CantoMundo Day 3: Real Talk

I’m up way too late typing this out but if I don’t do it now it might never come out.  So much positive information about not only being a Latino poet but also a reminder about the power of the word, community and friendship.

Today started with the fellows sharing a poem they wrote the night before.  Yes, CantoMundo bringin the new shit.  As a fan of first drafts I was really happy this developed and plan to keep it going on.

So why bring a first draft? Why not a poem in progress? How about just workshopping a nearly done poem?  For me, it revolves around trust and vulnerability.  We are all CantoMundo fellows, we all applied and were accepted on the strength of our work; we don’t need to prove anything.  But we can share in the process of building a poem and say the things we didn’t think we would say.  We can risk not being perfect in front of each other and celebrate that risk.  If we can’t do it amongst peers, then where are we gonna do it?

After the first draft readings, we met back up at to talk about Latin@ poetics, politics and everything in between.  It was honest and open with a broad number of topics put on the table.  No one seeking immediate answers but sharing out the things outside of poetry that we feel affect our writing.  Or, to put it bluntly, real talk.  I appreciated all the opinions and reflections and feel that getting all the things we normally talk about privately out into an open space built up a huge amount of respect in the room.  It also confirmed that CantoMundo has the potential to be more than just a workshop, it can be a place where we can initiate serious poetic activism.

Lunch followed and I was lucky enough to break bread with one of my literary heroes, Jimmy Santiago Baca.  Jimmy is super busy so I appreciated the time he spent with me, Barbara and (new CantoMundo friend) Luivette.  We are all fans of Jimmy’s work and it was great to share our appreciation for his work and his company.

Note to literature fans: Take the time to thank your literary idols. Even if its just a “I really liked your book” comment at a busy book signing.  Trust me, the artist appreciates it.  Word.

Back to work with CantoMundo and workshop with Martín Espada.  After a super informative reading of poems, we were sent off to work out the poetic idea and craft it into poem.  The work from all the fellows was top-notch and I got out a poem I’ve been meaning to write for a long time.  Good time.

On the reflection tip, I took a similar workshop with Martín about six years ago.  Back then, I was more interested in how I sounded and if I was projecting the right things in my poetry.  Now, I was more interested in how the people in my poem sounded and if I was honoring their history with my words.  It’s good to feel that poetic growth in me.

Next came Rigoberto González talking to us about the importance of community and individual activism.  Rigo talked the real talk as he went over how too many poets make the same mistakes over and over again, never learning from past mistakes.  Simple to the point and inspirational.  Rigo reminded us that there is never a community of one and either we pool our resources together or else we put ourselves in the dominant culture’s hands.

To cap off the day, Martin and Demetria had an open reading.  I’m happy to say the ‘burque folks came through and the place was packed.  Martín read classic, recent and brand new poems that show he is a master of reinvention.  Just when you think you got his poems figured out, Martín makes new leaps and takes serious risk to keep pushing himself farther.  Demetria also read a variety of work that highlighted the fact that the struggle is a long one, the system we are up against is massive and, in return, our poetry must be greater.

The real talk seems to be this:  You gotta make it happen.  Not tomorrow, or soon, or in a second; no, it has to happen in the right now.  The only way poetry can change the world is in the now, if the poetry is “near forming” then we risk the world “near change.”

Now I have to write  a new first draft for tomorrow. It’s gonna be tough but I’m willing to take the risk and share the real talk.

CantoMundo Day 2: Realization


CantoMundo 2010
Originally uploaded by OBermeo

Definition (1): an act of becoming fully aware of something as a fact

When I first heard I was accepted to CantoMundo I was the most surprised Latino in the room. Then I saw the names of the other fellows and thought I must be the luckiest dude ever because I saw names of writers who I have admired, writers with accomplishments, writers with degrees. In my mind, better writers.

I’m glad I shook that moment of self-deprecation pretty quickly and by the time I arrived in Albuquerque I knew I was ready and prepared. Luck didn’t get me here, hard work did. Luck didn’t fill out my application, I did. And if I was chosen it’s for a reason, probably the one I put down on the application essay.

Getting this kind of personal affirmation has been a process and I have to keep in mind that when I meet an author I admire, it’s ok to say you love their work. Saying it to them ten times over, maybe not so much. And when same author tells you that (s)he likes your work, accept the compliment. Don’t shrug it off. Don’t say away from your own success. Stay on the path to personal affirmation. Realize it.

I was sure of that coming into CantoMundo and after hearing guest speaker Toi Derricotte speak, I was doubly sure.  Toi’s recollection of the founding of Cave Canem, the first retreats, the highs and lows with both fellows and staff, the parallels with CantoMundo, and what the future may hold helped to cement my own place in this gathering.  It made me hopeful for the future, not because we know what’s happening next, actually, quite the opposite. The uncertain future is open to possibility and, with that, dread and fear because we don’t want to squander it.  Embrace the dread and you embrace an impossible future.  I like that.

Definition (2): the fulfillment or achievement of something desired or anticipated

My next act of realization involves my manuscript. If nothing else, CantoMundo has put me in a situation where I’ve agreed to send my manuscript to a respected author for feedback and critique, and also to a legitimate editor.

