putting your money where your poetry is

if you have been checking the ‘upcoming events’ box then you know i went to exoterica last night. exoterica is the name of rick pernod & elizabeth bassford’s reading series. i’ve heard about it for a while and have been meaning to check it out.

one of the reasons i wanted to check it out is because it is in the bronx, well, not really. it’s in riverdale which is like a piece of suburbia transplanted into the north bronx.

the journey begins with me and fish driving through some seven-figure neighborhood and accidentally coming up someone’s high driveway and inquiring if their home is the community center. (that’s how big this house is) it’s not and the lady was equal parts friendly and cautious, good to know that she has some bronx in her, and points us in the right direction.

the center that exoterica uses is DOPE! straight out beautiful, add some candles and the thermostat set on high and you have an incredibly cozy setting for poetry. the reading went well for ‘off the cuffs’, a poetry anthology filled with work form cops, perpetrators and onlookers that comment on/for/against the police. an ambitious project and I commend jackie sheeler, the editor, for getting it together. after the reading we had a brief break and then the open mic. fish and i represented and did well, made some new friends and promoted Acentos.

while still on a poetry high, we decide to hit kay’ kafe in the bronx. the south bronx. no suburbia here. kay’s is run by ebony washington, who also hosts the barnes&noble reading in the bronx. ebony has always been warm and receptive to both me and fish. we get there and see ebony, r l the gifted one, nocturnal roots and some other cats who I don’t know. just like exoterica, we chill for their reading, hit the open, promote and bounce.

the only regret of the night is that there aren’t enough hours in the night to check out the semi-final slam at urbana, which promised to be kick ass.

short and sweet…

the past few entries have been long as hell because i am naturally long-winded. so, let’s try the hit-and-run approach.

the blizzard of 2003 hit and nyc has responded.

sunday– the city began to go on lock-down. people out getting as many dvd for rent as possible, storing up on the milk, bread and eggs as the snow starts.

monday– the city is a ghost town. only the brave and the stupid are out in the middle of 24 inches of snow. the one exception– city workers who are clocking time&ahalf on top of holiday pay(!) as the buses, snow plows, ambulances and cops are still out. everything is beautiful for a minute as the air is cleaner, the colors more vibrant and you can hear the city exhaling.

tuesday– back to work. streets are clearer, temperature is up and people are griping

wednesday– the weather service is warning more snow may hit as the aftermath begins to result. flooding, salt and slush is everywhere.

today– the city looks almost normal again and i miss the solidarity that results when nature decides to show us who’s boss. when the snow hits you find random strangers helping you cross the streets or dig your car out while your ‘friends’ are afraid to get some flurries on their jackets. when the slush is around everybody looks just like it– gray & apathetic. when the streets are clear is when the city returns to normal.

and i wait for the next 12 inches to hit…

Giving back…

Since this adventure has started, I have been trying to hit every Open Mic I can find and have done everything from being silent audience member to flat reader to stellar performer… rinse, lather, repeat (meaning—going through the cycle again. one of my all time favorite euphemisms!)

Eventually, I will be the type of writer who can consistently go on the mic and always account well for himself. Be able to read new off-page material that is both immediate & pertinent and reprise wonderful familiar tomes that create an instantaneous connection with the crowds (remember—more than three is a crowd) of people who are listening to my work. In front of me are many role models who I have the pleasure/luck of being able to call friend. From time to time, in the middle of being cantankerous jack-asses, I will ask key questions in regard to writing & performing. This is my good fortune and I don’t take this blessing lightly. I respect the space my friends have allowed me to enter, try not to intrude much and behave as a well mannered guest. The Gemini in me, note title of Journal, realizes the circular nature of this existence and am now seeing it come right back at me.

I don’t think I am all that on the mic but I sure act like I do.

I have not had a serious writing class in my life but I sure talk like if I did.

I am my own personal PR machine and it works. You believe that you are a certain persona and act accordingly as the world accommodates itself to this image. As such, new poets are viewing me with a similar reverence as I have to my mentors. I am not going to name them but I know who they are and I make it a point to treat them with the same respect and compassion that has been accorded to me. This shit sounds really sanctimonious but I really believe it.

No one had to befriend me at Bar13. I was quite happy hanging out by myself in the back. In fact, the ability to enjoy poetry on my own was one of the things that automatically endeared me to this new world. I was loving listening to poetry all by myself. Same with going on the mic, it was a wonderful self-indulgent moment. Then someone noticed me on the mic and went out of their way to encourage me. Compliments and critiques followed. Some acknowledgement in print. Reprinting of a poem. Being asked to feature. All of this has turned me into a better writer, performer and ultimately—person.

And it all could have, just as easily, never happened and I could still be in the back of the room writing insipid verse and performing it with an unsure voice.

