Prelude: Getting my read on
In preparation for the reading, I read, for the 5th or 6th time, the ice worker sings and I also picked up How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets which clued me in on the breadth and scope of the personal histories of some of the amazing writers who call Fresno their poetic touchstone. One of the things on my mind as I was getting ready for this reading:
“If the land helps determine the poet, the poet in turn helps define the land.”
• David Kherdian
Scene 1: The Roadtrip
California is beautiful. This was my first time in the Central Valley and I’m glad to have been able to road trip it there. Experiencing the change in geography, weather, and mood slowly unfurl from the Bay Area to the San Joaquin Valley through the lens of the car window will be the fuel for many more poems to come. The conversation on the way down between Barb, Craig, Javier, and I will be the fuel for more broader discussions on American Poetics, believe that.
Scene 2: Not just a book release party
No, more of a celebration. A wake, as in to remind the living of what they have. You could feel the energy right away as old friends and new friends found each other over good drinks and food. The energy at the raffle table was amazing as some amazing literary gems were on display and every time you looked over, more was being added.
Scene 3: the ice worker lives
Daniel and Sasha were amazing hosts keeping the energy live and the poetry flowing from reader to reader. Props to James Espinoza for handling the raffling of prizes with wit and joy.
Too many highlights to name but the Puentistas of Fresno City College starting out with a group reading of “fresno nights” really set the table for how far reaching a poetic work can be; how it can span generations, place, and even death. As a writer I know these things and I strive for them but to see it in practice made me step back and think if I am doing enough and what more can I do to get to that place and how the ice worker can help me get there.
I mention the ice worker because I’ve never met Andrés Montoya and do not want to front as if I ever have. But I do know the ice worker, the speaker in so many of Andrés poems that is so angry he punches at every thing he loves, a witness to so much destruction, and a prophet to the new Aztlán he imagines for his people. The ice worker has been a steady teacher and voice in my head since I have taken on the project of bringing my City, its destruction, and rebirth into poetry form. Sometimes, I get it right. And, far too often, I am off the mark; but the mark is still there and the ice worker has shown me it can be done.
Scene 4: Andrés lives
Hearing the stories of Andrés Montoya from those who knew him and shared his life brought smiles and sadness in me. While the world lost a valuable voice and teacher, his family (in all its forms) lost a true brother. The sense of loss is immense and irreconcilable, but the sense of compassion and gratitude was nearly as large. The Montoya family shared all they had with the room and the readers and it was a pleasure to give some back.
Scene 5: Comunidad
Great to hear the poems of friends, poets who I know from their work, poetic elders, artists, students, and the Montoya family. This was true community in action and about as perfect as it can get. The only downer was the fact that Rigoberto González was grounded in New York through no fault of his own.
Scene 6: The Set-List
Scene 7: Mas Poesia and How to Criticize Our Own
Malaquias Montoya ended the night by introducing a piece of his art that was up for auction. The portrait, Don Alberto, was of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which put Malaquias in between honoring a member of La Raza and citing the Gonzales’ part in the current administration’s abuse of Raza.
The solution? The inclusion of this quote in the portrait.
No olvides nunca que los menos fascistas de entre los fascistas también son fascistas.
• Roque Dalton
Scene 8: The After Effect
I’ve been reading my copy of In the Grove and can say it is one of the best journals I’ve ever read. It is an honor to be included with so many colleagues, friends, mentors, and Andrés Montoya himself. Congrats and thanks to Lee Herrick, Daniel Chacón, and all the staff at In the Grove for all their effort in this amazing issue. Please check out In the Grove for a list of contributors, sample poems, and ordering information.
Scene 9: The Mantra
Praise God, Andrés would say. Praise God.
More pictures from the release party at Flickr