“Papel, Ima tell ya a story”

* Piri Thomas’s succinct explanation of his writing ‘process’

Here is the breakdown from last week’s Kearny Street Workshop reading:
-A Personal History and Reflection on Sixty Years in Oakland from the Reverend JT (Excerpt)
-Random Acts of Storytelling: Overheard on BART
-an atlas of nationalism
-And God said “Vaya” (Excerpt)

I would have loved to throw in a cover piece but we were only given 6-8 minutes and I did not want to be a mic hog. This reading was a little bit more stressful than the last KSW reading since most of the readers dropped down pure fiction work and I had a mix of different work that I contributed to the chapbook and wanted to give a little shine to all the pieces.

You can find an early version of Reverend JT’s story here and make no mistake: It is his story. I was just lucky enough to have him share it with me. Even though I only read about two minutes of it, his story was the piece that I think most people really vibed with.

More appropriation as the Random Acts of Storytelling was a trio of snippets that I have overheard (or heard secondhand) while traveling through the Bay’s transit system.

The real challenge of the night was figuring out how to deliver atlas (unformatted first draft- here). A poem that I am really happy with but was unsure on how to deliver it or, more honestly stated, scared that the audience would not understand it. I don’t think I would have been so scared if I was being given say 12 minutes or so of mic time which just goes to show what a diva I have become. ;-)
Dense with purposefully abbreviated, disruptive syntax from an unclear, unreliable narrator, it is a challenging poem to present and I think I pulled it off. Maybe. I did end it with a firm and definitive “ThankYou” ala Willie Perdomo. So I am now four-for-four on today’s appropriation checklist.

And God said “Vaya” is actually the last line of Miguel Piñero’s Genesis According to San Miguelito (5-for-5) but the rest of the piece is all me and a pretty good start to my creative non-fiction career. A bit of a shout out as well to Miguel Algarin as his poetic challenge of a poet detailing his burial has been gnawing at me for a long time and while I haven’t figured it out in poetic form yet, I have figured some of it out in prose with this piece. Mind you, it’s not really me in the piece but it is very close to me. I didn’t read the excerpt that appears in the chapbook but instead went into a middle part where my character laments as to what has gone so wrong in the Bronx he remembers from his youth. And let me tell you, I don’t think I have ever read my writing with a genuine sustained sadness in my voice until now probably cuz I have never set out with the intent to be sad. Serious, yes. Somber, yes. Sad, no. Mostly cuz I think if I had set out to write something like this I would have failed miserably, very happy to report that this is not the case here.

Mad shouts to KSW, fearless editor Thy Tran and all my fellow workshoppers for putting together a dope ass chapbook.

All photos courtesy of Jay Jao

Can’t forget./We only get what we give.

we don’t have to set the way back machine too far, just to last week, where – as rich pointed out – we see yo boy from da bronx back on the mic on the second tuesday of the month with the obvious difference being that its happenin in califas (san fran’s mission district, to be precise) and i am not hostin but rather one of the features. the event is the presentation of kearny street workshop’s latest chapbook Same Time, Same Place or it could be Same Place, Same Time (depends on which edition you got) which is cool considering that the summer workshop series which spawned the poems also threw my poetic perspective for a bit of a loop, the good ‘shake yo ass up’ type loop.

i am very happy to say that i had a damn good time presentin the new (and not so new) poems that the workshop brought to the forefront. honestly, i just dont think that there is enough or can never be enough fun on the mic. as an audience member, i had plenty nuff fun hearing my compatriots’ work and seeing our facilitator, the right reverend truong tran, speak on the class.

