Scenes from Eleven Eleven’s release party at Adobe Books

The reading at Abobe Books last night has definitely breathed new life into my poetics.  I’ve revised older work, shared new work, read work from other poets and came back to the bedrock of my work–sharing my story with new audiences.

First off, Daphne Gottlieb shared some amazing new work where she embodied the voice of carnival workers, a clear extension of her poetic manifesto of finding the voice of society’s “others.” Instead of staying in the safe space of revisiting voices she has personified before, Gottlieb brought the audience into a world many have visited (the land of carny and festival lore) but few have actually taken the time to explore.  Gottlieb let us explore that world with poetry that channeled persona and emotion in clear and direct tones while still elevating the music of common speech.

Charlie Jane Anders came through fresh from the chaos of Wonder Con and went right into a new story filled with time travel, cancer babies, sumo robots, rocket-propelled grenades and an assassination attempt on one of the US’s most beloved Presidents.  Yeah, seriously, and you know what–she pulled it all off with crisp dialogue, kinetic language and a reading style that made the audience believe every word was truth than the Bible.  With her focus on reporting for IO9 and curating some of SF’s best literary venues, you shouldn’t miss a chance to her Miss Charlie Jane when she reads her work.

As for me, I was psyched to find out earlier in the week that I would be getting twenty minutes to read, a big leap from the seven or ten minutes I’ve been getting lately.  Not that I’m complaining, any chance to read is a good chance to work on your orality but twenty minutes gives me a chance to share a couple of arcs of work, recite poems from other writers, and sneak some banter in which is exactly what I did.  My reading wasn’t perfect, my voice choked on a few spots and I swore a little too much in my banter but overall, I had a good time and my recitation skills continue to improve with better articulation, varied pacing and more persona.  I still need to work on my keeping my breathing under control and staying true to the clock (I came in just under the mark).


• I’m Jus Askin
• Urban Relación
• The Story of How Pigeon Came to Live in City
• One Question, Several Answers
• Mami’s Ghazal
•  M/mediation I Dominance by Ruth Ellen Kocher
•  The Lady of Guadalupe’s Dream and Jade Ruin by J. Michael Martinez
• Heaven Below
• Psalm for Public Housing
• Ash Wednesday
• Good Friday

Many thanks to everyone at Eleven Eleven and Adobe Books for making this happen.  Now I have to hustle to get more readings so I can keep this momentum going.

Scenes from the Barbershop Reading Series

In the middle of my National Poetry Month craziness–writing a poem-a-day, putting together Heaven Below, applying for VONA and Macondo, attending lit events and jus’ plain livin’–I was also feelin’ the jones to do more poetry readings. I was tellin’ Barb this and, sure enuf, she forwards me a call for readers to participate in a new reading series going down in a local barbershop. So I had to write to the curators with the quickness and try to be down with this. Here’s a snippet of my e-mail to Barbershop Reading Series curator, Michael McAllister:

I think the idea of a reading series in a barbershop is awesome. Some of the best stories (and sh•t talkin’) I’ve ever heard has come to me while waiting to get a new fade or catching a close hot shave so it feels only natural to bring some literature to a place where so much orature goes down.

Michael let me know the first few readings were booked but would not only look to feature me but also have Barb in the mix. Boo ya!

The first reading at the Barbershop was packed with lit fans, strong writing, engaged reading, great music and a wonderful sense of community. Yesterday’s reading was just as dynamic, full of fun, some good surprise, yummy cupcakes and (hell yeah) good lit.

I mirrored my set-list from the P4P reading but was able to include another piece from Heaven Below and dropped “Make Me a City” a two page poem that comes in at almost five minutes. The good thing is that my reading style has mellowed out from rollin-conversational into a more paced tone that allows me to really honor my word choice, line breaks and stanzas without losing urgency and emotional content. At least, that’s the plan ;-)

• Heaven Below
• Unsolved Crimes Perpetrated by Invisible Men as Reported by an Unreliable Witness
• How Much for the Building? Tenants Optional.
• What the Landlord said…
• Ash Wednesday
• The Four Corners from By Lingual Wholes by Victor Hernández Cruz
• A Century of Writing

Ok, I didn’t exactly mirror the P4P reading as I left out “Orchard Beach: Section Four” by accident since I got lost in my own chapbook and improved a lil thanks to a bit of stage nerves. All good, as I ended up delivering the *Urban Arson* set of work which is short on laughs but long on dread, uneasiness and really gives you a need to ask for a heaven somewhere.

The next reader gave a solid twelve minutes of fiction where his narrator is engaged in an affair with a Mexican who speaks almost no English. The power in this piece is how politically incorrect the narrator is: he loves Latino men who are Latino, he assumes, he fetishizes and gets in some serious trouble as a result. And who helps save him, the Latino. I think I’d rather see honest writing that names-the-harm and deals with actual consequence then PC writing where all the characters live in a perfect happy post-racial world. But that’s just me.

Terese Taylor’s music rode the line between mellow acoustic and bar rockin. There’s a time and place for both and Taylor knows how to hit-the-gas or tap-the-break with her raucous tones.

