Back to life, back to reality

Raphael Cohen hosting the Eastlake Sessions' Story CircleMad props to Raphael Cohen and all the organizers over at connectingarts for letting me feature with DeWayne Dickerson at the Eastlake Sessions.

It’s been way too long between features for me and I was really excited about this chance to share work from the Palimpsest series with an audience that really didn’t know any of my work.

As you can see from the pics, the vibe was very chill and communal but definitely for grown folks thanks to the dope layout of the loft, great art all around, view to Laney College/E 8th Street/the 880, still-motion photo setup, good food (I contributed a lemon-feta pasta with baby spinach- yum!), and fly music.

DeWayne DickersonDeWayne’s set was all kinds of fly as he read stuff from his forthcoming book. His poems highlight the ridiculous contradictions of public/personal policy when it comes to issues of blackness/gayness in a time of war economy with a poetic speaker who is unafraid to put those contradictions out in the open. DeWayne’s craft comes in his ability to stay true to that voice’s genuine pain without resorting to sermons-to-the-choir or Wikipedia history lessons.

I was up next and came through with this set-list:

• Palimpsest: B-Boy Prayer
• A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
• Palimpsest: Ghazal
• Fire Escape
#3, from The Wooden Horse by Clemente Soto Vélez
• Psalm for Public Housing
• Palimpsest: The Break

Oscar Bermeo at the Eastlake Sessions' Story CircleLight on banter, and almost no explanations in this set but I still felt like I was connecting with the room (about 40 folks in a nice size space).

Notes on my performance:
• I still get nervous before a reading. Like really nervous and real edgy.
My voice was shaking for the first poem.
• “Fire Escape” is a brand new poem written after Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Hidden Door.” Still have to actually finish the poem as I was still writing it about three hours before I actually performed it.

With all that said, my true reality is that I have to get started on revising the Palimpsest poems so that I can get a new chapbook out there in the world, and (hopefully) get more readings.

the turntables might wobble but they don’t fall down

. b o x e d . i n
Originally uploaded by js wright

Damn, I made it through NaPoWriMo with 21 drafts, and that has me feeling damn skippy.

And for anyone of y’all who took the NaPoWriMo (or NaBlogWriMo) challenge and came away 30 for 30– I salute you, word warriors.

I would have loved to present 30 drafts for 30 days but I knew early on that it wasn’t going to happen since I was out to stay on target and continue to add to my current manuscript and I wasn’t going to put the NaPoWriMo cart ahead of the manuscript horse. I also knew that 30/30 was not going to happen while reading four books of poetry, attending a ton of poetry readings, reading at two events, hosting one event, and blogging when it was necessary.

Looking back, I am proud of all but one of the drafts and stayed focused on expanding the manuscript with every draft except for #8, the ice worker palimpsest, which I am ultra-proud of for a whole different set of reasons and will be the only poem that will stay up.

Regarding Palimpsest. I came across the word while reading Beneath the Metropolis and saw a lot of possibility not only in the word but also in my interpretation of it. In the last month I have come to view it as a form of process, one where I insert myself into poetic traditions and take what I need while disregarding what I don’t. What is left is either homage or sacrilege, all depending on who is reading the poem.

The AudienceSpeaking of audience, this might be a good time to record the set-list from last week’s Achiote Press reading which was wonderful. I got to read with (and introduce) some amazing poets and had an attentive audience. What more can I ask for? (Gourmet food and fun music? Yes, the reading had that too! Thanks go to Craig and Jen for such a great event.)


⋅ Palimpsest: Sonnet
⋅ Palimpsest: The Trouble with Poverty
⋅ Palimpsest: Zuihitsu
⋅ Palimpsest: B-Boy Prayer
⋅ Palimpsest: Congruence
Traffic Misdirector by Pedro Pietri
⋅ Palimpsest: A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
⋅ Palimpsest: The Break
⋅ Palimpsest: Ghazal

It was great to read all the new poems and experience them in the format of a live reading. The start of the set was a little rocky but my confidence increased poem by poem and by the end I was feeling really strong. Looking forward to read some more of these in the future.

I did this NaPoWriMo thing on a fluke but I am glad that I did because it reminded me that when I want to write poems, they’ll get written. It might be painful, but it’ll get done.

To anyone thinking of doing it next year, I say go for it. I also say- Form is your friend. Well, at least it was mine.

Now it’s time to revise some older poems, get to writing a long poem, and then revise this group of poems for a future chapbook.


He sees angels in the architecture

In the Grove: An Homage to Andrés Montoya Guest Edited & with an introduction by Daniel ChacónScenes from the In the Grove #16 Release Party

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.

Puentistas of Fresno City CollegeScene 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.

Oscar Bermeo and Manuel Paul LopezScene 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

• An Atheist Learns to Pray by Sheryl Luna from Pity the Drowned Horses
• Psalm for Anywhere Avenue
I’m Jus Askin

Malaquias MontoyaScene 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.

Raffle Table Barbara Jane Reyes and Lee Herrick After Party Javier, Craig, Daniel, Oscar & Lee

More pictures from the release party at Flickr

This Must Be the Place

Oscar & Barb
Originally uploaded by geminipoet
Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Sigauke

Last April I read at the Mission Cultural Center and the shape of that set-list became the foundation for what would become Anywhere Avenue. While I can’t say that this set-list will mimic the flow of my next chapbook project I will say that it has given me something to think about, something to be grateful for and has inspired ideas for newer poems that will help flesh out a new narrative arc.


