Sunday, December 27, 2009

Some end of decade reflections: 2000 - 2009

I was recently asked to contribute to an article at the Poetry Foundation website, called 2000 - 2009: The Decade in Poetry, and the word count restriction (300) didn't permit me to say as much as I would have liked. As it was initially proposed to me, I was asked to think about "a poetry event" in the last ten years that meant a lot to me. It took me about half a second to hone in on my event. But before I was given the definitive green light to proceed, I was asked to reflect and somehow suggest how this event, or the context of this event, affected or reverberated with the poetry community at large, in the years that followed. In the end, this side of the equation was translated into a question: How Has Poetry Changed in the Last Ten Years?

Given that my event involved Gary Snyder, it wasn't too much of a stretch to suggest how Snyder's mentoring was present when it came time to embark and develop the various activities that became Letras Latinas: Momotombo Press, the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Poetas y Pintores, Palabra Pura, Canto Cosas, etc. In short, Snyder's lessons provided some context for the sort of literary community building I aspired to carry out. In other words, it didn't happen in a vacuum.

But it would be inaccurate and incomplete to say that there haven't been other people who also served as models and inspirations. During my years at UC Davis (1998 - 2000), other inspiring figures included poet Sandra McPherson and her Swan Scythe Press; Francisco X. Alarcón, who I finally got to know better by virtue of being on the same campus with him for two years; poet Jim Powell in Berkeley and his self-published chapbooks under his Pennyroyal imprint; and, as I mentioned in my short piece for the PF, Maria Melendez, who was the person who suggested to Sandra McPherson that she start her Swan Scythe Press, and who designed and oversaw the production of its first title.

But the lesson of Snyder's that continues to bear  the most fruit is: learn and be inspired by your peers. He was talking about poetry writing; but his lesson is something I've taken to heart in the arena of editing, and general literary organizing/activism. And in this arena, I've been very inspired, over these last ten years, and now seems as good a time as any to acknowledge some people.

During the years I was pursuing my MFA at Notre Dame and a few years beyond (2001 - 2005) I was especially inspired (and continue to be, truth be told) by the tireless activity and advocacy of Richard Yañez and Rigoberto González (who eloquently singled out how proud we all were by Juan Felipe Herrera's NBCC Award last year in the same PF piece), especially their work with CON TINTA; I've been inspired, in more recent years, by elena minor and the work she does with PALABRA; I've been inspired by Roberto Tejada and Kristin Dykstra and the work they do with Mandorla; I've been inspired by Carmen Gimenez Smith and the work she does with Noemi Press and Puerto del Sol; I've been inspired by Rich Villar and Fish Vargas and the work they do at ACENTOS; I've been inspired by Craig Santos Perez and the work he does with Achiote Press and his prolific book reviewing; I've been inspired by Oscar Bermeo and Barbara Jane Reyes and their insightful and provocactive blogging---especially as it pertains to their community work in my beloved and missed San Francisco/Bay Area; I've been inspired by Linda Rodriguez and the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO; I've been inspired by the engaging and information-rich blogging of Eduardo C. Corral and C. Dale Young. I'm sure I'm forgetting others but these are folks who come to mind right now. 

Also:  in the last ten years I've had the pleasure of enjoying cordial and enriching interaction with all of these folks. The personal connections do count for me. And on this last note---the personal connection---I feel compelled to single out someone who I've spent relatively little time with but whose person and the work he does just continues to inspire me more on more---both his writing and his selfless gifts and talents as a bridge builder, and blogger. His recent collection of stories was reviewed today at the El Paso Times. And La Bloga recently published a very nice interview with him.

Daniel Olivas


[And for the record, these comments and others made here in the past about this kind of work---from my perspective---should never be interpreted as prescriptive. In other words, each individual artist needs to, in my view, find the path the most fulfills him or her. All of us bring different gifts to the table. For some that gift might be introspection and full devotion to their art, and nothing more. That is plenty, vital, and needed, and provides the necessary context for all the other work to exist, in the first place.]


Daniel Olivas said...

Francisco, I really appreciate the kind words, particularly coming from someone who has -- through his poetry and advocacy -- done so much to encourage Latino/a writers. It is my sincere hope that this new year will bring greater recognition from the "main stream" media of the truly remarkable books being written by Latinos/as. Sadly, too many "best of" lists were narrow and monochromatic. We all must continue to fight this myopia. Here's to 2010!

Barbara Jane Reyes said...

I appreciate the shout out, Francisco. It's still a strange thing to me, "building community" online.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gracias, Francisco. Like Daniel, I appreciate this most since it comes from someone who is such a fine poet himself and such a tireless promoter of poetry and poetic community. May 2010 bring you and Letras Latinas much success!

Sandra McPherson said...

What a pleasure to read this history, Francisco. May the New Year bring you more riches, as you also bring them to the world.

Sandra McPherson said...

What a pleasure to read this history, Francisco. May the New Year bring you more riches, as you also bring them to the world.

Sandra McPherson said...

What a pleasure to read this history, Francisco. May the New Year bring you more riches, as you also bring them to the world.