Barb closed out with a Jaime Jacinto cover poem (dedicated to Manong Al Robles, which is almost like a double cover poem), excerpts from Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata. Let me tell you, these poems never lack in surprise. I’ve heard some of them dozens of time and I can still myself lost in new facets of the work. The internal music, the emotional resonance, the historical undertones; something new always hits me when I listen to a set of Barb’s work. A highlight was “how i no longer believe in pious women,” a poem with so much internal interrogation and melancholy, unrolling like a long trumpet strain and ending with a kōan like feel. (Barb’s thoughts on the reading are here.)

Props, shoulder-daps and big-ups all around to everyone at Joe’s Barbershop for so much hospitality and good vibes. Michael Mullen for the sound, Helane for the cupcakes, the folks workin the merch table, Joe Ghallager for the use of the spot and Michael McAllister for bringing lit out of libraries and into new spaces. The next Barbershop Reading is Sept 5th, come out and support a fine space for words.

YouTube videos from the Barbershop Reading Series are here.

Flickr photos from the Barbershop Reading Series are here.

This house is our house/Let’s do it for the people

A beautiful night of poetry last night at Poetry for the People’s Open Mic. Ya know, this might be the first open mic I’ve attended in a long time and it was a fine open mic.

By fine I mean that the work was all delivered sincerely with an emphasis on the message of the poetry, the urgency of the political situation, the search for love and the resiliency of the individual coming to the forefront. In short, folks were looking to be heard.

Some might call this the bedrock of college-age poetry but I would disagree on two very personal points, the first being that I am presently taking college courses so that makes me of college age. The second point is that I felt this same way only eight years back, as a 31 year old trying to get heard in the NYC Open Mic scene. After hearing yesterday’s work, I find myself missing that fire, the fire that turns every reading into a life-or-death situation.

Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. There was a couple of times that I was ready to give up on poetry because I felt my one poem on the open mic fell short. It’s easy to look back on those down moments and dismiss them but I never do because all it took was one person remembering a line or a fragment of my reading to give me enough fuel to come back the next week. And then it stopped being life-or-death on the mic. Enough folks in the audience knew and liked my work that I was almost guaranteed positive reaction. Once it went into automatic like that, I knew I had to leave the NYC Open Mics and move to a place where poetry was dangerous again. Hence, my current position as an aspiring author. And every submission letter is a big leap into the unknown and every publishing opportunity is a blessing.

Back to the open mic. Barb breaks the reading down wonderfully over at her blog but I’d like to add a little bit. Robyn Brooks delivered a short but strong Neruda inspired poem, reminding her many students in the room that you can not create poetry in a vacuum. To the rapper who came strong with the beats and even stronger with the lyrics that started out with little kids clamoring for a good story- Thank you for bringing me back to the days of Slick Rick & “Children’s Stories.” To the sister on the open mic who called out white girls on a brown bus- Thank you for naming the harm. And thank you for the image of “porcelain paper planes.” To the host with the Marshall Islands poem- Thank you for reminding us it’s all about people. To all the organizers- Thanks for letting me share. To Amir- Extra thanks for letting the men in my poems be true boys. To the poet with his tight rhymes on Black History Month- I envy your love affair with the dictionary. To Kim Johnson- You flip contradictions and wrap em up in tight soliloquies. To Mike Turner- Your devotion to the art of writing and performance is apparent and appreciated. To Brian Yoo- Keep bringin the ruckus, Yoo style.

In a lot of ways, Brian’s poems were very indicative of the night. Confessional, lyrical and narrative. Brian’s poem where the speaker is a young Asian-Am kid from the ‘burbs getting hard-core at his first hip-hop concert really pokes some holes in the idea of a post-racial America. Brian’s speaker is afraid at the concert, asking what a kid from the HS Golf Team is doing at a Wu-Tang concert. Brian’s poem makes me wonder why an Asian-Am kid is pondering appropriation and authenticity when the concert goers are cheering a rap group who appropriated Wushu film culture? I’m thankful for the perspective and vulnerability in Brian’s poems that let me ask these kinds of questions.

As for me, I decided to go with a set heavy on the images and fragmented sentences focusing on work from the new chapbook and some newer pieces.

· Heaven Below
· Ash Wednesday
· What the Landlord Said…
· Orchard Beach: Section Four
· Song of Devotion to the Forest from The Low East by David Henderson
· A Century of My Writing
· Make Me a City

I figured there would be a lot of straight-up narrative and wanted to present a counter to that. The organizers seemed appreciative of this and I got some nice props after the reading. I’m real happy with my pacing; how the punctuation, stanza and line breaks came through real clear in my recitation. A piece that two years ago I would’ve sped through in a minute is now taking almost double the time. I’m hoping this allows each word to sink with the audience. It better cuz the silence between the words is one of the worst sounds I can imagine right now. It makes me feel like the poem might not be connecting so I have to add even more emphasis for the next word, leave another cushion of silence. Moving from where every reading was life-or-death to where every word could spell doom. It’s all very scary and I like it like that.

YouTube videos from Poetry for the People: Open Mic Summer Series 09 are here.

