Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Magdalena Gomez's Bemba y Chichon: "I am loca enough to know who I am"

Ever since I bought Magdalena Gómez’s spoken word CD Bemba y Chichón in 2008, I have listened to it at least once a month. And each time I listen to it, I listen to it as closely as mami y papi listen to the bulky 1960s radio that still stands on their kitchen counter. Once again Magdalena Gómez proves that she is not only a talented spoken word performer, but also a poet who weaves compelling and strong narrative poems.

On this CD, Magadalena Gómez’s poems are litanies that illuminate with such ferocious humor, truths about colonialism, racism and internal racism, misogyny, homophobia, assimilation, and other issues within the Puerto Rican context that will make you flinch because, HELLO, when IS the last time you had a meaningful conversation with anyone else about any of these issues? If you have had any, then you will appreciate profoundly this spoken word CD.

Who is Magdalena Gómez’s spoken word CD for? Certainly NOT for the fainthearted who flinch at so-called “inappropriate” language that they pretend never to have heard before. Certainly NOT for the “don’t rock the boat” boricuas who can never erase la mancha de plátano they bear no matter how hard they try to assimilate. And certainly NOT for the complacent Latino academics who chose to ignore Magdalena Gómez’s rightful place in the Nuyorican movement and in Puerto Rican literature in general. (Yes, as a poet and as an independent scholar, I can and will get on my soapbox.)

Who is Magdalena Gómez’s spoken word CD for? For everyday boricuas from all walks of life, especially for puertorriqueñas who can proclaim, as Magdalena Gómez does on the CD, “I am loca enough to know who I am.” For women like mami, humble, centered, observant, profoundly strong even when perceived to be quiet. For men like papi, violently machista who chuckles and is aroused by the irreverent female power of Magdalena Gómez’s voice.

I won’t claim that you will agree with everything you hear on this CD. However I will guarantee that you will be immediately drawn in by the performances, including some of Magdalena Gómez’s poems set to music and sung by an amazing singer, Abraham “Abe” Gómez-Delgado, and that you will be moved - to reflect, to listen again, to question, to talk about what resonated with you, and to act!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

celebrate a new poetry collection, Bird of a Thousand Eyes, by Janet Aalfs

On Tuesday, November 9th, @ 7:30 pm at the A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton (126 Main St.), one of my closest poetry girlfriends, Janet Aalfs, is inviting everyone to join her and Levellerspress (www.levellerspress.com) to celebrate the publication of her latest collection of poems, Bird of a Thousand Eyes.

While I won't be able to make it due to work demands - that night, I will be co-facilitating a P-PUA (Peck Parents United in Action) meeting - I encourage those who can to attend.

I had the privilege of writing a blurb for this collection:

Evocative. Profound. Meditative. Transcendental. Immediate terms I am using to describe this latest collection of poems, Bird of a Thousand Eyes, by the poet Janet Aalfs. From the very first poem, the poet shares her heightened awareness of experiences that we may tend to overlook, to ignore, or to take for granted: one’s daily connection with breath; complex connections with family; a symbiotic relationship with nature’s creatures; the impact of travel and landscapes on one’s self; the purpose of dreams; the necessity to live mindfully with those whom we encounter intentionally or accidentally among the living; and deep respect for those who now live on only in our memories. I look forward to re-reading this collection by Aalfs for it compels me - and will compel other readers - to “ask myself how/I live” (from “How” page 16). - María Luisa Arroyo, author of Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras

I know that I am looking forward to buying my own copy to re-read and to re-immerse myself in.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rumors of a New Day @ City Stage on September 13th

Dear Lovers of the arts, music, dance and theater up and down the Pioneer Valley,

Tickets are selling out quickly for "Rumors of a New Day", a joyous celebration of Springfield and of the arts! On Monday, September 13th, 2010 at City Stage, 1 Columbus Center in downtown Springfield (413.788.7033 - summer hours 10 am - 3 pm), you can still buy tickets for an event that promises to be engaging, thought-provoking, and reflective of the diverse artistic excellence Springfield has and can draw.

