Sunday, May 20, 2007

Escuchando a Jose Montoya (2)

When Jose Montoya moved to California, he eventually became an art teacher at Sacramento State. In his remarks in New Mexico the other night he said he relished his role as an educator. One of his projects involved asking his Chicano/a students--this would have been in the late 60s/early 70s--to bring in photographs of their parents. A photography exhibit was curated, one which displayed photographs of Mexican Americans in the 40s, photographs that foregrounded and celebrated the pachuco aesthetic. Montoya shared with us that the response to the exhibit was mixed--that there were some on the academic and cultural left who lamented that he was perpetuating certain stereotypes. But his position, as he articulated it, was well thought out.

As I was listening to him deliver his remarks, it occurred to me that I had never heard "El Louie" read/performed by anyone, let alone its author. I had IN FORMATION with me so I could read along as he performed his poem. I was not disappointed. His style was deliberate, measured, not too fast, seemed to honor his line breaks; all the while he varied his voice when direct speech entered. It was the performance of a master. If I had permission I'd reprint the whole poem here, but I'll share a few stanzas where the speaker describes the main character, first towards the end of his life, and then recalling better days:

Kind of slim and drawn,
There toward the end
Aging fast from too much
Booze y la vida dura. But
Class to the end.

In Sanjo you'd see him
Spotting a dark topcoat
Playing in his fantasy
The role of Bogart, Cagney
and Raft.

I mentioned "direct speech." "El Louie" is a poem that is brilliant in the way it incorporates it. Here is a passage that leads to a briefer passage of it (idiomatic direct speech), but also ilustrates why Jose Montoya is a master code-switcher, and with this I'll end [apologies for not knowing how to reproduce the inverted exclamation point, and an accent mark]:

But we had Louie, and the
Palomar, el boogie, los
Mambos y cuatro suspiros
Del alma y nunca faltaba
That familiar, gut-shrinking,
Love-splitting, asshole-up-
Tight, bad news--

Trucha, esos! Va 'ver
Abusao, ese!
Get Louie!

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