What happens next?  I don’t know.  I’ve been talking about sending my ms out with a query letter for months and haven’t done squat.  This is different.  I’ve converted a personal aspiration into a verbal realization, a big step for me.  I’m going to deliver, for sure, and see what the impossible future has in store for me.

On another note, the fellows open mic was tonight and it was pure bomba. A diverse group of styles dealing with a variety of viewpoints, a true American song of poetry.  I took video so you can see for yourself.  It won’t be anytime soon but when it’s ready, watch out.  Canto-Mundo. Canto-Mundo.

CantoMundo Day 1: Serious Reflection

Five years ago I was in Albuquerque, NM, for the National Poetry Slam. I didn’t participate as a member of a poetry slam team but I did MC one bout, picked judges and handled scoring for another bout, and was on the Rules Committee which means I had a 360° view of what happens at poetry slam on the highest level. Stuff folks don’t normally see when attending a slam and shenanigans that surprised even some slam veterans and enough to confirm that I was ready to move away from slam. Not because I was sour on slam but because I saw what happened when writers decided to invest all of their creative energies towards the purpose of winning a slam (over and over again in some cases).

The good news is that despite the slam drama, I left Albuquerque in total love with poetry. I was surrounded by friends who came for poetic camaraderie and viewed the poetic competition as nothing more than diversion (which is what it really is). We saw some bouts, talked real talk, and shared on every open mic we could find. So that’s the picture you see here. Me going all out on the Latino Poets Showcase open mic, reciting poems from memory, and sending the signals out to the ether.

And here I am, back in ‘burque five years later gathering up those signals not for nostalgia’s sake but to take an honest inventory and see what I can keep from five years ago. It also means discarding the poetic baggage from five years ago: how I talked so much smack about getting published but had only sent out a few submissions; how I kept talking big about getting a book but not really working on a manuscript; how I thought poetry should bring all these things to my door solely because I wanted them. Yeah, to the curb with that.

On the good foot, I do remember a poet who thought a poem could make a change, who looked to gather like minded folks, who was real happy penning a successful line, a poet deeply in love with poetry itself. Five years later, I am still that same poet. Not perfect, still got a lot of work to do (notice the book thing still hasn’t jumped off) but more than anything, I’m more honest with myself about my process. I can identify my faults and am trying every day to be a better person and let the poetry follow.

It feels like I’m in some good company to do that with kind of reflection. CantoMundo, even in the few short hours we’ve been together, feels like it wants to keep an eye on Latin@ poetry’s past by honoring our pioneers and their work, celebrate our present accomplishments, and fuse both visions to create a better future for Latin@ poetics. I like it and feel incredibly blessed to be here at the forefront of necessary conversations with a focus on strong work.

Still, I can’t help but think of Oakland, the city that has taken care of me these last five years, and hope for the best. Right now, anarchists and vandals are tearing apart the Downtown region and moving steady north. Taking a justified anger and misdirecting it towards local merchants and residents. This is not Oakland. Those are not the residents. Not the Oakland I know. Not the one I live in everyday.

And can poetry do anything to stop this? I think not.

Can it change the future? Remind us we’ve fought this battle before and came out with not only our dignity but also a positive lasting change? Yes, poetry can do that.

Poetry can be the past, present and future of a beautiful struggle. At least I hope. That’s my reflection.

Acknowledgment: CantoMundo 2010

Many thanks to all the folks over at CantoMundo for accepting me as a literary fellow for this year’s Master Workshops with Martín Espada and Demetria Martínez. I’m looking over the names of the other fellows (does that make me a “badge browser”?) and feel truly blessed to be included in this initial group of poets.

The fact that the workshops are going down in Albuquerque, home of the 2005 National Poetry Slam–one of the best poetic adventures of mah life, only makes things sweeter.

A’ight, CantoMundo, let’s make some beautiful poesia this summer!

Founding Philosophy

While CantoMundo envisions developing workshops specifically devoted to the craft of poetry, every aspect of the work, including discussions around aesthetic issues, will be firmly rooted in social concerns. This open acknowledgment of larger concerns honors the sociopolitical underpinnings of Latina/o poetry.

CantoMundo plans to build on the aesthetically, culturally, and linguistically diverse work of Latina/o poets, who have historically—and with limited economic resources—formed supportive literary spaces. This will be done by respecting Latina/o poetry’s stylistic and thematic diversity, while maintaining a vibrant, meaningful connection to a community-grounded readership.

CantoMundo 2010 Fellows

Gloria Amescua, Francisco Aragón, Diego Baez, Oscar Bermeo, Norma Cantu, Eduardo C. Corral, Cynthia Cruz, Barbara Brinson Curiel, Cristian Flores Garcia, Sheryl Luna, J. Michael Martínez, Pablo Miguel Martínez, Celeste Guzman Mendoza, Amalia Ortiz, Deborah Paredez, Emmy Perez, Luivette Resto, ire’ne silva, Carmen Tafolla, Liliana Valenzuela, and Lauro Vazquez.

More information about CantoMundo is here.