and if you don’t know, now you know

Originally uploaded by imapix

Spent the weekend catching up on the sonnet for a couple of reasons but mostly because I enjoy the form and want to write more of them.

So what was I reading? Glad you asked! Here goes:

• The Sonnet: A Comprehensive Anthology of British and American Sonnets from the Renaissance to the Present, Edited by Robert M. Bender and Charles L. Squier
I picked this up years ago at Stand for like two bucks and I keep coming back to it when I need a good sonnet pick up. I have yet to read the whole thing since Ole Englishe gives me a headache but I do appreciate how the editors dug deep into British history. And what a bunch of haters those Brits were. A couple of the sonnets I read feel like the illegitimate love child of “pistols at dawn” and a “front stoop snaps session.”

But the sonnet that truly befuddled me was John Frederick Nims’ “Agamemnon Before Troy.” Part Homer, part Pecos Bill, part Spencer, and all good literary fun.

• Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes by Francisco X. Alarcon with English translations by Francisco Aragón
A good read with the section that looks at language and word as my favorite part. Alarcon’s work cuts right to the point but does so with a slow blade as opposed to a quick thrust which does justice to the sonnet form.

• Song of the Simple Truth The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos, Introduction and translations by Jack Agüeros
I’ve been making my way through this dense volume but by bit but skipped through to check out some of DeBurgos’ forays into sonnet. The two sonnets I came across are political odes to Jose Martí and Perdo Albizu Campos which push the sonnet as not just personal plea but as a voice in the arena of human awareness and rights.

• Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros
My favorite book of sonnets as Jack adds a Nuyorican flair to the form. You’ll find it all in here: love sonnets, persona sonnets, political sonnets, spanish sonnets, even sonnets with double the lines. You will also find a poet in full command of his language anchoring his sonnets in personal place and individual tradition.

Benefit and Reading for Jack Agüeros–Tuesday, March 18th

Jack Agüeros
Originally uploaded
by geminipoet

[Many thanks to Rich Villar for writing this press release. Please spread it far and wide, on your own blogs and to any to any media friends you may have.]

on 8th Street
between 6th Avenue and Broadway
there are enough shoe stores
with enough shoes
to make me wonder
why there are shoeless people
on the earth.

You have to fire the Angel
in charge of distribution.

–“Psalm For Distribution”
by Jack Agüeros
(from LORD, IS THIS A PSALM?, Hanging Loose Press 2002)

Dear friends and colleagues:

I’m writing to you about a friend of ours: Jack Agüeros.

I say “friend,” not because I have known Jack for decades (I haven’t), but because of what Jack’s work has meant to the writers, artists, and activists here in New York City’s Puerto Rican communities. In these decades, through his work as a poet, translator, fiction writer, and community organizer, Jack Agüeros has spoken to us with clarity, humility, intensity, and dignity about our shared experiences as Puerto Ricans.

As a community activist, he worked with the Henry Street Settlement, the Puerto Rican Community Development Project, and various city agencies. As a journalist and essayist, he has written about the alliances between Chicano and Puerto Rican activists, and about his own life as a Puerto Rican in New York. As an invaluable historian, he has translated and researched the work of Jose Martí and Julia de Burgos. Through his ingenious use of the sonnet and psalm forms, he has perfected the very human art of advocacy, conveying our struggles with unflinching imagery and a smart comedic sensibility. As a cultural worker, Agüeros brought art, music and a Three Kings’ Day parade (with real camels) to East Harlem through his stewardship of El Museo del Barrio.

Jack Agüeros has committed his life to the educational and social wellbeing of his people. Now is our chance to contribute to his wellbeing.

For quite a while now, Jack and his family have been dealing with the onset of his Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s been a difficult time, but the family has always been able to count on the support of friends and loved ones. That support will be made palpable on Tuesday, March 18th, when Jack’s friends and family will come together for a benefit reading at Taller Boricua, in the Julia de Burgos Center, in the heart of Jack’s birthplace, East Harlem. The location—1680 Lexington Avenue at the corner of 106th Street–is particularly appropriate, since the Center is named for the famous Puerto Rican poet whose work Jack translated, and is also the former home of P.S. 107, where Jack attended grammar school.

Scheduled to appear that night will be fellow poets, fiction writers, and kindred spirits who know and love Jack, many of whom are longtime friends of his: Martín Espada, Sandra Maria Esteves, Naomi Ayala, Aracelis Girmay, Lidia Torres, Robert Hershon, Donna Brook, Hettie Jones, Lynne Procope, Rich Villar, Tara Betts, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Julio Marzán, and Edgardo Vega Yunqué. His children, Kadi, Natalia, and Marcel Agüeros, will also be on hand.

The event starts at 7pm with a special performance by the young students of Taller Boricua’s Tuesday dance class, who were gracious enough to move their gathering in order to accomodate this event.

The authors will have books for sale, the proceeds for which will go toward Jack’s care. Signed copies of Jack’s books, including DOMINOES, SONNETS FOR THE PUERTO RICAN, and LORD, IS THIS A PSALM? will also be available, courtesy of Hanging Loose Press and Curbstone Press. In addition, Sandra Maria Esteves has graciously donated one of her prints, which will be bid upon in a silent auction that night.

