In the Fall of 2003, the current Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) visited the University of Notre Dame. I had just started my job at the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) and with the help of the poet Kymberly Taylor, who was organizing his visit, we were able to set up a breakfast meeting with him, his assistant, my boss Gil Cárdenas (who collects Latino art), Kymberly, and myself. Thanks to that meal, the idea behind Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse was born. A grant proposal still had to be written---a task I didn't especially enjoy I can assure you---and the whole project still had to be put together: further partnerships had to materialize, most notably with the Center for Women's InterCultural Leadership (CWIL) at Saint Mary's College, where poet María Meléndez was a Fellow at the time (fiction writer Richard Yanez had been a Fellow there prior).
I remember that Dana Gioia's visit wasn't without its detractors given that he was appointed by the Bush administration. My first conversation with him---at a reception the night before the breakfast meeting---revolved around translating poetry. It was a subject we were both intensely interested in and it broke the ice, so to speak.
I also remember thinking that associating with him would perhaps raise a few eyebrows in certain circles. Shortly thereafter, I got an e-mail from a friend and fellow writer who saw nothing wrong with forming alliances in order to carry out important work---in this case: fleshing out a project that would heighten the visibility and appreciation of Latino poetry (Among the poets whose work Poetas y Pintores wanted to celebrate: Alberto Ríos, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Victor Hernández Cruz, Pat Mora, Rigoberto González, and Emmy Pérez, to name six).
This past March in Chicago, I had the pleasure of hearing Martín Espada read, in person, for only the second time. The first had been (as I mentioned in one my first posts here) back in the mid-eighties at Small Press Traffic, a wonderful neighborhood bookstore that was, literally, around the corner from where I grew up, in San Francisco. After Espada's reading, I was invited to attend a dinner in his honor. Sitting across from me was Emily Warn. Also present were Carlos Cumpian, whose MARCH/Abrazo Press has long been an inspiration, and Lisa Alvarado.
Much was said that evening.
Collaboration and partnerships are Letras Latinas' bread and butter---a philosophy I've embraced increasingly these last couple of years.
Here are six poems (and another six poets) I admire.