Monday, April 13, 2009
PALABRA PURA welcomes Dan Vera this Wednesday!
Gerald Early Can’t See Latinos
by Dan Vera
He can’t see Latinos.
He can’t see Sammy Sosa.
And he can’t see Pedro Martinez.
I don’t even like baseball
But I can see them.
When Gerald Early writes 800 words in Time magazine
About how Jackie Robinson’s legacy has withered away
And asks why there are so few “black players in baseball?”
But can’t bring himself to mention all the dark-skinned Dominicans,
Cubans, Panamanians and Columbians,
I figure Gerald Early can’t see Latinos.
But this is Gerald Early!
Esteemed professor of jazz, boxing and modern letters,
Biographer of Miles and Jack Johnson,
Writer on Race, Identity, and the Ambivalence of Assimilation.
If Gerald Early can’t see Latinos,
You know something must be going on,
Like some perpetuation of a rule,
Perhaps we’ll call it the rule of “Unforgivable Latinoness”
(To riff on Gerald Early’s take on Jack Johnson),
The rule that reads that if you speak with an accent,
Especially a Spanish accent, you’re invisible in the African-American imagination.
Tell that to Julio Franco, Edgar Renteria, or José Contreras.
Tell that to Orlando Cabrera, Orlando Hernández, or his brother Livan.
But someone else better tell them.
Because Gerald Early can’t see Latinos.
What I didn't know, at the time, was that one of the first editors to give this poem an online readership was the African American writer, Ishmael Reed. The venue was:
Ishmael Reed’s KONCH MAGAZINE, a journal that's been in existance since 1990.
Here is the poem in KONCH's online archive.
It's strident literary journal, KONCH is. What does it say that Reed would publish "Gerald Early Can't See Latinos"? To my mind, it suggests that he isn't shy about providing a space for challenging art---in this case a poem that's willing to take on the still challenging subject of race, perceptions of race among people of color.
It would be quite a while before I'd see "Gerald Early Can't See Latinos" on the page, but I remember being struck by Dan's measured reading of it, admiring its directness. It embodies, I think, one of the strands that Vera cultivates in his work: the political. It's just one strand, though. Dan's work "delights" with its humor and irony. And his love poems are understated in the best way.
One place to sample his work is at Beltway Poetry Quarterly, founded and edited by Kim Roberts:
“Constellations of Delight”
“A Poem of Delight”
“Father’s Day for Gay Boys”
“Winter Solstice for Meditation”
“DC to Newark/Astral Woman”
appear in volume 7, number 1, winter 2007
“Sterling Brown on 12th Street”
(for Sterling Brown and Brookland)
appears in a special issue: The Evolving City
Volume 8, number 4, Fall 2007
“We Abide In the Irony”
“Uncle Sam Regrets”
appear in the special issue:
Split This Rock: Poems of Provocation & Witness
Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2008
Pick up Dan Vera's full-length collection poems, The Space Between Our Danger and Delight, published by Beothuck Books. This is what Martín Espada has to say about it:
"The poetry of Dan Vera is clear is clear, strong, honest and funny. He's the sharp-eyed observer in the corner who doesn't say much, but makes every word count. He handles the political and the personal with equal grace. Whether he is ruminating on the perils of bilingualism, giving voice to the bewilderment of his Cuban immigrant family, cursing the censors who tried to repress gay writers over the years, waiting for the late great poet Sterling Brown to turn the next corner in Washington D.C., or taking delight in all things delightful, Dan Vera is damn good company. You'll see."
* ---Martín Espada