Martín Espada reads Pablo Neruda’s “General Franco in Hell”

¡Feliz cumpleaño, Pablo Neruda!

I can’t think of any better way to celebrate el maestro’s birthday than by sharing this video of Martín Espada reading “General Franco in Hell” at the CantoMundo retreat.

Before we get to the poem, let’s think a second about recitation and craft. As Martín reminded us before reading the poem: Neruda’s poem of damnation and public scorn walks a thin tightrope between personal anger, Neruda’s grief over the assassination of his dear friend, Federico García Lorca; human outrage, being witness to not only war, but a civil war—seeing brother attack brother; and the toughest battle of all, converting this horror into poetic art.

Espada’s recitation of this poem is proof of Neruda’s genius. His ability to simultaneously denounce Franco’s acts with proper vitrioil and elevate the human spirit who challenges and survives these atrocities with a language that serenades the reader in both Spanish and English.

No smoke and mirrors here. Neruda names the harm, making sure all of Franco’s barbarity is documented, and sets his darkest poetic imagination free, reviling Franco’s legacy to the enduring eye of commoner judgment.

Likewise, Espada doesn’t hold back in his reading and sets the sonic quality of this curse poem free without resorting to yelling or arm waving. What for? The power is in the words and in the form. It’s a poem operating on all cylinders thanks to the poet’s eye for detail, ear for language, and faith in the power of verse to elevate the downtrodden and overthrow dictators.

Sadly, as Espada noted before reading the poem, Neruda would not live to see his poem come to pass. Franco outlived him as he did so many others. But Franco did not leave a poem behind for the ages and so Neruda gets to laugh from the heavens while Franco continually burns in literary effigy.

We join this poem in media res, the first part is below in Neruda’s Spanish. Espada continues from there reading the first section in Spanish and the majority of the poem in English. Again, a wonderful read and reminder that a poet’s legacy can be as eternal as the simple desire to call injustice by its proper name.

El general Franco en los infiernos

Desventurado, ni el fuego ni el vinagre caliente
en un nido de brujas volcánicas, ni el hielo devorante,
ni la tortuga pútrida que ladrando y llorando con voz
de mujer muerta te escarbe la barriga
buscando una sortija nupcial y un juguete de niño
serán para ti nada sino una puerta oscura

En efecto:
De infierno a infierno, que hay? En el aullido
de tus legiones, en la santa leche
de las madres de España, en la leche y los senos
por los caminos, hay una aldea más, un silencio más,
una puerta rota

Aquí estás…

Pablo Neruda

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 Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library

YouTube videos from We Are Already in the Future: Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library can be found here.

Flickr pictures from We Are Already in the Future: Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library can be found here.

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music
Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music

Scenes from the North Beach Poetry Crawl

The last installment of the highly ambitious San Francisco International Poetry Festival was the North Beach Poetry Crawl, a combination of small gallery and open-air readings blanketed out over one of SF’s most densely populated residential, business and tourist areas.

The attendance for the events we managed to hit seemed pretty high with a mix of die-hard Beat poetry fans (the faces Barb and I seem to see at most City Lights events), supporters of the readers (I could see new faces encouraging on different poets) and some random folks. In short, I think the event was successful in bringing together different poetry lovers and having them hear new voices. The one event with the lowest visible attendance was the closing party at Washington Square Park but if you factor in that came at the end of almost 6 hours of poetry and the 15 degree dop in temperature as the fog came down hard, then you can see why only the hardest of hard-cores stayed for that one. (Disclaimer: With no jacket and seriously tired out from all the readings, I couldn’t stay for all of the closing festivities.)

Personal non-poetry highlights: My first pilgrimage to the Goorin Bros Shoppe, one of the finest haberdasheries anywhere. My fedora collection grows and I will not be back until I hit the lottery so I can indulge myself to the fullest.

Other indulgences: Giordano Brother’s all-in-one sandwich is da bomb diggity; treat yourselves if ya can. I don’t remember the name of the pastry shop on Broadway with the yummers chocolate mousse cake but thanks for the sugah fix. And finally, Mo’s Grill in North Beach cuz sometimes it really is all about a classic burger with a Pepsi.

Poetry highlights: Georges Castera/Joj Kastra work hitting an even higher note than the night before with a whole new set of work that was nuanced, immediate and full of contemplation.

Ámbar Past and Alejandro Murguía duet at the Beat Museum was relaxed and inviting while still lyrically dense.

Al Young followed with a set that also encouraged audience participation but with an emphasis on personal, poetic and geographic histories.

Taslima Nasrin reading in Kerouac Alley was masterful in how she combines the elements of the mythic woman with the realties of the modern woman in her poetry with a style that embeds the politics in the verse.

Props again to Carla Badillo Coronado for setting off the Kerouac Alley reading with a repeat of her set from the night before but still managed to maintain the energy and closed the festival with a and her dance performance at the final event.

Our only disappointment was not being able to hear Sasha Pimentel Chacón at Live Worms Gallery because of a typo on the program but we were able to catch up with her and Daniel at the previously mentioned Mo’s for down-home food, meeting new peeps and some good face time.

Seem like much? It was. And it was all very much worth it to hear voices from around the world, some with harrowing political tribulations that remind us what a luxury poetry in the US can be. All to say, I’ll be clearing out space on my calender for the next installment of the International Poetry Festival.

Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica

Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica

From Kwame Dawes—

Dear Friends,
This project, presented here in this interactive website, is what I have been doing for the past six months and what I expect to continue to do for the next little while. The performance of these poems and the music composed by Kevin Simmonds, will be on tour in the fall. The crew for this piece is the same that had such success with Wisteria. A long essay with stunning photographs appears in this month’s issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review and two short documentaries are appearing around the country on the program Foreign Exchange. I trust that you will be moved by this work.

Props to Kwame, Kevin, and all involved for going to Jamaica and documenting this history with their own art.

The multimedia site is spectacular. Everything moves effortlessly allowing the poem text, poet’s voice, music and images to come together in the finest tradition of orature. Equally impressive is the site’s ability to let the user personalize which combination of elements will allow them to best experience the narrative.

Multimedia Site—
YouTube— InFocus: Talking HIV in Jamaica
Essay— Learning to Speak: The New Age of HIV/AIDS in the Other Jamaica