December 2004 marked the debut of my first chapbook Sorta Rican. I would like to say that I put it together out of some altruistic need to contribute in some small way to American poetry, but that would be a lie. I did it purely out of a wounded ego.
Said bruising came from a college gig where I put my best possible effort into a strong 30 minute set of poetry and received a lukewarm response from an undergrad crowd. On the flip side, my co-feature took up almost 90 minutes of mic time – 25 minutes for actual verse and 65 minutes for auto-biographical background, political diatribe, college reflections, and motivational vignettes – which earned him a standing ovation from a crowd that then hurried to line up to buy his chapbooks. I decided right then and there that I would never travel without product again.
It took me about a week to layout a proper template and start printing out copies of my own DIY product which was ready just in time for my next gig where, coincidentally enough, my co-feature was also at. I didn’t keep track of who sold more chapbooks but I do know that I gave on one of my best ever performances (two thoroughly memorized and choreographed poems) and made it a point to plug the chapbook. I ended up selling like five chaps and that covered the cost of printing materials and some coffee so all was good in the world.
In retrospect, I should have put more work into the selection of the poems and heeded the saying “Less is more.” The chap came in at 44 pages, most of which was filler poems, but at the time I figured I should try to jam in every single poem in an effort to prove I was a real poet.
December 2005 is the first time I thought about putting together a poetry manuscript and I knew it was going to be tough battle. I was still writing new work, which I was more than confident to read on an open mic, but was wary of sending out for editorial review. Still I had set a goal for myself and was determined to make it happen.
The resulting manuscript, also entitled Sorta Rican, was my attempt to try to condense my experiences of being caught in between Ecuador and the U.S., living in the Bronx and NYC, being Ecuadorian but mistaken for Puerto Rican, and operating between languages (Spanish, English, Spanglish and Poetry). While a good attempt, rooted in trying to be a better poet and not just an ego project, I consider this collection as a flawed experiment that did not live up to the promise of its potential. I say this because there are only two poems from this collection that I believe to be publication worthy.
Side note: This is the first time I have ever articulated the purpose of that manuscript in words and now I have some hope that the project can be revived one day. ;-)
December 2006 was spent putting together work for my second KSW class, a creative writing workshop about place which dovetailed nicely with the project I began in my first KSW class, a group of poems centered on my 70s Bronx experiences. I didn’t think this would turn into another chapbook but it did. Having learned some lessons the hard way, I went minimal and put together 20 pages of poems and titled it after a line from a Jack Agüeros sonnet- Anywhere Avenue.
December 2007, it’s time to put together a new poetry manuscript, and I’m feeling more paralyzed. Before I was seeing a thread running through the poems but now I see it more like a house of cards, it looks really good from here but one stiff breeze and it could all come down. I figure that I should try to read more, look at other folks word, look at my old work, revisit my older poems, watch some pro-wrestling, anything to try to stay creative. It doesn’t add up to more poems but I do feel more relaxed.
January 2008 – manuscript done. It took another reading to help gel some thoughts I had in my head but it’s done. The good news is I have enough material to put together a 2nd chapbook, which I am doing right now. The order of the poems in the chap is different from their order in the manuscript but that’s cool since I know the two are totally different projects. Originally, I was gonna name the new chap Anywhere Avenue II – cuz I’m original like that – but I think it might be more fair to the new poems to give it its own name, come up with some new side streets and alleyways to this poetry map in my head. This means sitting down with the work and having it speak to me some more to get a better sense of where the poems want to go and not where I want to take the poems.
I also will be working on expanding my Whitman-esque poem to try to be its own chapbook by itself. The idea of writing an epic or even book length poem is a big bad monster but the idea of putting together a chapbook length poem seems like the right next step for my writing.
I will say one last thing, it’s gonna be fun looking back at this post when December 2008 comes along.