#NationalPoetryMonth 23/30

Across the street an old woman hobbles by.
My mother tells me: She is unhappy here.
She thinks she would be happier
back home.
But she has forgotten.

— from “Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park”

Today’s read: Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park: Poems by Nellie Wong – Kelsey St. Press – 1977

The place of this poem still exists. It is no longer a railroad park but still lives on as a one block garden park that also houses a child care facility and help center for immigrants. As well as one of many refuges for Oakland’s homeless population. I have driven past it many times and always enjoyed how it breaks up the rows of Chinatown small homes with a small splash of lawn and a modest pagoda that never seemed out of place. I have wondered how it has survived so long through the waves of gentrification. The poetry optimist in me imagines that Nellie Wong’s collection and title poem may have something to do with it. This image of generations of women, native and displaced, asking questions, speaking answers. You can see this cycle still happening in that same corner. Who deserves to be here? Where is the happiness? What does it mean to belong?

Oakland Speaks! An Oakland Word student poetry reading

I’ve just finished teaching my Urban Poetry workshop with Oakland Word and feel very grateful to everybody at Oakland Public Library, most especially Kenji Liu, for this chance to share my love of poetry with all these fine writers.

Our classes ended up being wonderful sessions of generative exercises, open conversation about poetics and city, and great talks with visiting poets Tara Betts (who came through one weekend between VONA sessions) and Barbara (who shed light on the publication process and her take on urban poetics). More than anything, through all these conversations about poetics, I was able to add a new personal definition for poetry: Poetry is generosity.
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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.

Hold the Light Fundraiser for Haiti, Chile and China

I’m honored to be reading with a group of incredible poets from the Bay Area to support those affected by the recent earthquakes around the world.

Pen Oakland: Hold The Light Fundraiser for Haiti, Chile and China

On Friday, April 30th from 6-9 PM at the Islamic Cultural Center, 1433 Madison Street in Oakland, Bay Area poets will gather in support of the men, women and children of Haiti and Chile.

For more information READ ON or contact Kim McMillon at (510) 681-5652.



Deep Oakland Release Party

From Stephanie Young of Deep Oakland Editions:

Deep Oakland is excited to announce the publication of several new chapbooks and projects, along with a release party on November 19, organized by Charles Legere, in celebration of Deep Oakland editions.

On Thursday, November 19, please join us at 21 Grand in Oakland, at 7:00 for short readings by:
Adam Cornford
Samantha Giles
Dan Thomas Glass
Javier Huerta
Charles Legere
Barbara Jane Reyes

We’ll also be projecting photographs from Meg Escudé’s collaboration with Charlie Legere, Dan Thomas Glass’s 880 series, and Rebecca VanDeVoort’s series focused on gas stations in Oakland. There’ll be a DJ in the 21 Grand house, Alex Benson. And you know what that means: dancing!