Flickr photos from Poetry for the People: Open Mic Summer Series 09 are here.

Books & Bookshelves: Photos, VidPo and Reading Report

Acoustic space is the space we hear: multi-dimensional, resonant, invisibly tactile, “a total and simultaneous field of relations.” Though these “holistic” properties are important, I’d like to sidestep the simple unity that holism implies by stressing the co-dependent play of multiplicities within acoustic space. Unlike visual space, where points generally either fuse or remain distinct, blocks of sound can overlap and interpenetrate without necessarily collapsing into a harmonic unity or consonance, thereby maintaining the paradox of “simultaneous difference”.

Erik Davis speaks on Marshall McLuhan theory of acoustic space in Roots and Wires and reprinted in Sound Unbound
Books & Bookshelves

Books & Bookshelves with all of the woodcraft waiting to be filled with all kinds of media, add an amazing poetry collection with new & used books alongside rare chapbooks, plus the sounds of Market Street in the background adding elements of real world chaos and you have one the best “acoustic spaces” I’ve had the pleasure of performing in.

It feels good to say performing as opposed to reading because the effects of a good acoustic space means a desire to let loose with the work and bring the emotional intent built into the verse out in the delivery of the work. I’ve been hesitant to use the term performance when describing my reading style but I think it’s an aspect of the work that I’m going to embrace again, not to the detriment of my writing development but something that can grow symbiotically with it. In short: If I’m striving to improve as a writer and critical thinker of poetry then I should also continue to advance in my presentation of the work (both in the print submission and verbal delivery aspects).

The other impetus behind presenting my poems in the best possible light was the strength of my co-features.

I’ve known DeWayne Dickerson outside of poetry circles for almost two years now and am proud to call him a friend. This is the second time I’ve read with DeWayne and it’s an honor to share the same space with him. His poems examine life with a lens that shows all the flaws in our world while also appreciating those flaws as part of out own humanity; it’s not about this world being broken but how it can be fixed. With DeWayne’s poetry, that starts and ends with his poetic speaker, who is never passive (and in fact may be contributing to the shortcoming of this world) but always honest when dealing with his community resulting in poetry that is raw, scary and hilarious (sometimes all at the same time).

Even though she had a sore throat, Camille Dungy delivered a provocative set of poems—some new, some from What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison and a great cover of Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me”—that highlighted her ability to craft the musicality of contemporary language. The craft is right on par with her delivery that was both poised (in its rhythms and silences) while also determined (in the clear intent and diction of the speaker). All this done with a love of words and their possibility.

As for me, I celebrated my new chapbook by not reading any poems from it. Yeah, I know that’s a poetry “Don’t” but I’m so happy with having this series of poems completed that I’m looking forward to completing my next chapbook, tentatively tilled, Heaven Below. The poems from the new chap constituted the bulk of my set-list with only one poems from Palimpsest in the mix and one cover poem that really helped me frame what I was trying to balance in terms of urban renewal and placing a human face on the divine designer of “the City.”


• Getting Ronald Reagan to Visit the South Bronx
• Psalm for Public Housing
• Skelsies
• A Personal History and Reflection on Sixty Years in the City from the Reverend JT
• the preacher: ruminates behind the sermon from A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks
• Cucaracha
• Epistle Written at the #4 Train—Woodlawn Station, 4:30am
• In the City, You Can’t Help but Think of God

Big shout out to Michael Edwards for setting up the reading and David Highsmith, the proprietor of Books & Bookshelves, for sharing his beautiful acoustic space with us.

Up in the Bronx where the people are fresh

Featherbed LaneWhen I found out I was heading to New York for my best friend’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 wasn’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. It’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.)

The Merch TableNow, just when I thought that I wasn’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 couldn’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 folks—Rich, Maria, Bonafide, and Annecy, two incredibles co-features Latasha and Edwin Torres, and the hosting styleez of Urayoán Noel into the mix and you have one of the most emotional features I have ever had.

sudaca/bronx/jam Set-List

• A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
• Palimpsest: Ghazal
• Congruence
• My Father’s Accent
• Palimpsest: Antipoema
• Fire Escape
• The Break
• Psalm for Public Housing
• 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 Latasha Nevada Diggs at the sudaca/bronx/jamnervous/excited right into excited/panicked and that turned into my voice trying to do things it doesn’t have the range to do. Another thing I wasn’t ready for was that the Fire Escape poem got me genuinely emotional, emotional as in pissed off (an emotion that doesn’t happen in many of my poems—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 didn’t have on hand so she just had the crowd act as the loop station. Good fun.

Edwin Torres at the sudaca/bronx/jamEdwin 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 Uráyoan Noel who started out the jam with a poem of his own exploring what is Sudaca Bronx (or la sur caca or el ca’bronx) and then also dropped poetic PSA’s for El Obama between poets, keepiUráyoan Noelng the energy high but not too serious at the same time. Did I mention the poetry set ended with Ura’s singing “My Homie El Obama” sung to the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama” 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.

I also picked up a copy of Ura’s new book Boringken and Edwin’s The Popedology of an Ambient Language.

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.