Many thanks to Francisco for inviting me to guest blog here at Letras Latinas. I hope to share more thoughts and reflections from the Latina/Latino literary scene out here in the Bay Area and there’s no better way to kick that off than to talk about the awesome reading last week as Moe’s Books and Poetry Flash hosted the latest leg of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry tour.
I’ve been anticipating this reading for a good minute, reading The Wind Shifts in bits and pieces, then going over the volume from cover to cover right before the reading to keep all the collective voices fresh in my head.
If you don’t know, Moe’s Books is a great place to hold a reading. Not only does it boast a great history, a poetry section that is always stocked with new titles, a bomb used-poetry section where you can find some real gems if you take the time to dig around a bit, but they also have a smart layout for readings that is well lit, has fine acoustics and also seats enough folks so it never seems to spares or gets too packed. Combine that with the loyal audience of poetry lovers that attends almost every event that Poetry Flash hosts and the groundwork for a spectacular reading was all in place.
Editor Francisco Aragón came up first to not only to introduce the readers to the packed house but also to speak a bit on their backgrounds and how each reader was selected to be a part of The Wind Shifts. It was great to hear Francisco talk about how various connections were made, how different writing circles intersect and meet.
John Olivares Espinoza was the first featured reader, reading not only from The Wind Shifts but also from his debut collection The Date Fruit Elegies. Espinoza is a laborer’s poet, appreciating the fruits of hard work, questioning why someone has to wreck themselves for so little, and telling tales that help make long hours of work go by quicker. In that same spirit and following a Wind Shifts Tour tradition, Espinoza covered David Dominguez’s “Fingers.”
Venessa Fuentes set off her own reading covering Naomi Shihab Nye’s “So Much Happiness” and Naomi Ayala’s “It Was Late and She Was Climbing.” Fuentes’ strongest pieces were tribute poems for her abuela, delivered with a patience and sincerity that evoked a grandmother’s care. Fuentes goes into family and personal histories with a tone that is retrospective, sentimental, and devout without ever becoming unduly nostalgic.
Adela Najarro brought the church to the reading, her work speaking to the spirituality embedded in the lives of so many Latinos as she intertwined images and sounds from Catholic Mass with the hectic city (her poem “San Francisco” was a look at the City you won’t find on a tour bus).This dialogue between the celestial and the pedestrian fuels Najarro’s belief that poetry should be more than a poet speaking, it should also be the poet listening. Najaro also brought Richard Blanco’s “Chilo's Daughters Sing for Me in Cuba” to the room adding a bit of guanguanco to the mix.
Closing out the reading was this year’s recipient of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize for his collection My Kill Adore Him, Paul Martínez Pompa. Pompa is unafraid on the mic, his poems jump into the heart of any fray and work their way through flaying limbs, insults, and disarray to achieve a sense of calm and recollection. Whether examining myths of masculinity (both in his work and while reading Steven Cordova’s “Testing Positive”), sarcastically digging at both Latino poetic tropes and the Pretty White Poetry machine, or what is cute about amputees, Pompa never backs down with his words.
Readings like this remind me of all the possibility in contemporary Latina/Latino poetry, how many writers are out there working to add to the narrative of American Letters, that every experience is unique and deserves to be written in a style and language that brings out the music, darkness, melancholy, and hilarity of those experiences. It’s a serious duty to come up with that language but The Wind Shifts poets deliver that new language with every poem they write and read.
More picture from the night can be found here.
YouTube videos can be found here.