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.

LitCrawl: CantoMundo, Acentos de la Bahia

What: Come listen to seven CantoMundo fellows share their palabra during Phase III (8:30-9:30) of SF’s world-famous LitCrawl!

Where: Inside the Mission Cultural Center (Mission street between 24th and 25th), a venue that is celebrating 35 historic years of commitment to the community.

When: During Phase III (8:30-9:30) of the world-famous literary event, San Francisco LitCrawl (October 13th, 2012). More info on the event can be found at: www.litcrawl.org/sf.

Why: Because it’s an opportunity to listen to seven CantoMundo fellows that are part of an organization whose vision is to develop, sustain, and support a diverse community of Latina/o poets from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexualities. And because nuestras voces son fuertes!

For more information on CantoMundo, click on the link: www.cantomundo.org.  Apply!

Who Will Be Reading and Representing CantoMundo:

Javier Zamora is the winner of the Organic Weapon Arts 2011 chapbook contest, Nueve Años Inmigrantes (2012). His poetry has appeared in NewBorder, Spillway, and Phat’titude.

Angel Garcia has lived in several cities throughout Southern California. He has worked in the field of education for several years as a tutor, residential advisor, instructor, and most recently as a coordinator for an educational non-profit in El Monte, CA. Angel is currently completing his first collection of poetry.

Writer and educator, Leticia Hernández-Linares, has performed her poemsongs throughout the country, and in El Salvador, for over a decade. Her writing has appeared in newspapers, literary journals and anthologies. Since 1995, she lives, works, and writes in the Mission District, San Francisco. See more about her adventures: www.ciguanabaink.com.

Ruben Quesada is the author of Next Extinct Mammal. His poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Third Coast, Rattle, and Southern California Review.

Oscar Bermeo was born in Ecuador, raised in the Bronx, and now makes his home in Oakland with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes, where they co-edit Doveglion Press. He is the author of Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below and To the Break of Dawn.

Manuel Paul López was born and raised in the U.S.-Mexican border region of El Centro, California. His work has been published in Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue, ZYZZYVA, Hanging Loose, and Rattle, among others. He is the author of Death of a Mexican and Other Poems and 1984.

Raina J. León has authored two collections of poetry, Canticle of Idols (2008) and Boogeyman Dawn (2013). She co-founded The Acentos Review.

Lauro Vazquez grew up Santa Rosa. He is a CantoMundo fellow and an M.F.A. candidate in poetry at the University of Notre Dame’s Creative Writing program.

Audio: CantoMundo 2011 Fellows Reading

CantoMundo 2011

Many thanks to Brenda Nettles Riojas of Corazón Bilingüe for this awesome clip of the CantoMundo 2011 Fellows Reading.

It was a real pleasure co-hosting this event with Amalia Ortiz and presenting the diverse work of all our fellow poetas to a packed house at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin. Looking forward to hearing the next part of the clip with the rest of the fellows.

For those keeping score at home, you can hear me read “Barry Bonds on the Witness Stand” at the 10:43 mark quickly followed up by Diego Báez doing a cover of my poem, “I’m Jus Askin.”

Photo Credit: The Center for Mexican American Studies

to Holy Bronx

Originally uploaded by Pro-Zak

I’m getting ready for my feature at Writers with Drinks tonight and I can’t remember the last time I was so nervous for a feature.

If you’ve been to a Writers with Drinks, then you know what I’m talking about. The energy is incredibly kinetic and the caliber of writers is always top notch so I’m feeling some serious pressure on what I should read. I can go with the set that I’ve been used to doing the last couple of readings or go with all new stuff. The way I’m talking about this, you’d think I was doing these same poems for five years or sumthin.

Segue: Watching the National Poetry Slam finals recently through live internet stream was a nice experience cuz even if I didn’t like the poems per se, I do appreciate the spirit of competition. What I didn’t appreciate was the asshattery in the chat room. Way too many internet jerks saying things you know they would never say in real life. But, one comment did crack me up, as a poet came up and did a poem they’ve been doing in competition for a long time, and one of the commentators types “This is their Stairway to Heaven!” And as someone who used to have his own Stairway to Heaven I cracked up. End segue.

Ok, time to really get ready and I do want to try to add at least one really new poem to the mix because I don’t ever want to be that poet that does all the same things at all the same places. Been there, when I was younger, and done with it. I know all the reasons poets do the “hits” all the time but I really don’t care if there is “at least one person” in the room who has never heard that poem before. You know, that poem guaranteed to change lives. What I most care about is that the only way I can write that poem—the one that if I’m extremely lucky might get remembered 100 years from now—is by writing new stuff.

Speaking of new stuff. Here’s the latest revision of a poem I started at Martín Espada’s CantoMundo workshop. There’s at least three good stories behind this poem but that’ll have to wait for latah. See ya at the Make Out Room!

The Neighborhood and Tenant Association of Tremont Avenue, The Bronx, Gather to Erect a Statue for Robert Moses

[Poem was here. Can now be found at CrossBronx.]

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