For more information about the event, Teatro V!da, the first Latin@ performing arts theater in Springfield, and its fierce and inspiring co-founder, Magdalena Gomez, please visit www.teatrovida.com.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 21st Palabra Pura Series Special Event in Chicago

If you happen to be in Chicago or have friends who are there, spread the word!
This event promises to be provocative and enriching! (description posted on the website for The Guild Complex: www.guildcomplex.org)

Palabra Pura Special Event with Maria Luisa Arroyo & Roger Bonair-Agard

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Reading begins at 7:30 p.m.
Admission is free
Décima Musa, 1901 S. Loomis, Chicago

With this event, the Guild Complex will take a step toward enhancing the dialogue and awareness of work coming out of the Latino and African American poetry communities. Palabra Pura, Chicago’s monthly bi-lingual reading series, initiates Palabra Pura Special Events by inviting African American poets to share its stage.

Palabra Pura Special Events are the brainchild of Francisco Aragón, poet and Director of Letras Latinas at the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame, and Quraysh Ali Lansana, poet and Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature & Creative Writing at Chicago State University. The vision is to have writers from these two communities come together to share their work and respond to each other’s work.

The first Palabra Pura Special Event will be Wednesday, July 21, with acclaimed Latina poet María Luisa Arroyo reading alongside noted African American poet Roger Bonair-Agard. This is the first time a non-Latino poet will be featured on the Palabra Pura stage. After the reading there will be a moderated conversation and audience Q&A.

A short Open Mic will begin the evening.

Born in Puerto Rico, bi-lingual poet and translator Maria Luisa Arroyo won a 2004 Massachusetts Cultural Council poetry grant. Her collection of poetry, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras was published in 2008. A chapbook, Touching and Naming the Roots of this Tree, was published in 2007. Maria Luisa Arroyo writes for The Springfield Institute, blogs at Maria Luisa Arroyo's Blog, leads writing workshops, teaches GED courses.

Roger Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, a Cave Canem fellow and co-author of Burning Down the House. He is a two-time National Slam Champion and is co-founder of The louderARTS Project. Roger's work has been widely anthologized and commissioned and he has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. His publications include Tarnish and Masqueradepublished in 2000.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reflections on the poet Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

"People wish to be poets
more than they wish to write poetry.
One should wish to celebrate
more than one wishes to be celebrated."
- Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

If you have read any of Lucille Clifton’s poems, you will appreciate the intentional economy of words that lends such power to her poems, and the landscape that is revealed through a poetic imagination that is informed by a multi-generational African American experience, family, spirituality, and a womanist perspective.

If you have not yet read any of Lucille Clifton’s collections, please do so in her honor. On February 13, 2010, this world lost Lucille Clifton, an award-winning poet, a children’s book writer, a mother of six children, a wife, a grandmother, a spiritual person, a compassionate teacher, and an African American woman who, to borrow the words of Springfield-based poet and reviewer Linda Thomas, understands how her poetry and her experiences are part of a larger ethnic and historical continuum in the United States.

When I was an admissions counselor at Colby College in the early 1990s, I remember how overjoyed I became when I learned that Lucille Clifton was coming to Colby to read her poems. People around me were puzzled at my obvious excitement; why was I babbling and bubbling over with such joy?

At the time, I was still struggling with finding my voice as a Puerto Rican woman poet of color. Judith Ortiz Cofer, Audre Lorde, Ai, Demetria Martinez, Pat Mora and Lucille Clifton were among the many women poets whose collections I borrowed from library shelves or bought and in whose poetic landscapes I immersed myself. Yes, I read poetry by men, but poetry by women, and especially, by women of color, was underrepresented in my academic studies.

Where did my joy come from? Up to that point, I could count on one hand the number of women poets whose readings I attended and whose poems resonated with me. Before her visit, I had enjoyed reading many of Lucille Clifton’s poems and was especially excited that she was sharing them at Colby, my alma mater, yes, a prestigious college, but not exactly on the reading circuit of any poets of color in the early 1990s.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucille Clifton’s reading. While I would have to dig through years of journals, my repositories of memory, to rediscover which particular poems she shared with such grace that day, I do remember the awe I felt in the power of her succinct poems, so verdichtet (in German) or reduced to its essence.

