Friday, April 16, 2010

Reading Report: Martín Espada and Rich Villar at Page Meets Stage

It's 21st Century Poesia as I trade in the moleskine and audience seat for a Twitter feed and laptop then tune into the latest installment of the Page Meets Stage reading series to watch Martín Espada and Rich Villar explore and blur the lines between poems crafted for live performance and poesia drafted for publication.

First, a little about the reading series: Page Meets Stage is a monthly poetry series that pairs more page-oriented, academic poets with poets who come from a more spoken-word or performative background. Both poets are on stage at the same time and read back and forth, poem for poem, sometimes answering each other and other times taking the conversation in a different direction.

The series also donates all its proceeds to Bowery Arts & Sciences, the educational arm of the Bowery Poetry Club dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the oral tradition of poetry via live readings, media documentation and creation.

And thanks to the Bowery, I was able to enjoy this phenomenal New York City reading from the comfort of my home in Oakland courtesy of the free and high-quality webcast via Bowery Poetry Live.

So with live stream in full effect, I open up my Mac and not only start to enjoy the poetic interchange between Espada and Villar but also share my thoughts on the reading via Twitter. Here's the time stream from @OBermeo as the reading was in progress:

• Thank you, internet poetry gods (and @bobholmanpoet) for the live broadcast of Martín Espada & @ElProfe316 at the Page Meets Stage reading.

• Martín Espada just dropped "En La Calle San Sebastian" one of my all time faves #PageMeetsStage

• He's going ole skool! @ElProfe316 drops "Noche Buena" A slam classic for sure and a damn good poem by any rubric #PageMeetsStage

• Martín Espada schools #PageMeetsStage on the legacy of Nuyorican Poet Jack Agüeros. Don't know him? Get the knowledge:

• More knowledge: @ElProfe316 recites a poem where he converses with THE Boricua Poet: Julia de Burgos #PageMeetsStage

• Martín takes the pass from Rich and drops his own Julia de Burgos poem: #PageMeetsSatge

• Did @ElProfe316 just say "misnomer maps" in a poem? I see you, sun. #GameRecognizesGame #PageMeetsStage

• "Latinos, we defy classification." - Martín Espada (Add that to the archives @LibraryCongress) #PageMeetsStage

• "Espada: cousin to the machete, peasant cutlass" #PageMeetsStage

• "This is part truth, part lie" @ElProfe316 reflects on the poetic origins of his own name. PS- Don't call him, Lil Ricky. #PageMeetsStage

• Time for the Q&A. @MeMali cuts to the heart of it: "What is the craft of political poetry?" #PageMeetsStage

• "Some of these poets become sanitized once they're canonized." - Martín Espada #PageMeetsStage

• “Why do we create unnecessary divisions when the true problem is unity?” - Martín Espada #PageMeetsStage

• “There’s power in collectiveness. I’m trying to reach out to people who think like me.” - @ElProfe316 #PageMeetsStage

• On Code-Switching: “English con Español like arroz con pollo, the two languages are always present.” - Martín Espada #PageMeetsStage

• On Code-Switching: “Being bilingual opens all kinds of possibilities” - @ElProfe316 #PageMeetsStage

• @ElProfe316 Sun, where that new shit? #ImJusAskin #PageMeetsStage

• Rich does a cover of Martín's poem "Thanksgiving" #PageMeetsStage

• Status = Stupefied. Only @ElProfe316 can do a poem with the voices of Krusty the Clown & Marvin the Martian & make it work. #PageMeetsStage

• Status = Dead. Martín covers Rich's Inauguration Day Poem and recites the phrase "Lightin MFers like Steven Seagal" #PageMeetsStage

• Rich and Martín explore how their fathers introduced them to poetry. #PageMeetsStage

@nisao Glad they're reachin you, Anisa. It's wonderful to connect with folks.

• The necessary milk: Martín Espada reading "Alabanza" #PageMeetsStage

There's a lot of code to decipher here if you are not familiar with Twitter speak (does this make me trilingual?) so I'll translate out my thoughts and include a great Jack Agüeros story that could not live within Twitter's 140 character constraints:

"Martín Espada and Rich Villar engaged each other in an open poetic conversation that included musicality, upbringing, family ties and code-switching among the topics, and allowed the audience to listen in on this conversation.

Espada traveled through the length and breadth of his obra, reading poems from early in his literary career all the way to the title poem from his upcoming collection The Trouble Ball. Every poem was read with a sense of urgency and call to action, speaking not only to the timelessness of Espada's writing but also how very far we have to keep going as a nation (Post racial, what? Tea Party, who?) until we can say all our citizens are free. History is also alive and well in Espada's setlist for the night, not the history of textbooks or CNN but the history of a poeta who gathers allies every chance he gets, marshalls them with stories of other great poet warriors (Julia de Burgos, Jack Agüeros, Omar Khayyám) and charges forward with a battle cry that signals the arrival of the poets and the dead they speak for.  Alabanza, indeed.

Villar set it off with a signature poem from his time as a top-ranked NYC and Nationals level poetry slam competitor, "Noche Buena." Like Espada, Villar's work is holding up to the test of time, he hits every rubric for a successful oral poem while reaching deeper to not tell us he's proud of his heritages but leaving us with the lasting image of a son receiving bendicion from his ancestors and being sent out to continue the work. Vaya, muchacho/Aquí esta tu vida.  And that vida is poetry with new poems coming from Villar that take advantage of his position as poet citizen by critiquing the (so called) center at its very heart with poetry riddled in Spanglish, politics and commitment.

Both poets did this with a healthy code of code-switching and I'll let Espada take over as he recounts how true Nuyorican poet Jack Agüeros defines bilingualism in United States Poesia:
“Well English and Spanish are like two dogs I love.
For me, English is a good dog. 
I say, ‘English, sit!’  English sits.
But Spanish, Spanish is a bad dog. 
I say, ‘Spanish, sit!’ Spanish pees on the rug.
But I love em, I love em both.”

The engaging Q&A, led my poeta and MC for the evening, Marie-Elizabeth Mali, brought up issues of polarity amongst Latino poetry, defining the rigor of political poetry, the relationship between the Mother and Step-Mother Tongues and creating a body of community.  I could go over the responses to the questions but you'd find much better answers in Espada's broad body of work and Villar's community activism, two streams in the river of poetry that are bound to cross paths again."


Marie-Elizabeth said...

Thank you for this terrific recap of the night. I love how you include links for more info. That Agüeros two-dogs story is so great, I'm glad you captured and posted it here!

Bob said...

O, a beautiful rendering, and thanks for the huzzahs. FYI, Bowery Arts & Science has now taken over ALL the programming at the Club, & all the employees who work to set up the shows and make them happen are now BAS employees. This will make the place stronger, with a deeper infrastructure, and it also means we need more defined support from our stakeholders -- who include you! email me for more info, y gracias.

Francisco Aragón said...

Thanks for this great post, Oscar. I hope someone contributes a post here on the event that took place tonight.

Oscar Bermeo said...

Marie-Elizabeth: Thank you for the beautiful pic and for MCing the event. A dynamic paring and inspired pairing. I'm always amazed at the caliber of poets who grace Page Meets Stage.

Bob: Great to hear from ya, maestro. I'll definitely be contactin' ya to see how I can keep supportin' Bowery Arts & Science.

Francisco: Thanks for the props. Oh yeah, I'll be lookin out for a report from the Bronx on the Acentos reading.