the Nuyorican since its birth in the 1970s, along with the variety of responses these poets have garnered, Algarin makes clear the importance late 20th century/early 21st century storytellers committed to sharing their work through live readings/performances have placed on the reciprocity/connection between poet and community. "The philosophy and purpose of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe has always been to reveal poetry as a living art," he writes, later adding, "retelling of the stories of the past is not enough ... [i]t is part of the political and aesthetic responsibility of the oral poet to tell people how to relieve themselves of the anxiety of the day." In this framework, one that contradicts and calls to task earlier, elitist notions of artists as removed from or more enlightened than the masses, poets are not just recorders of an era's events, nor merely concerned with individual/istic agendas, but indeed catalysts of creative thinking on means of addressing social ills, helping cultivate actual solutions to collective problems.

"The new poetry," Algarin states, "seeks to promote a tolerance and understanding between people. The aim is to dissolve the social, cultural, and political boundaries that generalize the human experience and make it meaningless. The poets at the Cafe have gone a long way toward changing the so-called black/white dialogue that has been the breeding ground for social, cultural, and political conflict in the United States. It is clear that we are now entering a new era, where the dialogue is multi-ethnic and necessitates a larger field of verbal action to explain the cultural and political reality of North America." Accordingly, an active engagement with the day's shared social concerns, a readiness to embrace multi-lingual/multi-ethnic sensibilities, a true excitement about art's democratic possibilities, and a belief in the centrality of energetic reciprocity between performer and audience, becomes of great importance to any poet invested in utilizing their linguistic or oratorical prowess in the interest of something larger than self-fulfilment or self- aggrandizement. Actually addressing the needs and concerns of the broader community, and doing so with originality, craft, and legitimate connection, turns priority. This is the aesthetic the Nuyorican has propagated for decades, and its one that Algarin is clearly ecstatic to share and advocate for.

The focus on urgency and interaction in Algarin's introduction finds expression in Victor Hernandez Cruz's poem, 'An Essay On William Carlos Williams.' Naming his 'love [for] the quality of the / spoken thought,' Cruz echoes Algarin's excitement about recitation of the word, and continual, consistent engagement with language, culture, society, etc. 'Not held inside and rolled / around for some properly / schemed moment ... Direct and pure / As the art of salutation / of mountain campesinos come to / the plaza ...'. Here, Cruz parallels the spoken word, i.e. the spontaneously delivered poem or thought, with interactions among everyday people, and deliberately differentiates it from the over-thought, high-brow deliberations of poets or writers 'schem[ing]' for the best moment to share their perspectives. Such waiting, he seems to suggest, is a luxury that everyday people have neither time for nor interest in. In this regard, he embodies some of the fundamental tenets of the Nuyorican school, as elaborated by Algarin...



Sonnets from a Puerto Rican

Agueros is an incredible poet, presenting us with several intriguing sonnets for this class. I found the sonnet, Waiting in Tompkins Park to be particularly moving. Jack Agueros is nearly prophetic in his writing, although it is clear he only meant to write about present day (which happened to be almost 15 years ago). The imagery he invokes is that of a modern-day Great Depression scenario. The parallel he draws between the societal and economic perils of today and those of the 1930s are uncanny. In fact, he takes it a step farther. He wonders if maybe today's culture has a kind of destitution not seen by those of older generations. Perhaps, he says, it's always been this way. Perhaps it's always been that the government has had some sort of hand in the poverty of the people; whether it be intentional or just through neglect.
Another sonnet of his that really touched me was Sonnet for Heaven Below. The title in and of itself evokes a beautiful dichotomy, and piques the interest of the reader. Agueros uses an extended metaphor to describe the New York homeless as angels. He starts off by showing the reader the homeless/angels who are forced to sleep in the subway tunnels of NYC, and then uses grimy imagery to describe how those angels are turned into the typical street-dwellers of the city. I find this sonnet to be heartbreaking. It really re-humanizes the homeless who are typically detested by the "smart New Yorkers". It reminds the reader that even the homeless are people, and they may even be better people than you or I.