A $10 suggested donation will be collected at the door. No one will be turned away.

If you cannot make it to the fundraiser, but would still like to make a contribution toward Jack’s care, you can send along a check payable to Marcel Agüeros at the following address:

Marcel Agüeros
Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory
Mail Code 5247
550 W. 120th Street
New York, NY 10027

This is our chance to pay tribute to a true giant of Puerto Rican, Latino, and U.S. literature. Please distribute this letter far and wide, to as many as possible. We hope to see you all in East Harlem on March 18th, 7pm sharp.

Rich Villar.

Tuesday, March 18th @ 7pm
A Reading and Benefit for Jack Agüeros

Please join us as we honor the work of a dear friend and raise funds for the treatment of his Alzheimer’s Disease. Scheduled readers include Martín Espada, Sandra Maria Esteves, Naomi Ayala, Aracelis Girmay, Lidia Torres, Robert Hershon, Donna Brook, Hettie Jones, Lynne Procope, Rich Villar, Tara Betts, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Julio Marzán, and Edgardo Vega Yunqué.

Taller Boricua @ The Julia de Burgos Cultural Center
1680 Lexington Avenue (corner of 106th St.)
6 Train to 103rd Street, two blocks north on Lex.
Hosted by Rich Villar of Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase
Suggested Donation: $10 (no one will be turned away)
For further inquiries or questions, please call 845-598-8654 or email

Lord, Is This A Psalm?

Originally uploaded by thehoneymoon.

Is the title of the next Jack Agüeros book that I am going to pick up but since I am in quite the DO mode as of late and can’t wait for Amazon to get their shit together I figured I would just jump to it.

The psalm comes from another productive IWL workshop where we were asked to write the love letter of all love letters. After two failed attempts, I decided to write a love letter to not just my city, that is the city that exists in my poems, but to the street where all the denizens of my city meet– Anywhere Avenue.

In case y’all been wonderin the name of the street comes from Sonnet for the #6 which can be found in Sonnets from the Puerto Rican. Yeah, Jack’s work has been quite the inspiration as of late: The way he negotiates through city with an eye that is observant but not nosy; the way he can catch folks at the intersection between bad and worse and not stand in judgment; the way he can generate empathy without soliciting pity.

It should also come as very little surprise that this all these poems are occurring in the Bronx. Or, better stated, The Bronx that I remember. Where we played outside at night. Where we could go to the park by ourselves. Where a six year old boy is in charge of getting his four year old sister to school. Where there is danger but if we acknowledge that then we are just prisoners in our homes. Dealing with that acknowledgment at age 6. Where we are don’t have money but if we acknowledge we are poor than we become another kind of prisoner. Accepting food stamps and government cheese but not accepting the system that provides it. And music, lots and lots of music all around us. This is the Bronx that I remember and most of the time it is not the one I keep reading about in books and on the net.

Enough of dat, on to the new poem which borrows its form from Psalm 150 and also went through the the (patent pending) “speed editing” process that Barb and I have worked out.

Psalm for Anywhere Avenue
[Poem was here. Can now be found in 12 Ways: An Anthology of the 2007 Intergenerational Writers Lab and OCHO #15.]

Review: Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros

These sonnets walk with a quiet dignity that command respect as opposed to begging for it. They also are unafraid to call blood blood or fucked up shit fucked up shit. These poems speak of experience and don’t have the time to gawk at the everyday but instead the poet rushes home to celebrate it. From the first section, Landscapes, we get Agüeros’ crown of sonnets honoring the memory of the Happy Land massacre where the poet morphs from chronicler to mourner to pointed political critic via subtle shifts in tone.

Agüeros treats the sonnet like a virtuoso constantly playing with its possibilities and structure (Check out his “Sonnet with Twice the Lines”) while always honoring its history — the introduction pays homage to Shakespeare, Browning, cummings, Milay and “Ozymandias” — proving that the sonnet (and all formal poetic structures, in my opinion) is as relevant today as ever.

His middle section entitled Love… shows us a broken hearted speaker recalling over and over again the missed (squandered?) opportunities for happiness in his life. A lesser poet might be afraid to keep the microscope on such an obvious subject but it’s Agüeros’ insistence in highlighting the life and missteps of the every(wo)man that keeps this collection from being anything but mundane and elevates the day-to-day urban immigrant experience into reflections worthy of the sonnet tradition.

Sonnet Substantially like the Words of Fulano Rodriguez One Position Ahead of Me on the Unemployment Line

It happens to me all the time/business
Goes up and down but I’m the yo-yo spun
Into the high speed trick called sleeping
Such as I am fast standing in this line now.

Maybe I am also a top, they too sleep
While standing, tightly twirling in place.
I wish I could step out and listen for
The sort of music that I must make.

But this is where the state celebrates its sport.
From cushioned chairs the agents turn your ample
Time against you through a box of lines.
Your string is both your leash and lash.

The faster you spin, the stiller you look.
There’s something to learn in that, but what?

from Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros