Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guest Blogger: LEE HERRICK


April 10, 2008
Arte Américas Gallery
Fresno, California

half the audience

Connie Hales

Sasha Pimentel Chacón

Oscar Bermeo

Javier Huerta, Manuel Paul Lopez

Philip Levine

Javier Huerta, Craig Santos Perez, Daniel Chacón, Oscar Bermeo, Lee Herrick
(photo credit: Barbara Jane Reyes)


On the Publication Release Party for In the Grove: “Pákatelas” –
An Homage to Andrés Montoya, Guest Edited by Daniel Chacón

On April 10, 2008 in Fresno, California, the poetry and larger than life spirit of the late Andrés Montoya was alive—pulsing through the room at a reading I will never forget. I am honored to guest-blog for Letras Latinas in an attempt to capture some of it here.

Four PUENTE students from Fresno City College read a poem by Andrés to open the evening. There were fantastic readings by Teresa Tarazi, Mike Maniquiz, David Good, and Manuel Paul Lopez, who spoke of the transcendent effect Andrés’ poetry had on him and his students. I read a poem as well. Marisol Baca spoke of seeing Andrés read when she was just sixteen years old and how he bellowed out the word, “God!!!!!!” at the reading and she knew she was in the presence of something memorable. Among the approximately one hundred and fifty people in the bustling crowd, I couldn’t help but hope that many of the younger ones might remember this reading.

Optimism One, In the Grove’s first poetry editor from the late 1990’s, read a memory of the first time he read Andrés’ poem, “the ice worker sings.” It was one of the motivating factors that led Optimism from his job as a factory worker to becoming a professor of English. He told the audience that he still has a copy of that poem on his refrigerator at his home. Connie Hales read “Hectograph,” from the issue, and spoke about how she is still struggling to write a poem about Andrés. Connie’s presence at the event was vital, as was her influence on Andrés. She said that if you were ever to see Andrés on the Fresno State campus, you would almost always see Danny (Chacón) and vice-versa, before they took their friendship to the University of Oregon.

A common theme in the stories everyone shared about him was that he was large, both physically and in vision—and his convictions for poetry and God were even larger. The husband and wife team of Sasha Pimentel Chacón and Daniel Chacón, who co-hosted the reading, often said “Praise God!” after one of the poets finished reading, knowing that is what Andrés would say if he were here in the flesh. Dan and Sasha kept the reading moving along nicely with humor and good will in their introductions. They fueled the communal spirit of the reading by having the crowd chant “Oakland and The Bronx” when introducing Bermeo, for example, and having the crowd yell, “Love!” when introducing Hales. As Dan predicted it would be, it was a party with poetry mixed in.

One of the many highlights for me was the Bay Area presence: Javier Huerta, author of the brilliant Some Clarifications y Otros Poemas, read “Hideous Sonnet #2” from the issue; Craig Santos Perez, the creative genius behind Achiote Press and author of several chapbooks (I bought two and got them signed!); and Oscar Bermeo, whom I had met and admired but never heard read. I was glad that he brought Sheryl Luna’s presence into the room by reading “An Atheist Learns to Pray,” from Luna’s first book Pity the Drowned Horses, which was the first winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, given by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. I was very moved by Bermeo’s reading. The last lines of his own poem, a contemplation on “the city,” was delivered with the timing of a veteran musician, and it was a perfect illustration of how Andrés’ city poems resonate with his own experiences in Oakland and The Bronx.

American Book Award winner Tim Z. Hernandez asked the crowd for silence and invited us to close our eyes while he played the shruti box, its quiet wandering buzz weaving throughout the room. He then launched into a powerhouse reading of a variation on his stunning poem “Confessions of a Brown Lotus.”

Malaquias Montoya, the celebrated painter and Andrés’ father, recalled Andrés as a strong-willed seven year old and talked about his contribution to the raffle, a print of one of his paintings. To have him there, along with his wife Lezlie, was the highest honor.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Levine showed up—he left another important reading across town to be there to honor Andrés—and when he came in, the palpable electricity shifted to an even higher level. He read his poem from the issue, “Blood,” which is about brothers, and shared a story about Andrés as a student and how they both learned from each other.

