There was quite a lively discussion going on over at the Poetry Foundation's blog this past week, prompted by one blog contributor's response to another contributor's post. I mention it because it reminded me how poetry--a space where poetry is shared--can insinuate the political. I'm thinking of the reading that Eduardo Corral gave last Tuesday in the South Bronx; a reading MC-ed by host John Rodriguez, as well as the gracious collaboration of Maria Nieves and Fish Vargas--all three poets themselves.
The evening started with a few logistical challenges, but in the end the result was an intimate interlude that had Eduardo sitting in a chair with a music stand for his poems just in front of him. The scene reminded me of a Spanish flamenco recital with a singer of cante hondo performing his songs from a chair.
But before he took the stage, the open mic included some pieces from a couple of ACENTOS regulars, and special appearances by Urayoán Noel and Steven Cordova, who both joined me in reading from The Wind Shifts--an idea that started with Eduardo many months ago, and which led me to launch the Letras Latinas Broadside Series (thanks Eduardo). There was a short break after the open mic, which was just as well as it gave Rich Villar more time to get to the Bronx from New Jersey, where he'd had his poetry workshop at Rutgers--and hear Eduardo read. Those in attendence included a table-ful of people sitting across the way, none of whom I recall seeing when I was at ACENTOS last May (more on this table later).
I hadn't heard Eduardo read in quite some time. It might have been in New Orleans in 2002! Anyway, he read very well under the circumstances. The poem I was most struck by was his "Variations on a Theme by José Montoya." What I loved about the piece was the way it was clearly both a homage to "El Louie" (the poem recognizingly riffs off of Montoya's poem) and also a type of poem I'm especially interested in these days: a poem that is in conversation with another poem. In this sense, then, Eduardo has managed to write a poet's poem that is also a political poem--a tall order, in my view, but which he pulls off wonderfully. I'm looking forward to seeing it in print.
But when I mentioned the "political" at the start of this post, I wasn't thinking of any of Eduardo's poems or what the open mic readers read. Rather, I was thinking about something that took place after Eduardo's reading concluded. Rich took the stage and reminded us all how ACENTOS is about creating community. It sounds like an abstraction, to be sure. But as he was saying all of this (I'm about to speculate here), there was a minor commotion at the table across the way. Apparently there was a young poet who perhaps might have liked to have shared a poem of hers at the open mic earlier, but may have felt a bit shy or unsure of herself. ACENTOS is such a space that it was decided to have a couple of poems read aloud (in other words, a spontaneous second mini open mic) in the hope of inspiring our young poet to share her work. A couple of pieces were read, including one Rich shared (which I quite liked). But the highlight of this "after-lude," if you will, was when the young woman took center stage and read her poem. It happened in such a way that seemed very natural, and I was moved. I'm not talking about the actual poem itself--but rather: how the ethos of an ACENTOS reading is such that poetry, sharing poetry is a political activity. I say this because ACENTOS, my understanding of ACENTOS, is that it is a home for Latino poets of all stripes. One of the ideas floating around over at the Poetry Foundation blog by one their contributors, which has to be repeated to the dominant culture again and again, is that those who belong to communities who have been marginalized by this dominant culture are not going to be apologetic about creating spaces where poets in these communities can come share their work, regardless of how far along in their trajectories they are. If some of those poems are first person lyrics, so be it; if some of those poems take on political issues, so be it; if some of those poems take on ethnic identity, so be it; if some of those poems aspire to celebrate the very phenomena of language itself, so be it.
An ACENTOS evening can include a poem performed from a recently published university press anthology, to a new poem that years from now may be deemed a Chicano classic, to a poem by someone who feels safe enough to read something personal and raw.