After a frantic and vain search for my own copy of her collection of poems before the reading, I printed out on résumé paper the quote above and brought that for her to sign afterward. Among the interviews of women poets I had read over the years, I had documented this quote and had adopted it as one of my mantras.

I purposefully kept myself last so that I could take my time to thank her for her reading. When I handed her the sheet of paper, she recognized her own quote. Both surprised and pleased at seeing it transformed into a poem, she signed her name “with gratitude”.

In response to my questions about any advice she would give to an emerging poet who wanted to publish, this is what I remember Lucille Clifton sharing in a tone that was both exasperated and humorous. [Please excuse the quote, which is not verbatim.]

Poets, especially young ones, are in such a hurry to publish their first book and they shouldn’t be. I didn’t publish my first book until I was in my 30s! Sometimes, it takes years for a poem to take shape and when you try to force it out before its time, the poem fails. Take your time. What’s the hurry? It’s not like you’re going to make a lot of money writing poetry. [She chuckles.] And you don’t want to be remembered for poems that you’ll be embarrassed by later. […] Don’t focus on publishing; focus on reading and writing poems. […] Writing poems, though is not the only thing I do and writing poems isn’t the only thing you should do. Writing is what I do when I can when I’m not taking care of my family or teaching.

When I finally found my copy of her collection, The Book of Light (Copper Canyon Press: 1993), I reread it from cover to cover, including the marginal notes and “socs” (streams of consciousness) I had written directly in the book in response to poems. [Please forgive me, librarians, bibliophiles, and lovers of books, who consider it sacrilege to write in any book.]. Here is one of the many poems that resonate for me, one which I will surely bring to my next poetry workshop on Saturday, February 27th, 11:30 am - 1:30 pm at the Indian Orchard library in Springfield. (If you are in the area and want to sign up for this or future poetry workshops, go to the poetry page on www.springfieldlibrary.org)

The poem, “fury”, dedicated to mama (page 45), invokes the reader and the daughter in the poem to witness the pain of a woman who gives up her poems to flames. The minimalist form of this poem compounds the tension that rises with each unflinching line. It is if one were helplessly witnessing an act of self-immolation; the woman burns a core piece of herself. There are no adverbs to elucidate the action: “she gives them up”, which leads the reader to wonder who or what caused this agonizing action and why. The deceptively simple line, “her eyes are animals”, conveys poetic ambiguity. Does she burn the poems to survive? If so, then why? Or is she reduced to becoming an animal because she gave up the one piece that kept her human and sane?

I will be curious to learn other poets' and poetry lovers' responses to this poem.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Powerful Poetry Performances @ Forbes Library in Northampton

On the evening of Three Kings' Day, some of the community poets of Springfield, or, as poet and writer Linda Thomas named us in the car-ride up, women poets of the Diaspora, read in the Coolidge Museum at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Lisa Downing, Assistant Director of the Forbes Library, and I had, by chance, ended up sharing lunch and conversation at a Diversity luncheon in Springfield many months ago. Thanks to her follow-through, her suggestion to the Spanish Advisory Committee of the Library manifested into an event which I organized and in which I participated.

My first impulse was to have ALL of the community poets of Springfield participate in this event. Considering, though, that I was allotted only an hour and fifteen minutes - leaving time, of course, for socializing and light refreshments afterwards, I intentionally chose Linda Thomas, Melody Rivera, Marian Tombri, Caren McKenzie-Carter, to join me in sharing our distinct, powerful voices at this event. Robin Coolbeth and Adam Batt, other community poets of Springfield, Janet Aalfs, former Northampton poet laureate and dear friend, were among the intimate gathering of audience members present to experience our voices.

The themes of the poems were as moving as the poets who read them.