But the highlight for me was when Andrés younger brother, whom I had never met, walked up to the podium. I knew the name Maceo Montoya (http://www.maceomontoya.com), having heard Dan talk about him from time to time. But I understand now. Yale and Columbia graduate, accomplished artist, novel forthcoming. And as he told the story of Andrés telling him that he was a “self-righteous little shit,” Maceo was so impassioned and clear in his desire to speak to Andrés again, that I am certain many people cried. He didn’t read—he talked to us about love, convictions, and desire. He stunned us, quite frankly. When he was done, he took his chair. At that moment, Philip Levine walked over to where Maceo sat and put his hands on Maceo’s shoulders. They embraced, and Levine said something into his ear. Maceo’s head bowed, and he wept. It was this kind of night.

There was a third and very important element of the reading—the amazing raffle items from around the country and the related presence in the room. Barbara Jane Reyes was there, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. She graciously donated two copies of poeta en san francisco and two copies of OCHO #16, which she guest edited. Connie Hales donated several copies of the Poetry in Motion bus posters of Andrés poem “letter to sarah.” Other raffle items that had the room buzzing were artwork by Malaquias Montoya, Maceo Montoya, issues of Tea Party magazine (I saw one man trying to purchase them all, circumventing the raffle as I wanted to do with Huerta’s uncorrected galley proofs of his book), chapbooks by Bermeo and Santos Perez, and artwork by the poet, painter, and beautiful soul Augustine Porras.

A few were there in spirit and gave generously to the raffle—Juan Felipe Herrera, who donated two autographed limited edition chapbooks; Francisco Aragón, who donated an autographed limited edition copy of TERTULIA; and Rigoberto González, who e-mailed Dan and me the night before the reading, devastated that his flight had been cancelled and would not be able to attend. However, he had wisely mailed me a copy of his broadside poem, “The Soldier of Mictlán,” a week prior to the event. I had it framed nicely, and when it was being raffled I was sitting next to Barbara—both of us hoping to get it, but alas, it went to another lucky woman. 

Raffle host James Espinoza was hilarious and kept it all moving well. If it has not been said already, I would like to thank Sasha Pimentel Chacón for often seeing what we could not and for her creative good will throughout the last few months. She is one of the most vibrant new voices in poetry—on the verge of making real waves. I am grateful to everyone who helped make the event go so well, and a special thanks to Arte Américas for the gorgeous space and Abby Bautista for his hard work at the event. And, to put it succinctly, this never would have happened without the love, hard work, and creative vision of Daniel Chacón.

Lastly, what I also loved about the event is how many young writers were there---those in high school or college and those with first book manuscripts on the verge of publication. This is when I met Andrés, right before his book was published. You may know that the ice worker sings and other poems was published posthumously. But clearly, the ice worker lives on. I am undoubtedly biased, but this was the best reading I have ever been to. It reminds me of what poetry can do. It reminds me how powerful Andrés was. The poetry I heard inspires me.

So, the night plays back in my mind like a film. Tim Z. Hernandez’s daughter smiles and plays with the poets. Old friends embrace and laugh. A poet enjoys meeting another poet or writer. Another poet’s one month old daughter is in her stroller, the sounds moving through and out beyond the room and into the world.

The Montoya family near the front.

Daniel Chacón joking with the audience.

Young aspiring writers here and there.

Andrés Montoya, everywhere.

For more pictures and recollections, please visit






and here

To order a copy of the issue, please visit In the Grove http://inthegrove.net

To order the ice worker sings and other poems, please visit here


On behalf of Letras Latinas I would like to express my gratitude to Lee Herrick for this special contribution---both the photos and the post. He inaugurates what I hope will be more to come: guest bloggers in this space. If you are involved with an event or project that contributes to Letras Latinas' mission, please let me know...and consider writing something to share with readers, here.

---FA, Chicago


bjanepr said...

Awesome recap of the event, Lee, and congratulations again on its success and for a wonderful publication. It was really great to see and feel such community warmth.

Incidentally, Oscar and I won Javier Huerta's unedited galleys of Some Clarifications y otros poemas.

Suzanne said...

This was beautiful Lee, thank you for bringing it here.

Lee Herrick said...

Thank you, Barbara. You won the galleys! Nice. It was great to see you.

Thank you, too, Suzanne. It was a pleasure.

Emmy said...

wish i could have attended. feel like i did with this wonderful post. thank you. "the iceworker sings" is a great book.

Rich Villar said...

Wow, wow, and wow. I really wish I could've been there. Did anyone record it?

Lee Herrick said...

You're right, Emmy. It's an incredible book.

Rich, I know of one person who recorded it, although I'm not sure about its quality. I was told I could get a copy, and if I do, I'll let Francisco know or somehow I'll try to get you a copy.