QEPD Miguel Algarín

Miguel Algarín (1941-2020)

One thing I can tell you is that every Nuyorican Poet I know has an outrageous Miguel Algarín story. Here is mine.

I was getting ready to plan for the one year anniversary of Acentos, our Bronx Latinx Poetry Series, and wanted to feature an iconic figure. One night I was hanging out late at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe for the open mic, which normally would start around 1am on a Friday night, when who happens to hit the stage but the founder himself, Miguel. I don’t know how exactly I got the nerve to ask him for his phone number or even how the conversation went but I got the digits. I called him up two days later to ask him to feature for Acentos. Now, if you know anything about Miguel, you know that he had one of the most distinctive voices in poetry. It was a sonic tone of full barrel chested revelry with a melodic hum in the background. No two ways about it, the man was a living djembe. So I call the number and that is the exact tone I hear saying, “Hallllloooo.” And I go, “Yes, I am calling to speak with Miguel.” And what do I get back? “Miguelllll eess not here right nooooowwww.” What? I was so flabbergasted that I actually played along, “When will Miguel be back?” Pause and then “Ohhhhh, I don’t knoooowww. Maaaayyybee later?” I say Thanks and hang up. I called back two minutes later, “Hallllloooo.” “Hi, Miguel! Great to hear your voice!” And than I was able to get him to come to feature for us.

Of course, there is a part two and part three to the story which is the case with most poet icons and getting them to feature but I will share those later. Maaaayyybee.

Hanging out with the Nuyorian Poets Cafe founder, December 2005.

Oh, Miguel. In twenty years of poetry I think I have only heard a few people who use their whole body to bring a poem to life. You may be the first who I ever saw do it on stage. I am so lucky to see you do it live at 1am in NYC’s most iconic poetry venue with maybe a dozen people around. To reach that level of poesia has always given me a goal that I may never reach. I think I have done it a few times for one or two lines. I felt the poem connect in my gut, pulse out the body in one slap of reverb, and then it’s gone. But I am still chasing it.

All the while I can see your face in your classic impish pose knowing so much about la palabra y la cultura. I am building up the nerve to ask you for more and all I can hear now is “Hallllloooo.” “Yes, I wish to speak with Miguel.” And what do I get back? “Miguelllll eess not here right nooooowwww.”

QEPD el profesor de la poesia de la gente. Miguel Algarín, presente!

E-Interview: Rich Villar coming back home to the Nuyorican

The biggest question I get to this day is: “Do you miss New York?”

My answer is always the same: “I miss my family, my friends, good pizza and real bagels, but I don’t really miss NYC so much.”

But every once in a while, I wish I was back in the old hood, specifically the Loisaida, for things like peeping Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child at the Angelika, eating a Reuben at Katz’s Deli and catchin’ my homie Rich Villar for his Friday Spotlight feature at the Nuyorican.

To celebrate his feature, I asked Rich a few questions about his past involvement with the Nuyo, what’s going down now and how he plans to negotiate it all. Full interview can be found at the Letras Latinas blog.

Plus, a bonus question post-Nuyo feature:

Oscar: So, how’d it go last night?

Rich: I am beginning to think that “home” is truly what you make of it. I think for many years I expected the Nuyorican to be this place where “the elders” or “the community” accepted me as one of their own, and when I didn’t get that coming in the door, I was disappointed. I realize now that I’M the community. Or rather, the people I surround myself with, no matter the venue, make the place “home.” Of course this is true. It works that way with family. Why wouldn’t it work that way in the arts world? I was surrounded by people I love, who love the word, even if they’re at different places with it than I am. And we made the Nuyorican ours tonight. It was quite something. That, and Julio seems to like me. Of course, next week…maybe not so much!

Our mutual friend and partner in crime Juan Diaz recorded the whole feature, so there should be clips up before too long. I felt really comfortable with the audience, my voice, and my critical voice…I made a statement about spoken word being a lie perpetrated on poets, and I actually believed it, and so did the audience. :-)