Reading: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I knew enough about adults to know that if I did tell them what had happened, I would not be believed. Adults rarely seemed to believe me when I told the truth anyway. Why would the believe me about something so unlikely?

— Neil Gaiman

I’m about to go in on some work summer reading. It’s going to be a mix of professional development leadership texts as well as a good amount of culturally responsive teaching books with an emphasis on anti-racist work. I am excited to get back into my constant learner mode as that takes my mind to an open space of listening, absorbing, and contextualization.

I gotta tell you, it’s going to be a challenge. I find it hard to focus on prose or dense text. My natural inclination to poetry and graphic novels mirrors my tendencies to go in deeper with a condensed text or image over going broad.

My current plan will be to mix it up with a poetry collection in between to see if bridging these two forms of lit can keep me on track.

For now, I share one of many highlights from Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I have been a fan of Gaiman’s work since his days of writing for DC’s Vertigo line. In fact, Sandman: Season of Mists was the first graphic novel collection I ever purchased. Gaiman has a way of writing myths and memories in direct language while still maintaining a sense of the fantastic.

This all brings me back when my mom passed away when I was thirteen. It was a few months after her passing that I heard whistling in the hallways for weeks after. I recall that no one else heard it in the house but me. I would be studying and all of a sudden this specific whistling would happen and no one else responded. So I would just pretend that I was going to throw some trash out and then hang out in the project hallways waiting for the whistling. I would randomly start whistling back and hear an echo that came from a new place. It was coming from the stairs and that is where I went because I knew for a fact it was my mom. I am not sure what she was trying to say to me. I remember waiting for a while to try to figure that out. Sitting in the stairs listening. Maybe that is when the whistling stopped. When I tried to make sense of it. I think now that all my mom wanted was just to have me to herself.

On CantoMundo and Action Steps

Poem written at first CantoMundo retreat.

I have deleted CantoMundo from my main bio and in the future will not be including it in any of my bios because of the lack of action by the CantoMundo leadership regarding their initiatives regarding inclusion of Afro-Latinx voices.

I recognize the announcement CantoMundo made recently regarding Black Lives Matter and some of their action steps. I was also in a forum with other CantoMundistas giving feedback on that announcement. The actions detailed would be positive and necessary steps for Poets of Color in the United States and especially for Afro-Latinx writers.

I also feel that the statement in itself is just a starting point and that the follow up, if any, is happening in closed spaces. This act of centralizing power and a  delay of action aligns more closely with practices of White Dominant Culture than CantoMundo’s statement of “latinidades in conversation with each other… representing diverse poetic styles and heritages.”

I hope that CantoMundo, as an organization, strives to be more transparent and inclusive around their actions to support Black Lives Matter and other issues in solidarity with Black and Brown writers.

The issue of transparency and inclusion is the reason I am making this statement public. I believe deeply that writers of color have an important and necessary role in positive change making and shifts in public policy to better serve our communities of color.  This change will not happen in silence or by simply deleting/muting/unfriending an account or contradictory opinion. Poets have power in their choice of words, venue, and affiliation.  Just as we come to these spaces with intention to be heard, we should also come with the mandate to listen. Right now, I am not hearing very much from CantoMundo.

All poets are political. We are political by our noise and by our silence. I do not regard the label “political” as especially helpful in determining what is going to happen in the poems. When a poet writes racist poetry, she is being political. When a poet writes about trees, he is being political both by what he chooses to write about and what he chooses not to write about.

Kwame Dawes

In 2010 I got word of an opportunity to attend a weekend-long workshop with Martín Espada in Albuquerque. I was excited for this chance to share space with one of my poetic heroes and inspirations. I was also eager to return to ‘Burque, the site of the 2005 National Poetry Slam, a place where I said goodbye to Slam Poetry in the presence of the Acentos, louderARTS, Bowery, Nuyorican, and a host of other members of the Slam family.

I applied and was accepted as one of the inaugural CantoMundo fellows. The course of that first weekend was exciting and also challenging as that same weekend, the killer of Oscar Grant was publicly exonerated and the streets of Oakland responded with anger.  Righteous anger over the system letting the police kill Oscar Grant with no justice for the Grant family or for Black Oakland. The subsequent demonstrations across the United States and the spotlight of the medis did not change that outcome for the Grant family.  I felt attached and detached from my community in Oakland but was thankful for the company of writers of color especially Latinx poetas.

From there I have made some enduring friendships thanks to CantoMundo. My third retreat coincided with the painful death of a Bronx poeta and I was held and supported by CantoMundistas. This is the solidarity and love that I will hold on to and share first and foremost when speaking of CantoMundo. 

I want to thank Deborah Paradez and Celeste Guzman Mendoza as two of the founders of CantoMundo who always emanated a sense of compassion, integrity, and professionalism in every interaction I had with them.  They both made me feel instantly at home even though I rarely feel welcome in spaces of competitive poetry even after being “accepted.”  I will again emphasize their balance of holding both the relational and technical aspects of co-designing and implementing a poetry retreat. They both did so with a high level of grace, humor, and joy.

Deborah and Celeste were not the only organizers but they were the ones who spent the most time getting to know me as a person and hearing my warm/cool feedback on the retreats.  Shouts and love to all other organizers and especially every poeta who I was able to laugh with and who shared their words with me.

My deepest hope is that CantoMundo can be a beacon of inclusivity for Afro-Latinx and all writers in Latinidad. I will support any public action that moves CantoMundo into a place of open words and shared dialogue pa todos.

