Saturday, November 17, 2007

Poetry & Politics: ACENTOS

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.


Rich said...

Full disclosure for your readers.

The Bruckner Bar and Grill is divided into three areas, front to back: the main bar and dining area, a middle lounge-type room (with a new glass wall), and the spacious rear lounge, which is arranged in a "black-box" style theater configuration, complete with stage and sound system.

We at Acentos are no strangers to pool tables: we had one at our old venue (the old Blue Ox Bar on 139th and 3rd), and it was a part of our setup at the Bruckner before they opened up the theater space about a year into our tenure. Recently, our old friend has reappeared as they converted that center space into a nice little lounge, and removed a comparatively unsightly garage door. The plus side is, no one will be playing pool on it while we're doing poetry. We use it to sell books, display brochures, etc. In other words, we make do. And luckily, the space is more than large enough to accommodate our noble green guest.

All credit for this evening (as always) must go to the poets who run it: John Rodriguez (our host), Fish Vargas, and Maria Nieves. And of course, to the amazing feature, Eduardo Corral.

As for our friends at the Poetry Foundation blog, and the particular post you reference: all I can say is, those who have previously proven themselves unschooled in the nuances of politics in poetry have no business posting articles about it. In the immortal words of Piri Thomas: PUNTO.

Thank you for your kind words, as always. See you soon.


Francisco Aragón said...

Thank you, Rich:
The post, in many ways, is a draft that I intend to tweak for the online "archive," I want to include a few links, and add names you have provided. I remembered first names, but not surnames. Thanks.

Attended a great reading at Busboys and Poets this afternoon for RINGING EAR, the Cave Canem anthology.


Eduardo C. Corral said...

Once again thanks for the broadside, F. And thanks for escorting me to the Bronx -- I would've never found the venue on my own.

And Rich, thanks for inviting me to read.