Friday, April 5, 2013

Letras Latinas’ Young Poets Roundtable & Gathering

I suppose this post marks the beginning of the end of my stint—but hopefully not of my collaborations with Letras Latinas—as an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Notre Dame and a graduate assistant for Letras Latinas. This assistantship has been a godsend, giving me the financial assistance, support, and mentorship not only to pursue an MFA degree but to also to attend important conferences such as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) conference, and a second CantoMundo workshop--therefore providing a space that enriched both my educational experience but also my poetic sensibility. And just as important, I have been provided with a space and platform to hone my skills as an assistant editor and literary journalist—where I have been able to participate in what I conceive to be a monumental and historic Letras Latinas project: Latino/a Poetry Now. Latino/a Poetry Now, as many of you may know, is a national reading tour designed to showcase the thematically and aesthetically diverse body of work being produced by contemporary Latino/a poets. But I would venture to say that Latino/a Poetry Now is more than that, part reading tour, yes, but as the Latino/a Poetry Now roundtables (hosted at the website of the Poetry Society of America; of which I’ve had the opportunity to moderate two: here and here) will attest to, it is also a documentation of our physical and literary presence in the landscape of contemporary U.S. literature. A presence that refuses to be compartmentalized under a single aesthetic, thematic or even cultural, ethnic, or linguistic label but which thrives on its polymorphism. 

But what I think will be perhaps the most important consequence of my time here is the conclusion of a project and gathering to which I have alluded in the title of my post and which I suppose really began two years ago when I was first approached by Francisco Aragón regarding my acceptance into Notre Dame’s MFA program. It was during that first meeting that Letras Latinas' commitment to collaborations and “projects that identify and support emerging Latino/a writers” became most apparent. The young Latino/a poets gathering and roundtable is precisely such a project and is one that I am particularly proud of.  The young poets gathering and roundtable is, if you will, a thesis of sorts for me, one that culminates my time as a Letras Latinas’ graduate assistant. Part online roundtable, part gathering, this project (which I am currently coordinating in collaboration with Notre Dame MFA candidates Lynda Letona and Thade Correa) is designed to start an online dialogue among Latino/a poets currently in MFA programs. A discussion grounded around issues of identity, the MFA experience, but also around poetics. As readers will soon get to see, these poets remarkably and astutely discuss and comment on their own—not surprisingly—diverse aesthetics. What is perhaps—for me—the most interesting element of this conversation is the way in which the poets negotiate the polymorphic landscape of Latino/a literature, a negotiation that at times seems like a struggle and which is one of the defining aspects of the Poetry Society of America / Latino/a Poetry Now roundtables.

Another key component for this project is the young poets gathering taking place this weekend on campus at Notre Dame. The gathering is a proposed two-year initiative in which half of those poets participating in the roundtable will be invited for a weekend retreat at the campus of Notre Dame (the other half will be invited to partake one year from now; this is the goal). Poets will mostly just spend time together and expand upon the ideas touched upon in the online roundtable but, will also meet with, CantoMundo fellow Diego Báez, Notre Dame professor and Creative Writing director, and award-winning poet Orlando R. Menes and professor Marisel Moreno-Anderson for various conversations and workshops. Perhaps the best way to conceive of this retreat is to consider CantoMundo as one particular model—that is: the gathering serves as a space where issues of poetics can be openly discussed in tandem with poets being exposed to an established Latino/a voice, in this case Orlando R. Menes—but with the added trait that the weekend gathering has as its niche that particular Latino/a population currently participating in an MFA program.

Part of Letras Latina’s mission statement is not only “to enhance the visibility and appreciation of Latino literature” but also a commitment to “projects that identify and support emerging Lation/a writers.” In the spirit of Letras Latinas’ mission, we hope that this endeavor serves as an initial gesture toward the creation of a network of sorts and future program for: those Latino/a poets who are seriously thinking about enrolling in an MFA program and also 
those Latino/a poets who are currently enrolled in an MFA program. In a sense what we hope to establish during this gathering is the beginning of a network and a space in which we have the sort of conversations we have been having in our online discussion, but in which we also get the ball rolling for future gatherings.

Pictures and a post of the gathering are to follow, as well as,  of course, the online roundtable.

---Lauro Vazquez

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