I always love a reading like this because it proves that there is no single theme/voice/identity that comprises Latino Poetry. Mind you, I don’t think that statement is any kind of news to anyone who reads this blog on the regular but I do think it is news to a lot of folks who casually attend readings.
At the reading last Friday, we were treated to a tag-team pairing as Alarcón led off with a few poems, passed the baton to Aragón, and then back and forth for the rest of the rounds. (Yes, I know I just blended four different sports terms into one.)
Alarcón started with a call to the four directions and then to the fifth direction: the reflection; which made me think of writing as a solitary singular act and that a public reading could be viewed as the reflection of that act. From there he went into poems about Hernando Alarcón, a Spanish ancestor responsible for a number of atrocities on Mexicanos for the express purpose of chronicling their spells and stories. Much props to Alarcón for examining that (often purposefully neglected) aspect of Hispanic heritage- the Conquistador, the Priest, the Chronicler, the Sailor, the Landowner, the Immigrant to the New World looking for a fresh start. Alarcón’s poems don’t decry or endorse this heritage but let the story of a man sent to destroy a culture and by preserving it in words ironically accomplishes and fails in his mission at the same time.
Aragón’s work reflected on a different set of literary ancestors. Infused with the spirit and words of Ernesto Cardenal, Rubén Darío and García Lorca, his work winds through place and perspective taking the time to observe, take note and reflect on shifting histories or waiting to see if any change will come at all. Aragón’s steady and confident cadence gives the listener plenty of opportunity to examine this space around them and come to their own conclusions.
Back to Alarcón, who is also a children’s book author (commenting durig the reading that he “has given up on adults”) and his poems for kids might just be too grown up for most people. In this respect his poem “From the Bellybutton of the Moon,” a playful take on the etymology of the word Mexico, might have been my favorite poem from the night.
A real close second would be Aragón’s “To The President” a re-mix of Darío’s “A Roosevelt.” Reminding us again of what’s changed and what hasn’t in the (Latino) World.
And I’ll close with a shout out to Katherine Hastings for putting on a stellar reading with a packed book buying house.