This is not the journal entry I thought I was going to write.

This is an acknowledgement to Guy, Lynne, Roger, Fish, Seve, George, Ray, Sabrina, DSL, Franklin, Berzin, Vixi, Ed, Omar, e(g), Marty, Yolanda, Ebony, Felice, Elana, Bob, Chance… damn, it’s a lot of people and all their contributions are so different and so key.

Some of these names are here because they have kept pushing me all the time.

Some of these people may not even know why there names are here.

All of them dropped something into my poetic hat and it has all come back to em.

Soon, I am going to start a new reading series and there will be a whole new group of people coming to the mic. They will find a voice that they didn’t know they had and I am going to be a part of that and I am going to take the responsibility very seriously.

Oscar? Mr Spielberg will see you now

January is just about over and it has been quite the month poetically. The CD recording was one of the most exhilarating & anti-climatic moments of my life. I arrived at 13 pretty early and was happy to be back; the thing about Mondays is that something is BOUND to happen. It may be the worst poem you have ever heard, it may be the best poem you ver heard, it could be being called a ‘spic’ by a drunk 92lb WASP, it could be meeting that poet you always wanted to and then getting dissed, it could be anything.

Expecting the crowd to be rowdy and disruptive I was prepared for the worst and was happy to be proven wrong. I was helping out with crowd control and had some influence over who did and did not get it… “There is no list, tonight!”

My other unofficial duty is as louderARTS photographer, so you would see me popping up, here and there, taking pics of the crowd or the performers. After performances by Lynne Procope, Bob Holman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, F Omar Telan, Suheir Hammad and Ed Garcia came my turn. I got on stage, the music hit, did my Salsa poem and was out.

That’s how quick it felt. I purposefully slowed down the end line to the most relaxed cadence I could manage just to drag the experience out for a few more seconds. At that point, I really wished I had pressed to be one of the performers who does two pieces but it was too late for that now. I had a great time, heard amazing work and took some wonderful pics.

“a lil bit louder, vol.1” should be out by April, stay tuned.

Let’s fast forward to this last week and my first ever audition. I’m not going into details but it is for a commercial spot for a pretty big network who wanted to produce a commercial for it’s Latino constituency. In the middle of December, I received a forwarded e-mail that had some of the early details. On a whim, I reponded back as professionally as possible and submitted my Salsa poem, “Mercy on the Battelfield” as just the exact thing they were looking for and they agreed.

Yep, I got hit with an e-mail in the next few days;

“Trim it to 20 seconds and let’s take it from there…”

Hhhmmm, this poem is about two-and-a-half-minutes… editing it down to 30 seconds is going to be rough.

“… and translate it into Spanish.”

Lawd-ah-mercy! It was time to circle the wagons and call in the troops.

Yeah! Team Bermeo came through like a champ. My friend, Betty L, came through with the translation after I did the editing. My Dad helped out a ton by reciting the poem in correct Castellano, which I recorded. My boy Jose, who had been in commerical advertising for the last eight years, gave me audition pointers and the man himself, Roger Bonair-Agard, agreed to coach me.

This is what life is all about… having family and watching them come to your aid with a Coke and a smile.

As if that wasn’t enough, I was featuring at Cornelia Street Cafe for Poetically Incorrect again. The normal group from MiGente showed up and then some as the place was packed but the real surprise was my louderARTS fam coming through.

Lynne, Sabrina, Rog, Marty & GinnaKarla were all in the house and the smile inside me was ridiculously bright.

(Big shout to the UPHA and head-hatah, Alexa, as she came through as well! Criollo skies, indeed!)

My set at Cornelia was a wonderful and totally fulfilling experience as I have resloved some of my issues about being ‘the guy who does all his poems in Spanish’ and went full blast into a set that had 5 out of six poems with Spanish in them. Hell, one was entirely in Spanish!

Moving on to the next day and my audition. It was everything I imagined. Brief and anti-climatic.

I knew it wasn’t going to be the movies…

Oscar: ‘…Puedes que te sea dificil entender.’

Director: “Oh my God! Some one hand this boy a contract! How much money do you need?”

O: ‘Huh?’

D: “Money!!! How much do you need for the month?”

O: ‘Uhh, let’s say $2,000?’

D: “Quick! Write him a check for three!!! Now! We can’t let this talent escape!!!”

Nope, it went just like I thought it would…

Oscar: ‘…Puedes que te sea dificil entender.’

Director: “hhmm, yeah, thanks.”

So what do I have from the experience?

A 40 second pure Spanish poem that I have fully memorized, some Madison Ave experience and the assurance that when I need em, my friends are there.

Cross your fingers anyway, it couldn’t hurt.