Puerto Rican Obituary- Pedro Pietri

I enjoyed reading the poem Puerto Rican Obituary because it gave a brief overview of the challenges and struggles of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. It was unique to write/read a obituary poem of the typical life a Puerto Rican in the 1960s. It was sad to read about all the hardships that Puerto Ricans have gone through in the U.S. to gain freedom and a basic quality life. In the poem, Pietri has has five Puerto Rican characters (Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, and Manuel) who he has different stories about their lives and tragic deaths of being poor Puerto Ricans in the inner city. The poetry of Pedro Pietri, Puerto Rican poets and Latino/a poets are so neccesary because it is often unheard and overlooked in mainstream Literature and American History. Puerto Rican History and culture is so often neglected and its crucial that Puerto Rican poets/writers are in the forfront for their contributions.

Bianca Butler

Taking Poetry to the Streets- Aloud & Proud - - “What it is, What it is!”

The Invocation by Bob Holman sets the tone, theme, purpose and intention of the Nuyorican poets in the anthology ALOUD. The poetry is written and performed off the page, not for the strict literary requirements of the page, but poetry written for performance, poetry that will create its own literary forms without apology. Nuyorican Poets thrive in a live audience and the audience is not for the illusive literary publishing world or literary reviewers or University scholars, but poetry is written and performed for poets, artists, working folks - people in the neighborhood. Holman challenges the reader to “hear” the book with the eyes and that –“these poems know poetry is a contact sport.” This is poetry for the whole body, the ear, the eye, the mouth, heart and soul of the poet and the audience member. And, this poetry is inclusive, a multi-cultural and a multi-lingual community of emerging poets and established poets, young poets and veteran poets. It is poetry that is alive off the page, poetry that is celebratory and fun…ALOUD and proud.
Miguel Algarin’s Introduction further illuminates: “Poetry is not finding its way, it has found its way, back into everyday life.” Algarin speaks to the vitality of the word and the vital need of poetry in people’s lives. That poetry is a powerful weapon or even medicine when one has to face or to deal with the everyday oppressive conditions in the work place and other institutions. In the Nuyorcian Café all are welcomed to testify and to bear witness about what is going down in the neighborhoods. Algarin speaks to the resurrection of poetry. This poetry with a purpose, direction similar to Audre Lorde’s essay where poetry is definitely not a luxury, but has responsibility and has certain political power and movement.
Algarin mentions poetry delivers a way to promote tolerance and understanding between people. “The aim is to dissolve the social, cultural, and political boundaries that generalize the human experience and make it meaningless.” Poetry is taken to new heights and deeper depths, where there are new conversations and dialogue between diverse poets and communities. “These poems now create new metaphors that yield new patterns of trust, creating intercultural links among the many ethnic groups that are not characterized by the simplistic term black/white dialogue.” Poetry becomes a unifying force, expansive force with many different poets sharing the stage coming from diverse backgrounds. There is learning to be had from the community, through a poet's voice - learning you may never get in a text book, a history book. Poetry is a force to breakdown stereotypes and misunderstanding and it’s the poet’s responsibility to build solidarity and unity between diverse communities. Through poetry and art the poet discovers shared struggles amongst peers, neighbors, as well as amongst the outcasts and the outlaws of society. There is also a celebratory expression in these shared experiences even when one is mourning the loss of a beloved. Algarin urges this poetry of the nineties to be used as a tool, an outlet, a weapon, this poetry is being about “responsible for giving a direction, for illuminating a path” for those who are struggling, facing hardships because of racism, sexism, oppression or unemployment or employment in dead-in jobs. This poetry of the nineties has a clear intention: “Speak about how people hurt, yet at the same time give them a directive, a sense of future release.” In ALOUD poetry becomes encompassing, comprehensive and purposeful, inclusive for all. Although most of the poets write in free verse and the poetry is performed, Nuyorcian poetry embodies a breadth of form, theme and subject where I don’t think one could identify a distinctive poetic style.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Losing our souls in the inner city

"You Jump First" (Pedro Pietri), "La Bodega Sold Dreams" (Miguel Pinero) and "Chica" (Lois Griffith) poignantly elucidate
the assault on the dignity the Boricua people and graphically demonstrates the scope and depth of rigor, harshness
and difficulty of subjugated inner city life. The life of a young woman, in Lois Griffith's "Chica", whose mother worries
for her safety in the streets and building hallways of the project where they live and the games the young woman
must play to survive those vile circumstance.