Un extracto de “Hablo de la Ciudad” por Octavio Paz
• Political Theory
• The God of the Near Miss
• Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness
• How much for the building (tenants optional)?
• Restoration #6
• God Loves A Liar
• This Wednesday
• I’m Jus Askin
Excerpt from “I Speak of the City” by Octavio Paz
• Psalm for Anywhere Avenue
• Section Four
• Intersections
• Ode To A Whiteboy

What I didn’t like about this set:
Since I don’t have much experience reading these poems my mouth trips over some of the words which means I really have to edit down a lot of these poems. Stumbling over my words also makes me feel like a newbie on the mic, which not only wounds my ego but also gives some audience the impression that I am not giving 100%.

What I did like about this set:
Since I don’t have much experience reading these poems I am genuinely surprised about the way the individual lines, stanzas and poems come together and that wonder translates into some positive fuel for my ego, which inspires me to better readings and to write more new stuff.

So this is the Catch22 I’ve been in for the last few months and I think I am satisfied with the occasional word stumble and misfire in favor of pushing myself into new uncharted waters.

Things I want to change about this current narrative arc: Adding more nuances to the various characters I am introducing. The “I” in Anywhere Avenue stays pretty consistent, but the “I” in this group of poems shifts around a lot and I wonder if the audience was cool with the kind of over population. I am cool with the perspective shifting but I am thinking that it should be a more rhythmic motion as opposed to a violent toss. However if the point of the poems is to simulate CITY then drastic character shifts, mimicked on the page by a variety of forms, would equal a more realistic approach. I guess we will see.

I hope all this introspection doesn’t sound like I was unhappy with the reading because I was actually quite thrilled about the whole thing especially the part where I get to co-feature with Barb who delivered a stellar reading from Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata. Both these works have been a heavy influence on my own poems and process, the melding of Place and Story where both the environment and the characters are distinct and constantly informing each other with Barb as the speaker who never picks sides and delivers the poem with a take-no-prisoner attitude that stays in your face without having to resort to any undue hyperbole.

Many thanks to all the Sacramento poets who came out, Tim Kahl who recorded the event, Emmanuel Sigauke for the pics, and special thanks to Arturo Mantecon for making it happen.

The new knack that’s comin from way way back

Being stuck in traffic at 6:30 is not where I wanted to be last Friday, especially when the reading I am heading to starts at 7 and I am one of the features. Still, I figure I can get to KSW on time since I have
a) faith that God loves a good poetry reading and thus will part the Bay Bridge
b) I am a good city driver and can weave through slow moving Volvos with ease

My faith went to mush a half hour later as I was still about 100 yards shy of the toll plaza with little relief in sight. At this point my only shred of hope was that this reading would start at poet time (uhm, give or take 7:30) and that I could still make it in time.

By 7:35 I was down in the Mission and was able to score parking right in front of Space 180 which meant all I had to do was race up the stairs and then relax until I got to read cuz you would think I would at least get a second to compose myself before being called to read.

That turned out not to be the case as I walked in just as Margaret Rhee was finishing her set and then Truong Tran, the MC for the night, immediately called me up to read my work.

• Viewing the world from the back of a turtle
• This Wednesday
• Proverbs by Teresa de Jesus from Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination
• Dedication
• Political Theory

Note to self: Do not start a reading by reciting your long prose poem when you are still trying to get your breath back from running up three flights of stairs. Actually, I didn’t get my full breath back until I read the cover poem but every reading is an experience and so it goes.

Other than the lack of oxygen for the first poem, I think the reading went well. The order of the poems built in intensity, the work varied in line length and point-of-view from poem to poem, and the audience was very receptive to the work. This is also the first time in a long time that I was not concerned with reading brand new work. Maybe it was all the stress at work lately and how that has encroached my writing time, or maybe it was the fact that I have been to some great readings lately where no one is really that worried about the difference between old work and new work, or maybe I just needed a chance to read poems just for fun.

With my reading done and over with, I could sit back and enjoy the work of the rest of my workshop mates which was all kinds of dope. I am bummed to have missed Margaret Rhee’s set but I hope to hear more of her work soon. Vanessa Huang brought a mix of different poetic forms and styles and I really dig her poet/journalist piece on interviewing Katrina survivors. Sita Bhaumik’s work is sparse but cuts right to the point, her “Dawn” poem which makes use of the names of common household cleaning agents is pure fun. Adrien Salazar brought an older prayer poem and the new hotness with a serial poem that examined the struggle of the migrant worker thru various time periods and perspectives thru effective poetry. Nicole Bohn’s mix of the body politic, humor and music always leaves a strong impression behind, her “W” war poem standing out as well as her ode to Billy Holiday and Lester Young. Debbie Yee has a keen eye for overlooked detail which comes out clearer every poem and sharper every reading.

The only other person who I really wanted to hear from was Truong. As much as I have enjoyed learning from him in class, it is even better to hear him take all the principles about combining the political with the poetic and put them in action in his poems. His last group of poems are so strong and take full advantage of the relationship between the poet and the audience, coming right out and addressing and preconceptions on the listener/reader’s part without ever shying from the fact that both have equal say in what is unfolding in the poems.