When I found out I was heading to New York for my best friendâ€™s wedding, I figured it would be a good chance to test out the Palimpsest poems in their spiritual home of New York City. Only problem is that a lot of reading series do that summer hiatus thing which is cool for them but might inconvenient for an Oakland poet who is trying to spread the word.
For a minute I felt that I had lost all my NYC mojo, there was a time when I was doing a feature at least once a month. I wasnâ€™t getting paid much, if anything, but I was getting the chance to test out new work with different audiences in all kinds of settings and that was my main motivator to write, edit, and revise before I had goals like journal publication, chapbook contests and first book prizes on my mind. Anyways, I checked out the local poetry calendars to see if there were any cool events happening but it felt like I was missing everything by a day or two. At the end of the feature hunt all I had 100% lined up was a sit-down with Rich for an Acentos Live! podcast, a great chance to talk about poetics and maybe even drop a poem or two, but not that chance to read in front of a live audience which is what I was really looking for. (We did get to do the podcast recording and it went really well. Can’t wait for Rich to post it!)
So what up with this need for an audience? Well, I think just about every poem I have ever written, I have recited. For me, there is no difference between the writing process and the act of reciting. Itâ€™s always been one and the same for me. I was sharing this with my moms and pops and they knew exactly what I was talking about, as they jumped right away into stories of learning poems in grade school back in Ecuador and how the spoken word was their first intro to poetry. (BTW, when I say spoken word, I actually mean the act of speaking words and not some exotic catch-phrase.)
Now, just when I thought that I wasnâ€™t going to get this chance, Latasha Diggs alerts her e-list about a poetry jam going down in the Bronx and I figure that it couldnâ€™t hurt to ask if they had room for one more poet. Well, not only was this a good feature opportunity but it turned into a mini-family reunion as my moms, pops, baby niece, and a couple of cousins came down to hear the set. Include some Acentos folksâ€”Rich, Maria, Bonafide, and Annecy, two incredibles co-features Latasha and Edwin Torres, and the hosting styleez of UrayoÃ¡n Noel into the mix and you have one of the most emotional features I have ever had.
â€¢ A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
â€¢ Palimpsest: Ghazal
â€¢ My Fatherâ€™s Accent
â€¢ Palimpsest: Antipoema
â€¢ Fire Escape
â€¢ The Break
â€¢ Psalm for Public Housing
â€¢ B-Boy Prayer
This is almost the same set I did at the Eastlake Sessions with a slightly different order and with a longer version of Fire Escape. This longer version almost did me in as I ran out of breath half-way through and also got ultra self-conscious when I started hearing folks in the next room talking up a storm, which was cool on their part since the room was setup so that folks could be listening to the poems or hanging and chatting in the other room but it just pushed me from nervous/excited right into excited/panicked and that turned into my voice trying to do things it doesnâ€™t have the range to do. Another thing I wasnâ€™t ready for was that the Fire Escape poem got me genuinely emotional, emotional as in pissed off (an emotion that doesnâ€™t happen in many of my poemsâ€”genuinely sad and genuinely joyful happens a lot though).
I was able to recover my breath and finished out the set pretty strong (thanks to shorter more reflective pieces at the end) and was on quite the high after the set.
Latasha rocked it out next with a four-language villanelle in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and a Hawaiian dialect that was the madness. She also rocked out the loop station to add some beats on gamab click the bedouin remix, then closed out with a piece that requires beats she didnâ€™t have on hand so she just had the crowd act as the loop station. Good fun.
Edwin Torres came through with his signature style of disrupted languages and stitched syntax that pushes the ear in all kinds of direction. The focus was on the Bronx and flipping the imaginary line that separates North from South and twisting it past linear to turn it into a parabola based on the X-point of experience and the Y-point of story. Word.
Keeping it live all the way was MC UrÃ¡yoan Noel who started out the jam with a poem of his own exploring what is Sudaca Bronx (or la sur caca or el caâ€™bronx) and then also dropped poetic PSAâ€™s for El Obama between poets, keeping the energy high but not too serious at the same time. Did I mention the poetry set ended with Uraâ€™s singing â€œMy Homie El Obamaâ€ sung to the tune of â€œSweet Home Alabamaâ€ with lyrics that went something like
My Homie El Obama
Turing red states into blue
My Homie El Obama
Setting my homepage to you
I might be a little off on the lyrics but it was all good fun especially with Latasha, Edwin, and me on back-up vocals doing a little shuffle and fist pump for good measure.
Many thanks to Libertad Guerrera and the whole Spanic Attack crew for letting me share my poetry with the Boogie Down, my friends, and my family.