Friday, October 22, 2010

Ragdale Time: October 13 - 20, 2010

In April of 2008, I pitched an idea to Susan Tillet, the Executive Director of the Ragdale Foundation.

We were having lunch in Omaha, Nebraska as guests of the Bemis Center for Comtemporary Arts, along with others, at the invitation of Midwestern Voices and Visions---an initiative run by the Alliance of Artists Communities in Providence, RI. The objective of this initiative is to place artists of color in artist residencies---artists of color have never been to an artist residency.

But my pitch to Susan had a twist.

It involved Latino and Latina poets who are also literary publishers and/or editors. The idea was to place poets in residence together to allow them to work and be in community. But we also wanted to curate a group who shared what I'll call "the editing bug"----those poets who are also very much invested in getting other poets into print, Latino/a and non-Latino/a alike. We were posing a question: What would happen if we brought a group of these poets together and set up very loose and informal conversations about editing and publishing and Latinidad, in addition to allowing them to use their time as they saw fit?

This idea  (experiment really), with assistence from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), is what was played out for one week in Lake Forest, IL at Ragdale recently. Had the NEA awarded the full amount we had requested, the group would have been larger and the residency would have been for two weeks. In the end, one week seemed just about right for this initial gesture, and eight poets seemed a nice intimate number as I hope the photos that follow will convey.

My sincere thanks to David Dominguez, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Roberto Harrison, Raina J. León, J. Michael Martinez, Maria Melendez, and elena minor for saying Yes.


Ragdale has a nice custom of inviting their residents to display (and consider donating) any of their books. They are available for residents to browse and read during their stay, which is what ended up happening in many instances.

Some might argue that the highlight of any time spent at Ragdale are the delicious meals prepared by Linda Williams, which she lays out every evening for a 6:30 PM communal meal. 
Table talk, then, was a special time:

Table talk away from dinner, too...

On our last morning together, David rose early 
and made us breakfast: chorizo con huevos,
with a generous stack of tortillas


After dinner, on three of the nights that we were there, we retired into the living room for our evening discussions. Over two nights, everyone had a turn at presenting to the group their particular journal or press. An informal Q & A followed. The discussions that followed were unscripted and free-ranging around the topic of Latinidad and publishing. Two words that generated particularly engaging talk: "accessible" and "innovative." On a third night, last Monday, we talked about what might happen with our collective (with an eye, of course, of inviting and welcoming other Latino and Latina poets who are also publishers and/or editors) post-Ragdale...


And yet, most of the time we were there, our time was our own and spent on whatever writing (or reading) projects we felt drawn. Everyone had their own work space:

Raina shared with group the origins of The Acentos Review, an online journal for Latino writers, which she co-edits with Rich Villar. The Acentos Review has graciously agreed to host us on their links page.
Raina also offered, throughout the week, a lot of the insights she has derived from her rich experience in teaching youth, including in Las Vegas, and currently in Germany.

David is the poetry and non-fiction editor, as well as the co-founder of, The Packinghouse Review, a print journal housed in California's Central Valley. He shared with us how this journal serves as a textbook in a number of composition classes at Reedley College, where he teaches. He also conveyed his passion for working towards improving the academic and vocational outcomes for Latino and Latinas in the U.S.

Carmen spoke about her work as Editor-In-Chief of Puerto del Sol, where she delegates substantial editorial responsibilities to her graduate students in order for them to feel more invested and take more ownership of the journal, but always under her guidance. And she spoke to us about Noemi Press, where her editorial vision, if I heard her correctly, leans towards providing more space for women to publish their poetry and prose.

Roberto's editorial and curatorial activities involved the journal Crayon, which he co-edited with Andrew Levy, and currently Bronze Skull Press chapbooks, as well as his Milwaulkee-based Enemy Rumor Reading Series. What was particularly insightful and moving about his trajectory as an editor and curator was how these activities were and are informed, above all, by his desire to create community with other writers.

I gave a thumbnail sketch of Momotombo Press and how my experience with the Chicano Chapbook Series, as well as the mentoring I received from Gary Snyder at UC Davis informed my desire to cultivate the chapbook as a way to promote emerging voices. I also underscored that my role with Momotombo Press is now solely as publisher--through Letras Latinas--and that the editorial vision has been assumed by Maria Melendez, who has recently identified the next Momotombo author.

Breach is the word. It is an idea hatched by both J. Michael Martinez and Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize winner Gabriel Gomez. He described Breach Press as a new venue for Latino writing. He shared with us the experience of putting together the online work, "LaChiPo: a Decolonial Poetics," and the lively discussion this curated collective essay has generated. Breach Press's mission, as I understand it, seeks to stretch the canvas of Latino writing and to challenge the notion that there is an aesthetic division in Latino letters.

Maria shared how she came to assume the helm of Pilgramage, a project she described as "a community-in-print serving an eclectic fellowship of readers, writers, artists, naturalists, contemplatives, activists, seekers, adventurers and other kindred spirits"! Maria, who served as a co-faciliator during our week at Ragdale, was particularly diplomatic in helping us navigate our around the terms "innovative" and "accessible" during our general discussions.

I don't think I speak for myself only when I say how inspiring it was to hear about how PALABRA started, and how far it's come in its six numbers. Among the insights that stays with me about elena's editorial philosophy is the notion of opening the door to those pieces of writing that other editors might not consider "polished" enough to merit publication. In other words, PALABRA is open to the idea of creativing a space for writing at its various stages.


Our time together culminated with group reading, "Ocho Poetas," a wonderful way to wind up the week, reading to each other and a number of special guests, including Ragdale board member, fellow poet and co-editor of the journal Rhino, Ralph Hamilton. It was also great to meet for the first time John Alba Cutler, a young professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o and comparative literatures at Northwestern University. I might also add that the evening included a special announcement about a new initiative
that involves Latino poetry and counts on the collaboration of Red Hen Press
and Ragdale. Details to follow.

Susan Tillet gives a warm welcome
(photo credit: J. Michael Martínez)

 Raina J. León
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

David Domínguez
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

Carmen Giménez Smith
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

Roberto Harrison
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

Francisco Aragón
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

 J. Michael Martínez
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

Maria Melendez
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

elena minor
(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

elena and Raina.
Raina was the first to depart, leaving after the reading to catch a flight back to Germany that night. But not before this:

(photo credit: Laura Ramos Hegwer)

On the final morning, some of us left early. Those who lingered into mid-morning 
found time to visit a little more:


Special thanks to Susan Tillet, Regin Igloria, Laura Ramos Hegwer, Linda Williams and the rest
of the staff at Ragdale.

1 comment:

emma said...

Great post. Conveys some of the ideas, and the intimacy, shared during Ocho Poets.