Quick Read: The Sixth Man

Today’s read: The Sixth Man: A Memoir by Andre Iguodala – Blue Rider Press – 2019

Favorite passage: “And we earn money. In some cases, lots of it…As Americans, we are led to believe that this in and of itself should be the path toward complete satisfaction. If we make enough money, have enough success, then we should be free from all struggles—or more accurately, our struggles are no longer valid. But what most of us find after a while, and much to our surprise, is that even with all the cash and prizes, the question of purpose remains. Pain and suffering still remain. Anger and frustration still remain.”

Andre was always on of my favorite Warriors and it was a pleasure to read through his memoir. This is a solid book that shares some of the mindsets necessary to go from growing up Black and male in a single mom household in the Midwest to navigating college, settling in the NBA and then becoming a champion and Finals MVP. The read is quick with a spotlight on only a few key moments from Iguodala’s career and even those moments are painted with a very broad brush. You won’t get heavy game-by-game analysis, cheesy trash talking, or inside gossip but you will find the story of a Black man defining his value in and out of US sports culture.

#NationalPoetryMonth 2020 Reading List

Thirty poetry collections in 30 days. Shout outs to all the used bookstores and library sales where we found so many of these classics. There are more than a few of these volumes that go for ridiculous amounts of dollars (that do not reach the poet or presses) on internet web sites. Don’t fall for it. When bookstores open again it is worth it to take the time to look for some of these treasures. Love to Barb who found so many of these.

  1. Vivas To Those Who Have Failed: Poems, Martín Espada – W. W. Norton & Company – 2017
  2. Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000, Lucille Clifton – Boa Editions – 2008
  3. Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah: Poems, Patricia Smith – Coffee House Press – 2012
  4. Poems, Roque Dalton – Curbstone Press – 1984
    Translation by Richard Schaaf
  5. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: Poems, Joy Harjo – Norton – 1996
  6. Revolutionary Letters, Diane di Prima – City Lights Books – 1974
  7. Arrival: Poems, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor – Triquarterly Books, Northwestern University Press – 2017
  8. The Planet Of the Dead, René Vaz – Nomadic Press – 2017
  9. Cruelty: Poems, Ai – Houghton Mifflin – 1973
  10. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker – Tin House Books – 2017
  11. Notes on the Assemblage, Juan Felipe Herrera – City Lights Books – 2015
  12. This Side Of Early: Poems, Naomi Ayala – Curbstone Press – 2008
  13. To Disembark, Gwendolyn Brooks – Third World Press – 1981
  14. Clap For Me: That’s Not Me, Paola Capó-Garcia – Rescue Press – 2018
  15. Immigrants in Our Own Land & Selected Early Poems, Jimmy Santiago Baca – New Directions Publishing – 1990
  16. Under Flag, Myung Mi Kim – Kelsey St. Press, 1991
  17. The Crazy Bunch, Willie Perdomo – Penguin Books – 2019
  18. Night Is a Sharkskin Drum, Haunani-Kay Trask – University Of Hawaii Press – 2002
  19. The Psalms Of Struggle and Liberation, Ernesto Cardenal – Herder and Herder – 1971
    Foreword by Thomas Merton, Translation by Emile G. McAnany, Photography by Robert Rush
  20. Whereas, Layli Long Soldier – Graywolf Press – 2017
  21. The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forché – Harper & Row – 1981
  22. Shadowboxing: Poems & Impersonations, Joseph Rios – Omnidawn Publishing – 2017
  23. Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park: Poems, Nellie Wong – Kelsey St. Press – 1977
  24. Calendar Of Dust, Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Broken Moon Press – 1991
  25. Nappy Edges* (*the roots of your hair/ what turns back when we sweat, run, make love, dance, get afraid, get happy: the tell-tale sign of living/), Ntozake Shange – St. Martin’s Press – 1978
  26. In Search of Duende, Federico García Lorca – New Directions Publishing – 1998
  27. Profeta Without Refuge, Raina León – Nomadic Press – 2016
  28. Puerto Rican Obituary, Pedro Pietri – Monthly Review Press – 1973
  29. while they sleep (under the bed is another country), Raquel Salas Rivera – Birds, LLC – 2019
  30. Song Of Protest, Pablo Neruda – Quill – 1985
    Foreword and translation by Miguel Algarín

#NationalPoetryMonth 30/30

Today’s read: Song Of Protest by Pablo Neruda – Quill – 1985
Foreword and translation by Miguel Algarín

Favorite Algarín line:
I focused my entire attention on New York until I learned to survive. Soon, however, I felt dissatisfied. It was not enough to have the new. I needed a history as well. I needed my memories, and for that I needed Spanish back.
— from “The Politics of Poetry”

Favorite Nerdua line:
I have a pact of love with beauty:
I have a pact of blood with my people.
— from “Do Not Ask Me”

My memories of poetry and Pablo Neruda are deeply intertwined. Neruda was not the first poet I read and I am not sure if he was even the first Spanish language poet that I read. I do know that Neruda was the first poet where the Spanish and English side of the pages actually spoke to each other and I was the voice. I remember picking up a copy of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair for a friend’s birthday. Before gift wrapping the book, I began to thumb through the pages with every intention of just reading the English translations. I then decided to fumble through some Spanish. (I learned to read Spanish as an eight-year-old; a gift from my mother that is its own story) Soon, I was not fumbling through the Spanish. The Spanish, some broken for sure, was coming through me and making sense as sound and feeling. I gave up on reading the English and stayed focused on the Spanish. I was, as Algarín mused, connecting with a history in myself. It was one of my first decolonizing memories made even more impactful by the fact that I did not even know there was such an act as decolonizing.

Neruda continues to impact me as a poet let me about a Neruda biography that details Neruda raping a Sri Lankan woman. This is powerful information and begins a new chapter of my relationship with Neruda. I have met enough poets in my own life to know that great writing does not make for a great person. I am going to be processing a lot on what Neruda means to me with this new information. I am good with reading old poems again and asking new questions.