There is no glamour awaiting nor available to her as she navigates these life conditions as she attempts
to perform the simple daily task of something as simple as retrieving bread and milk from the bodega. She must be
tough enough to endure the insult of rape "give it up" and relinquishing her possessions when a "youngblood"
commands her cigarettes and her music box, she "let him hold it". She has to be-

"tough enough to give it up
give it out
hiding no part for yourself
jacked up in a hallway
on a doorknob in a hallway
on the sticks aced on the wallway.
Give it up
not having anything to say
or words to call inside
the giving up
to change the beat in the heat."

There is a sense of having been duped and tricked into a life of a lie in both Pedro Pietri's "You Jump First" and
Miguel Pinero's "La Bodega Solo Dreams". Pinero laments the poet's inability to influence those who are captured by the -

"slavin'
for the final dime
runnin' a maze
a token ride
perspiration insultin' poets pride".

Pinero states that the minds of the intended receivers of his words are weak and they are asleep and it is
impossible to penetrate and his words and they too end up as throw away "endin' in a factoria as on in a million unseen".-

"dreamt i was a poet
writin' & silver salilin' songs words
strong and powerful crashin' thru
walls of steel & concrete
erected in minds weak
&
those asleep"

The sacrifices the people make for the opportunity to continue "buyin bodega sold reams..." This is the eternal
struggle of the artist, the visionary in an attempt to shed light on the possibility of relief from the misery of the
chosen life or the state of the world. An artist must be determined and relentless and full of hope that someday,
someway the words and visions they share will pierce the hearts and minds of the intended hearer and have an
impact for the better.

Finally I love Pietri's "You Jump First" for it's reference to "practice what you preached". The characters in the poems still
rise and struggle to maintain their dignity though the circumstances of their lives relentlessly beat them down.

Yet like the human body will continue even after repeated assault to try to survive/endure, they continue even when they are on
the brink of self destruction/voluntarily ceasing the pain as demonstrated by a couple of winos who have mustered
the courage about to end the madness as they have been discussing amongst their comrades -

" you jump first
one wino says to the other
do not disappoint your friends..........
hurry up before the reverend
who shows you where the roof was at
changes your mind with
another bottle of gypsy rose"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Descent & Transcendence

In the DuEwa Jones essay, the author expresses the intention to “explore … the relationship between identity, experience and form.” I found this portion intriguing because a person does not have to “look” African American to identify as African American, but his physical appearance influences how others treat him, and therefore, how he experiences the world. People with the same ethnic/racial identity have vastly different experiences and will come to different conclusions as to what it means to be African American. DuEwa Jones encourages black poets to go beyond simply trying to define the meaning of “blackness” and to go further, to ask themselves HOW they came to define what being black means to them. It is many processes in addition to many definitions. She also brings up an issue we discussed in class last week, the responsibility that poets of color often feel to “bear the burden of racial representation.” The work of white poets is generally not read or interpreted as having been influenced by the poet's racial experience. Personally as a white woman, I believe that the fact that I have never been expected to define my life experience in the context of my race or ethnicity is in itself a racial experience. Never being asked to think or talk about how being white influences me is, I believe, the very root of white privilege. My whiteness affords me the “luxury” of remaining oblivious to these issues. A poet of color, on the other hand, could not go through his or her career without being “aesthetically and artistically compartmentalized” according to his/her ethnicity. His or her work will be taught as “Black (or Latino/Asian/etc.)” poetry and readers may not go beyond those labels to try to understand the work in multiple contexts. Furthermore, his or her work will undoubtedly be, as DuEwa Jones puts it, “mined for racial, political and cultural ore.” More attention will be paid to the perceived “message” and less to the poetic devices employed. In talking about Audre Lorde's writing, DuEwa Jones's use of the term “base materials” is interesting to me. She points out that ALL writers of all races, genders, ages, social classes and life experiences have the same language to work with, the same base materials from which to draw intellectual and emotional reactions from readers. There is much focus given to defining a singular "black experience" when, as Toi Derricotte says, the only racial/ethnic experience anyone can have is his/her own experience.