Monday, October 29, 2007

The Case of Gabriel Gomez

"Latino writers have historically embraced experimentation of form and craft as a way to explore their culture. Interestingly, the majority of Latino writing published in the United States is often formulaic and derivative of a well defined and accepted Latino experience. Rarely, if ever, does the writing express the immense diversity of philosophies and aesthetics practiced by artists in the Latino community. In short, the notion of an American Latino avant-garde is virtually non-existent."

---from the the press release for "JUNTA: Innovation and the Latino Voice," for a reading that took place last Friday at The Santa Fe Art Institute.

Although I don't know for sure, I'm fairly certain the text above was shaped by Gabriel Gomez (A statement, by the way, I don't necessarily agree with, but whose stridency I respect). Among those who read were Valerie Martínez who, rumor has it, has written among the most arresting poetic responses to the murders of las mujeres de Juárez. Another reader present was J. Michael Martinez, a poet whose work I'm very eager to read more of. I make this statement based on his poem, "Xicano," which I read in New American Writing.

Gabe is the author of the recently released The Outer Bands (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). Here is what D.A. Powell had to say:

"Gabriel Gomez has a perceptive eye and a cunning ear, bands of cellos and bands of starlings. And then The Outer Bands, where none of us is untouched or unmoved by the hurricane of devastation, this new century, so replete with human failures. For Gomez the longing of retablos, the aching after faith, is balanced with clarity and knowing. His poetry is a kindness in the midst of a disordered world; a spire rising from the floodwaters."

Gabe is also the organizer of a forthcoming AWP panel whose description reads, in part:

"The objective of this panel, made up of Latino/a poets, critics, and publishers, is to interrogate the very terms "avant-garde" and "latino/a experience" as intersecting locations of poetic practice so as to bring forth work that bears witness to our varying aesthetics as artists and thinkers."

Among those present on the panel will be Roberto Tejada, Monica de la Torre and Maria Meléndez.

And finally, Gabe is currently editing an anthology that will gather some of this new Latino poetry. In short, Gabriel Gomez, to my mind, is one of the crucial players who are helping re-configure the conversation surrounding Latino poetry.

I met Gabe for the first time a couple of years ago on a Notre Dame football game day. His brother is an alum. A group of us, including María Meléndez, went out to dinner afterwards. But I had known about Gabe well before that: he'd e-mailed me out of the blue a few years ago to inquire about Momotombo Press. From the beginning his energy was evident. It's been an immense pleasure working with him after he won the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize.

I've never heard Gabe read his work.

Tomorrow night I will. I'll be heading out to the airport in a few hours to pick him up. Valerie Martínez is already here, out wandering the campus and meeting with a local friend for lunch.

Tomorrow, Orlando Menes will be interviewing Valerie for the ILS Oral History Project, and I'll be interviewing Gabe. In the evening, Orlando Menes will do the honors of introducing Valerie Martinez. Joyelle McSweeney has graciously agreed to introduce Gabriel Gomez.

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