FLORICANTO IN DC: A Multicultural Reading in Response to SB 1070

Join us as over twenty poets lend their energy and language to a group reading in response to Arizona Senate Bill 1070 and in resistance to the atmosphere of national xenophobia under which the bill (and its emerging counterparts) were created.

Confirmed readers include: Francisco X. Alarcon, Tara Betts, Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Carmen Calatayud, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Susan Deer Cloud, Martín Espada, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Randall Horton, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dorianne Laux, Marilyn Nelson, Mark Nowak, Barbara Jane Reyes, Abel Salas, Sonia Sanchez, Craig Santos Perez, Hedy Trevino, Pam Uschuk, Dan Vera, Rich Villar, and Andre Yang.

Co-sponsored and presented by the Acentos Foundation, Split This Rock, and the Poets Responding to SB 1070 Facebook group.

Hosted by Rich Villar.

TIME: Friday, February 4 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm

PLACE: True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street NW, Washington, DC


RSVP: Facebook Event Page

Acknowledgement: Poets Responding to SB1070 & La Bloga On-Line Floricanto

Hate Fee Zone
Originally uploaded by xomiele

Many thanks to Francisco X. Alarcón and all the editors at Facebook’s Poets Responding to SB 1070 for including my poem “By the Time I Get to Arizona” in their online anthology. It’s an honor to be included in such a diverse and populous list of voices who continue to speak up against the terror legislation of Gov Jan Brewer. Even as key parts of the law are being struck down by the Federal government, the fight against SB 1070 goes on and the voices continue to ring.

Speaking of a multitude of voices, La Bloga’s On-Line Floricanto is reprinting select poems from the Facebook anthology and are also including my work. Mil gracias to Michael Sedano and all the gente at La Bloga for providing another opportunity to declare our hope that Arizona can take care of all her children equally and justly.

An extra shout out to Francisco Aragón for passing on my poem to Señor Alarcón and helping creating more poetry bridges.

By the Time I Get To Arizona (2)

Even though U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton has blocked most of the provisions in SB 1070, the law is still in effect. For activists, this means there is little time to celebrate this victory since folks like Sheriff Joe Arpaio are all set to put as much of the law into effect. With Sheriff Joe’s record, that means he’ll probably go past the letter and spirit of the law and continue his efforts to make Arizona a police state where brown folks are the siege targets.

I can’t think of a more prophetic poem than Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans.” I remember reading this poem back in 2001 and loving the directness of the poem. In fact, the directness of the poem is so jarring that the end of the poem completely took me off guard and for years it was a great poetic mystery for me. Where was the metaphor? Where was the open ended ambiguous mystery of poetry? What, no gift wrapping and shiny bow at the end to summarize the poem for me?

I’m not sure when I finally got it but when this poem finally clicked for me, it was like a hammer upside my head and cemented a key concept of poetry for me—the purpose of poetic language isn’t to dance around a touchy subject with smart line breaks and clever simile. No, the purpose of poetic language is to lure people into uncomfortable situations and show them the truth in the world around them.

In this case, it’s the after effects of short sighted policies like SB 1070 and other legislation that seeks to demonize any segment of US society. The end of his poem eschews flowery language and transforms directly into the voice of Sheriff Joe with all his vitriol and hypocrisy in full display for the reader to judge.

And like SB1070, the readers judge in all kinds of ways. I’ve heard as much praise for this poem as I’ve heard disdain. I’ve heard this poem called racist, that it paints all gringos in a negative light, and outrage that the poet uses the word gringo. And, in the name of poetic dialogue, these are all good things. It’s better to know what is in the heart of people around you and nothing brings that heart out faster than a good poem.

So Mexicans are Taking Jobs from Americans

O Yes? Do they come on horses
with rifles, and say,
Ese gringo, gimmee your job?

And do you, gringo, take off your ring,
drop your wallet into a blanket
spread over the ground, and walk away?

I hear Mexicans are taking your jobs away.
Do they sneak into town at night,
and as you’re walking home with a whore,
do they mug you, a knife at your throat,
saying, I want your job?

Even on TV, an asthmatic leader
crawls turtle heavy, leaning on an assistant,
and from a nest of wrinkles on his face,
a tongue paddles through flashing waves
of lightbulbs, of cameramen, rasping
“They’re taking our jobs away.”

Well, I’ve gone about trying to find them,
asking just where the hell are these fighters.

The rifles I hear sound in the night
are white farmers shooting blacks and browns
whose ribs I see jutting out
and starving children,
I see the poor marching for a little work,
I see small white farmers selling out
to clean-suited farmers living in New York,
who’ve never been on a farm,
don’t know the look of a hoof or the smell
of a woman’s body bending all day long in fields.

I see this, and I hear only a few people
got all the money in this world, the rest
count their pennies to buy bread and butter.

