As is sometimes the case, hearing a poet read in person can enhance one's appreciation of the poet's work. I told Peter after the reading--and I meant it as a compliment--that his style, as well as the sound of his voice, reminded me of Robert Hass, who may very well be the contemporary poet I've heard read the most, because of Hass' and my Bay Area connection.
Our pre-reading dinner counted on two last minute guests: Kristin Dykstra, who is a poet, translator, and co-editor of the annual journal, Mandorla. She is also an assistant professor at Illinois State University in Normal. She brought with her a doctoral student in the English Department there, Nicolas Mansito, a young engaging Cuban-American writer. There were around nine of us, including the Chilean-born writer and professor at DePaul, Bernardo Navia, the local feature who read an interesting version of a Pablo Neruda poem with a decidedly Chicago bent. In addition to the usual Palabra Pura steering committee, we were joined by Peter Ramos' brother Stephen, who flew in from Boston for the occasion. Stephen is a graduate student in Urban Planning at Harvard, and spent a number of years living and working in León, Nicaragua and Madrid, Spain after college. In short, the pre-reading "salon" (as Lisa Alvarado has come to coin these) continues to be one of the signature aspects of the Palabra Pura experience for the poets who come to read. I was told that Paul Martinez Pompa was able to join the dinner last month when Urayoán Noel was in town.
Peter brought several copies of his award-winning, Short Waves. He sold a few and Letras Latinas purchased a few, as well, to give away. One landed in the hands of Cornelius Eady last night. Peter graciously gave me permission to reproduce one or two here, which I intend to do shortly with the goal of spurring interest in this gem of a chapbook. Among my favorites was the title poem itself, "Short Wave," which takes on the motif of the father, the grandfather and the role alcohol can play in a family's history. Here is a stanza:
Imagine the stirring, the soft violence
in the neck when my father woke
hearing that awkward song blossom. How could he
know his own voice, waiting as he did
to cross water, to live in a new land, hoping
the words would fit in his mouth?
Peter shared with the audience that his father came to the United States from Venezuela and he ended the evening with the last poem in the chapbook:
It's your father calling, who provoked
on account of his broken dialect
so much reserved suspician,
the old voice from a long distance
gentle, no less compelling
the accent lingering. Even this late
he calls--and likes to--like he still
kisses you, still offers the finest cuts
of meat in the dream.
And yet I do not want to give the impression that the poems all center around what many might term a "Latino" theme like immigration. Nothing could be further from truth. The collection was the winner of the 2002 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Contest. The Judge, Kathleen Lynch, eloquently states what she found so engaging about this sequence of poems:
"Peter Ramos conducts a kind of brilliant looking-back, at once both fierce and tender...Several of the poems have the charged quality of still-lifes suddenly zapped back to life, to action...Ramos shows intelligent restraint when handling nostalgic material, rendering these poems larger than just his life, which enables them to touch, inform and enter ours. Yet this restraint in way inhibits the passion of this visually and aurally pleasing work..."
I'll begin to wind this down by sharing a very brief poem Peter didn't read but which caught my eye since I spent the month of September in the land of 10,000 lakes:
CROSSING MINNESOTA AT NIGHT
beneath white planets,
humming in milkblue light.
And finally: taking my cue from Eduardo C. Corral, who has conducted the occasional "give-away" at his place, I'd like to offer here a signed edition of Short Waves to the first person to write and ask for it. You'll have to remember to include a snail mail address.