the blog archives say its been a minute since i did this, so hear goes the rundown:
– Homeboys Beatjuggling Down The Westside Highway by John Rodriguez
– both a place and a scare-word
– About B-Boys in the Boogie Down
– Poem written to the Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun”

i only had seven minutes of mic time so thats all i could squeeze in but its a pretty good representation of both time and place (peep the chapbook title!) as i wanted to cover as many bases as i could. and before i forget, much props to Anthem Salgado for not only comin to the reading but also providing the voice to the Jimmy Castor lyrics in the last poem in a very impromptu duet. (for more pics, hit up derek chung’s web site right here)

now lets set the time machine to the future: come january there will be another KSW reading. this one focusing around the creative non-fiction class that i just finished. right now, i am still working on the story but its very close to a finale which has me quite relieved cuz i didnt think i could write a short story worth a fuck. i mean, i kinda knew i could write something but i didnt think it had these kinda legs. i may also be making another appearance doin some poetry up in the mission soon. nothing solid yet but featuring tends to generate its own momentum, a nice roller coaster ride that i dont plan on agitatin but also aint shyin away from.

and we’ll close it out with a view on the current which is that i’m about 1/3 through Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” an intense read on the life and accomplishments of Robert Moses. i picked it up solely to get a historical perspective on the building of the cross bronx expressway and its immediate effects on the bronx but am instead being schooled on how this one man shaped all of new york city. i am still 400 pages away from the bronx but getting closer and with that i am out cuz i got two pumpkin pies in the oven!

love ya like if i baked ya mahself!

Same time/Next Year

Almost three years into Acentos I finally book myself into the feature slot. A good deal of thought went into that little piece of narcissism. First off, I have been to a good number of poetry readings where the host/curator believes his/her own poetry is the cure all. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all about adding a piece of personality into the proceedings and have made it a point to not change who I am or how I act when I am up on that mic. For good or bad people know that when they are coming to Acentos they are coming to hear a lil bit of me in between the poems. The key is the part where as a host you actually let the poems speak for themselves and keep the proceedings moving nicely with a nice touch of praise for work you enjoy and a dash of bitter for work that doesn’t suit your aesthetic. Change the recipe too much in either direction and I think it all goes to hell. But that’s just me.

the turn of the page
Originally uploaded by oscarb.

Three years later, I think I have proven that I can effectively curate without having to rely on just my friends or just the features that I know can get asses in seats. Which is another beef that I have with some readings. “Why you gotta book _______ 5 times a year? When you do that, you are just being lazy and doing everyone a disservice.” Again, this is just my opinion.

Past all that, I am a huge fan of annual cycles and love to chart and mark that journey around the sun whenever I can and, lo and behold, it has been one year since my louderMONDAY feature at Bar13. I was just recovering from the most vicious attack of gout yet, basically bedridden for six weeks, and in need of the company of fellow poets. You can read through the post for some other thoughts but the short version is that it was the most important reading of my poetic career at that point.

Flash forward to the here and now– I am happily engaged to be married and preparing to leave the city that has been the only home I have ever known. Scary? A lil bit but the reward on the other side of the continent far outweighs any trepidation I may have to change. But that did not stop us from over-hyping the event as my last NYC reading ever (“the reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated” thank ya much Twain) it is quite possible the final curtain call for me in that I am not as interested in the stage as I was a year ago. And this, dear friends, is a good thing. More and more my focus is shifting to a well edited, carefully crafted poem that just plain works as opposed to a poem that works both on stage & on the page. The lines have blurred and my ego has shifted to a new place and this feature helped celebrate that change.

Mind you, I still thought I could pull an ob.special and bust out at least a trio of fresh out of the oven new hotness for the feature. Between a trip to Boston to be with bella, an interview for a documentary, work, and spending time with friends, the ob.special was not meant to be. This led me to put together a feature based heavily on the August Cornelia Street feature that was lightly attended by familia Acentos but which produced THE seminal moment in my life. I also included three newer poems, a trio of covers and one poem that just needed to be read at Acentos *No, Maria, not that poem!*

For your perusal, here is the set list. A mix of work that speaks more to where my art is heading versus my previous sets that revolved around a central theme or used a particular poem as the axis for the other poems. Let me tell you, only in front of the people I call family can I rise to a new level of confidence in my work. Gracias, Acentos, all your love was deeply felt and well appreciated. Sheet, you almost made me cry… twice! Almost, but not quite. ;-)

Take care, y’all!