Below that cool green sea of money,
millions and millions of people fight to live,
search for pearls in the darkest depths
of their dreams, hold their breath for years
trying to cross poverty to just having something.

The children are dead already. We are killing them,
that is what America should be saying;
on TV, in the streets, in offices, should be saying,
“We aren’t giving the children a chance to live.”

Mexicans are taking our jobs, they say instead.
What they really say is, let them die,
and the children too.

© Jimmy Santiago Baca
Reprinted with permission of the author.

Poetry and Politics: Kevin Powell for Congress

NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYNby Kevin Powell; Soft Skull Press, 2008.

Poetry and politics. Politics and poetry. Where do the two meet? Should they meet? Who is the most political poet? Who is the most poetic politician? It feels like I hear these kinds of questions all around poetry e-world and, more often than not, the resulting answer seems to be: Let’s throw a round table discussion around it!


Especially when there are poets who are able to shift seamlessly between the two worlds. Maybe because they realize that there are two worlds and the way you interact in each should be based upon what end product you wish to see. I think back to the elections of 2008 and how I saw writer Helen Zia out in front of an Oakland Chinatown polling station with a “Say No to Prop 8” sign. No metaphor, no simile, no conceit. Just the citizen and her opinion in clear terms.

This brings me to poet Kevin Powell and his run for political office. This is Powell’s third attempt to represent the people of Brooklyn in Congress and he does so in very concrete and articulate terms as you can read for yourself at his website.

This isn’t an endorsement of Powell. I am not a resident of Brooklyn and would be hard pressed to tell anyone living there who they should and shouldn’t vote for. Again, check Powell’s record and agenda for yourself.

This is an endorsement for political/poetry with the divide firmly between the two because every poet must be a citizen of some state. Even if you don’t wish to make it a geographic center point, there must still be some origin point for your poetics and, hopefully, an end point in the horizon where you wish your words to be heard, read and felt. If that end point is to create a shift in the political consciousness of the United States of America, more power to you. If that end point is to create a shift in the political workings of the United States of America, then the pen and pad is not enough, the stage and microphone is not enough, a press and distribution is not enough—you need to actually move and shake the system itself.

Props to writers like Kevin Powell, Helen Zia, and everyone else who knows the distinction, can step outside of the writing world, and ventures to take that intense political risk.

Martín Espada reads Pablo Neruda’s “General Franco in Hell”

¡Feliz cumpleaño, Pablo Neruda!

I can’t think of any better way to celebrate el maestro’s birthday than by sharing this video of Martín Espada reading “General Franco in Hell” at the CantoMundo retreat.

Before we get to the poem, let’s think a second about recitation and craft. As Martín reminded us before reading the poem: Neruda’s poem of damnation and public scorn walks a thin tightrope between personal anger, Neruda’s grief over the assassination of his dear friend, Federico García Lorca; human outrage, being witness to not only war, but a civil war—seeing brother attack brother; and the toughest battle of all, converting this horror into poetic art.

Espada’s recitation of this poem is proof of Neruda’s genius. His ability to simultaneously denounce Franco’s acts with proper vitrioil and elevate the human spirit who challenges and survives these atrocities with a language that serenades the reader in both Spanish and English.

No smoke and mirrors here. Neruda names the harm, making sure all of Franco’s barbarity is documented, and sets his darkest poetic imagination free, reviling Franco’s legacy to the enduring eye of commoner judgment.

Likewise, Espada doesn’t hold back in his reading and sets the sonic quality of this curse poem free without resorting to yelling or arm waving. What for? The power is in the words and in the form. It’s a poem operating on all cylinders thanks to the poet’s eye for detail, ear for language, and faith in the power of verse to elevate the downtrodden and overthrow dictators.

Sadly, as Espada noted before reading the poem, Neruda would not live to see his poem come to pass. Franco outlived him as he did so many others. But Franco did not leave a poem behind for the ages and so Neruda gets to laugh from the heavens while Franco continually burns in literary effigy.

We join this poem in media res, the first part is below in Neruda’s Spanish. Espada continues from there reading the first section in Spanish and the majority of the poem in English. Again, a wonderful read and reminder that a poet’s legacy can be as eternal as the simple desire to call injustice by its proper name.

El general Franco en los infiernos

Desventurado, ni el fuego ni el vinagre caliente
en un nido de brujas volcánicas, ni el hielo devorante,
ni la tortuga pútrida que ladrando y llorando con voz
de mujer muerta te escarbe la barriga
buscando una sortija nupcial y un juguete de niño
serán para ti nada sino una puerta oscura

En efecto:
De infierno a infierno, que hay? En el aullido
de tus legiones, en la santa leche
de las madres de España, en la leche y los senos
por los caminos, hay una aldea más, un silencio más,
una puerta rota

Aquí estás…