As our first poet, Linda Thomas immediately immersed us and sustained us with rapid, lyrical rhythm and an intentionally vivid African American dialect in the Sunday rituals of a church gathering filled with such unique characters that made us laugh, nod, tap our feet, and shake our heads. Melody Rivera's concisely crafted poems revealed pain with such clarity that made the audience swallow their applause and ponder, for who can clap at pain? Marian Tombri's poems moved the audience to identify immediately with the persona of "Mama Africa Indian Sweet", whose very loco-motion through the world challenged stereotypes of race and cultural expectations, and with the personae of temporary workers, who are invisible no more. Caren McKenzie-Carter's poems delved into relationships, with the most powerful poem being the one in which the poetic speaker addresses her unborn child with such hope despite the reality of losing him. My poems, which included a few from my first collection, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras, and from my chapbook, Touching and Naming the Roots of This Tree, engaged issues of domestic violence, family history, desire, and self-affirmation.

Elated, we left Northampton after the reading. As the organizer of the event, my expectations were exceeded. Each poet remained true to her self, to her own poetic voice, and came prepared to share her own vision with an audience who appreciated poetry.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Degrees of Engagement: Our Poetry Workshop

Participants in this week's collective of poets in the Community Room in the Springfield (MA) Central Library on Saturday, September 5th (9:30-11:30): Caren, Jeremiah, Linda, Marion, Melody, Ron, Ana, Magdalena, Katie, Jeremy, Robin, BettyJean, Abigail, Marcus, and I.

Every time we meet, I wish I had a recording device because the responses to the poems often are as inspiring as the poems themselves. Every week, I marvel at how each response weaves itself into the ephemeral, complex fabric of each poem as many poets share which moments in a particular poem resonates or irritates or both.

This week was no different. Caren's narrative poem about her family's intergenerational struggle with American identity prompted responses about character identification, the concept of the Flying Dutchman, and the significance of "40 acres and a mule". It also prompted challenges: to edit further the length in order to make each line matter and to re-examine and to rephrase phrases that sound too familiar or cliched in order to strengthen the poem.

Jeremiah's poem about Provincetown immediately transported many poets, even those like me, who have never been there, to the Cape. This poem communicated a vibrant sense of place -for fishermen and for poets and writers alike - as, we all agreed, it engaged our senses of smell, taste, and movement.

Melody's powerful poem about domestic violence elicited strong visceral responses. Many agreed that the poet's vivid imagery, conveyed in such short and terse lines and phrases, underscored the impact of the piece; it is "a story in bullets", as one poet pointed out. A brief and intense discussion ensued about post-traumatic stress disorder, survival skills, and the link with trauma experiences by Vietnam veterans.

Marian's homage to a woman who embraced unapologetically her whole, complicated self, despite the externally perceived contradictions in her identity and her loco-motion, or the way in which she moves through our world, evoked admiration and a discussion about code-switching, more specifically, whether specific cultural codes of reference should be footnoted or not. This poem, which resonated with Caren's, prompted a further discussion about race, gender, class, and identity in America. Suggestions for improving this poem-in-progress included to pay more attention to line breaks and breathing pauses and to make the title a recurring refrain throughout the poem.

Ana's poem about passion evoked another love song, a bolero. This time, though, as many in the group who have read Ana's poems before pointed out, there was a sudden shift. In this poem, the poetic speaker, the "I", seemed more in control of the love situation than in other poems. A few even commented that there were erotic undertones.

Ron's prose poem conveyed a sense of nostalgia and of loves almost permanently lost in past memories. The litany of questions underscored, for many poets present, the poetic speaker's doubt, cynicism, bitterness, nostalgia, even hope.

Abigail's short poem evoked for many the quintessential mama in the kitchen. The musical references in the poem evoked, for one poet, a metaphor for mama's movement in the kitchen, and for another, the times that we turn on music in order to make chores more bearable. The poetic ambiguity about "the book" mama was memorizing elicited more than one response, much to Abigail's delight.

Finally, Katie's occasional poem, a tribute to Michael Jackson, rounded out a two-hour morning workshop that passed, for me, much too quickly.