VONA 2009: Putting together the fragments


10 Years of VONA
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

Just wrapped up a week-long intensive at VONA, The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Voices Workshop.

This is my second go around with VONA, my first experience being a Poetry workshop facilitated by Willie Perdomo back in June, 2007. I came into that workshop with the 19 pages of poetry from my first chapbook, Anywhere Avenue. I left with a couple of rough drafts (three of these drafts eventually led to poems in Heaven Below), positive feedback mixed with spot-on critique of the Anywhere Avenue poems and (for the first-time ever) a sense of who my ideal reader is. All these things combined to give me enough encouragement to keep at it and develop a full length poetry manuscript.

This time around, I have 73 pages of poetry and take another workshop with Willie: Building the Poetry Collection. I walked out with a whole new set of priorities and questions than two years ago. This go around, I’m coming to the realization that having a unique voice, an urgent story to tell and a handle on my poetics isn’t reason enough to get published. Ego check moment: There are some damn talented poets out there who are working just as hard (if not harder) than I am to get their story out there in the publishing world. I need to want it even more than ever. This means revising the whole manuscript, changing the order around so that every page builds on the last and from start to finish my reader has a sense of exactly where Anywhere Avenue is. To bounce off that, my workshop cohorts clued me in on the fact that there needs to be more faces on Anywhere Ave. What’s a neighborhood without the people? Not much. And the portraits need to be vivid and detailed. No half-stepping with broad brush strokes. I also need to get past my attribution poem phase. I’ve imitated and borrowed form from a variety of authors but I need to risk more and trust in my voice.

The good news is that my workshop cohorts were diggin a good number of the pieces and really wanted to know more about Anywhere Ave. Hearing the feedback was great (especially the critical noted) and really has me looking to revamp the manuscript. I’m also dedicating myself to talk stink, a Pidgin expression meaning to talk bad on folks. Our workshop took that to mean that we will talk stink on the issues that need to be talked on. Not pulling punches in the work or how we comment on the work.

A serious highlight of the workshop was having Paul Flores, Barbara Jane Reyes, Roger Bonair-Agard, Ruth Forman and Suheir Hammad talk about their manuscript process. Barb has a great breakdown over at her blog.

And I was able to complete a new poem that began with a writing prompt from the workshop I took with Anthem Salgado at the KAPWA Conference. The prompt: 50 words that describe you. (Based on Barb’s “101 words that don’t quite describe me”.) I spent the whole week writing down some more words that describe me but then decided to shift it over to words about my poetics. Open admission: I’m always nervous when I read and doubly nervous when I read the new shit aloud for the first time. So why would I start penning a poem at 5pm, have it done by 6pm, and read it before 100+ of VONA writers and instructors at 7pm. Cuz VONA is all about safe space. And what good is a safe space if you can’t exercise some risk in it?

So here is the newness. Dedicated to Willie P and my classmates at VONA. Talk stink!

A Century of My Writing
100 words on where my poetry’s at, where it’s been and where it’s comin from

[Poem was here. Can now be found at Crate.]

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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