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
-Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata

• Pacific Lullaby

• Menagerie

• To The Poets Sleeping By My Window

Carlos Varela’s Una Palabra

• The Hue of Ripened Fruit

Soneta De Mi Musa

• Federico García Lorca’s The Gypsy and the Wind

• orange alert

• a hex on past muses

• a hex on the man who stole my leather jacket

• Barbara Jane Reyes’s [state of emergency]

• The Poet is like a Guerrilla (after José Maria Sison’s The guerrilla is like a poet)

• Viewing the World from the Back of a Turtle

• About B-Boys in the Boogie Down

Back on the Bx1

The four-one-one:


Anything to Declare?
She Reads the Letter on the Bx1, Oblivious to the Fact That She Missed Stop Fifteen Minutes Ago
My Father Teaches Me the Aesthetics of Poetry
Getting Ronald Reagan to Visit the South Bronx
About B-Boys in the Boogie Down

The BCA only asked for a seven minute set. This actually clocks out to about 8:30. Yes, I do try to time out my sets on paper before hitting the stage for a feature.

This may have been one of the most nerve racking sets I have ever done. At first I thought it was the whole hometown crowd deal or maybe the fact that it was such a premiere event for the Bronx. Nah. With such a short time on stage and me trying to get in as much Bx poetry as possible, I knew that I had no time for any kind of banter with the audience.

Fault as poet exposed. I need – emphasis on that last word – to communicate with people. It is very hard for me to just go up there and let the set speak for itself. I got no problem going up and doing one piece and letting that piece speak for itself but in a longer set I need to not talk about the poems but talk about the duende. Let people know that something is going on up here. I am not a poetic automaton that can go into poetry mode one second and then out of it the next.

Sharing poetry requires some kind of exchange, a kind of trust thing. Y’all (the audience) can trust that I have tried to put together a well thought out set with some kind of intentional story arc that will give you some insight as to how I view the day/poetry/life/the cosmos. In return, I need (Ding!) for the audience to give me some kind of response that they are along for the ride. Applause is, in my estimation, a pretty base line barometer of attention. Some folks just clap cuz they see the rest of the bar is clapping and have actually not heard a damn thing I said since they were too busy kicking it to the latest poetry groupie that walked into the bar. Silence can actually be a real intense response but it’s a thin line between ‘Ohmygawdwhatishegonnasaynext’ and ‘IwonderwhowonAmericanIdol?’

Banter takes care of all that for me. It lets me gauge the room, see who is with me, who could care less and then tailor my performance around that.

Meanwhile back at the Downtown Bronx Café, I am shitting a brick when I realize that I have almost ZERO banter time.

This leads to one of the most nervous readings I have ever had. I’ve been nervous before and I’ve been disappointed after but it’s rare these days for me to be nervous while doing the actual poems themselves. (Note: this is only for features I still get very self conscious during open mics.)

Despite all this, the feature went very well. The poems told their stories and I was in-and-out in quick, but not too quick, fashion.

As part of the event, I figured I would put together the set in the form of a mini-chapbook: The View from Mt Eden Ave. The actual chap is only eight pages and requires just one staple to keep it all together. I couldn’t justify charging even a buck for this thing so I came up with THE most masterful promotional gimmick ever…

Sign my mailing list and you get a free copy of the mini-chap.

Nice! Right? Wrong! The only folks that signed my mailing list were the four nice folks that actually purchased the full chap book. Which means—I could not give away my poetry! LOL

There are still a couple of copies of The View from Mt Eden Ave nicely inserted into the latest printing of Sorta Rican so BE DIALIN’ PEOPLE! (Inside Joke Y’all)

As of this writing, I have NO plans to feature anywhere in the immediate future which I am kind of digging cuz it may just be time to start submitting some more work to journals.

Love ya like commuters love a seat on the 4 train at rush hour