Wednesday, July 1, 2009

GEMS THAT CROSS MY DESK: Rubberroom by Yago Cura

Heaven Below by Oscar Bermeo was sitting in my mailbox at work yesterday. I took it home only to bring it back: this morning I read it in one sitting while waiting for the subway, letting Metro train after Metro train leave without me at the Courthouse stop in Arlington, VA. When I finally stepped on board to head into the District, I resolved to make good on something I've been meaning to do for some time now: post here, now and then, some commentary about stuff that crosses my desk which I think is worthy of mention. Heaven Below falls into this category and I'll get to it very soon (and thank to Oscar for sending it and prompting me, indirectly, to get this other strand of LETRAS LATINAS BLOG up and running):

I want to comment on a chapbook I received sometime ago by Yago Cura. I was aware of his work because he'd submitted a manuscript to the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His was among the manuscripts that were forwarded to Martín Espada for final consideration.

Cura's chapbook, Rubberroom, is a poetic sequence made up of acts, each act with different scenes. Here's what Cura writes, as a kind of preface:

The premise of "Rubberroom" rests on the idea that teaching is a function of acting. In other words, teaching is performative because every classroom is a controlled audience. Every time a teacher stands in front of a classroom, they are playing a role. I am not the person in real life that I am in front of my students, however my persona of teacher contains strains of the real me. Another idea very dear to this work is that teacher's colleges inundate teachers with useless theories and practicum. Schools and institutes that prepare teachers to helm classrooms in the inner-city do not fully acknowledge the social and psychological turmoil new teachers undoubtedly encounter the minute they are thrown into the maelstrom of their first classroom. This work serves as testament to the countless errors and missteps first-year teachers commit, but also has the confidence to embrace those mistakes because teaching is nothing if it is not a trial-and-error endeavor. The "Rubberroom" is formally dedicated to all teachers that trudge through that first year in the inner-city classroom all over the world and to Paolo Freire who is credited with stating that, "I cannont be a teacher without expressing who I am." Hopefully, after reading "Rubberroom" you will get an idea of not only who I am but how I am.

Among the things I appreciated about the sequence was how unflinching it was in presenting a world I'm completely unfamiliar with. In other words, we've all read (or read about) those nonfiction books, or newspaper articles that aim to present what I'm going to call "the inner-city classroom," but I'd never read poems about it from the perspective this perspective in quite this way. Here's a sample:


Yes, I hurled a chair
at the smartass

it might have ricocheted
and nicked a student, or two.

T-Bone's in the room, tells me,

Get a hold of your fool!

Splash cold water on your neck!

And that's just what I did
except, I did also get some things
off my chest in dialect Dynamite.

And came back, tore up
the bathroom pass, exclaimed,

No More Bathroom Pass, Ever!

All the while, my charges giggling
guffawing, snickering hyena-type
and falling to stitches.

Not because my production of
"Mister Lost His Shit"
tickled them so

Not because tirades
are a function of interior sloppy

But because monologues
presume audience innocence
and my little shits
were as guilty as me.


Things I especially liked:

Get a hold of your fool!


off my chest in dialect Dynamite


guffawing, snickering hyena-type
and falling to stitches

and the way "stitches" rhymes with

"Mister Lost His Shit"


are a function of interior sloppy


Rubberroom, in addition to unfolding its plot skillfully, is filled with fresh takes (on language) like these.


Here's what we learn about the author, as of 2006, at the end:

"Yago Cura was a NYC Teaching Fellow in the Kingsbridge/Bedford Park section of the Bronx. He teaches 11th grade English Language Arts at Discovery High School, one of the small high schools inside the Walton Educational Campus. During the 2004-2005 academic year, Discovery's principal, Scott Goldner, played an integral role in salvaging Yago's fledgling career as an inner-city high school teacher.

Yago would like to thank Aviva Dalin (for her guidance), Joe Pandolfo (for his sense that a wrong was being committed) and all the people that supported him during his stint in teachers'-jail. Yago's work also appears in Lungfull!, Exquisite Corpse, COMBO, and Skanky Possum. In edition, Yago co-edits the literary journal, Hinchas de Poesia with, Lauren Ireland and Will Esposito"


I don't know how many copies of Rubberroom Hinchas de Poesia produced, but I consider my two chapbooks collector's items, and I'm delighted to have them.

Yago Cura blogs HERE

No comments: