Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: The Trouble Ball. Bits&Pcs. On-Line Floricanto

Review: Martín Espada. The Trouble Ball. NY: W.W. Norton, 2011.
ISBN 978-0-393-08003-2

Michael sedano

Martín Espada’s new collection, The Trouble Ball doubles a reader’s pleasure with two parts. The second section, Blasphemy, comes with ten poems, the title section fourteen. Adding a soupçon more, the poet adds a notes section to fill in allusions and inform personages for eighteen of the twentyfour...one searches for the mot juste to encompass the experience of reading this most recent publication of America’s best English-language poet.

Diversity is too trite a term, but here is a diverse collection. Humor; eulogy; polemic; prayer. Each of the 24 pieces has its own beauties, some sizzle with passion that makes the others fade from memory. As it should be.

Masterpiece similarly suffers from overuse, like standing ovations at the Phil. The Trouble Ball floats a few masterpieces that will sustain the poet’s reputation as the best American poet writing in English. Like Dudamel at every concert, Espada once again earns his ovation with this diverse collection of masterpieces and pieces.

The title poem starts out as one of those evocative baseball panegyrics in the ilk of “Casey at the Bat,” “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” “The Boys of Summer.” The poem is dedicated to the poet’s father, Frank Espada, the boy in the poem. The reader is prepared for simple and warm emotions. The reader prepares to endure nostalgia for old-time legends of the sport, the Brooklyn Dodgers, a father takes his boy to Ebbets Field.

In its first three stanzas nostalgia gives way to understated anger explaining the brutal moment a little boy learns segregation and how to fit in: baseball kept black players out of the spotlight and the money in 1941, no los dejan, the poet’s grandfather explains sotto voce so their language doesn’t give them away to the social myopia of this blindly complicit mob.

Readers will follow the next five stanzas with interest as the poet turns the lens back on himself. What’s Espada going to do with this now?

Blasphemy--speaking impiously—comes naturally to some poets. Chicana Chicano, Puerto Rican poets cut their teeth goring sacred cows, so Blasphemy as the title of a section in a poetry collection implies much beyond the hieratic. For some poems in this Part Two, humor motivates, for others, death itself becomes the point of the joke.

The title piece comes second in its section. An eight line gem, its blasphemy comes with a smile, “poetry can save us” and “not the way Jesus, between screams, / promised” and its ultimate irony, poetry can save some of us.

The lead Blasphemy poem prods with humor, "The Playboy Calendar and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám." The poet as a teenager has a Playboy calendar and a copy of The Rubáiyát. Like a healthy boy he one-hands Miss January, his favorite, until December when he tosses the useless calendar. Onanism is not the blasphemy here. The furtive teen boy hides his copy of Omar Khayyám in the folds of the calendar, lest someone open his door while he’s on the bed memorizing poetry instead of mammaries. Blasphemy? The boy hides his poetry behind sex and therein comes his passion. There’s always a Miss January but only one different drummer.

Making death the point of a joke doesn’t take lots of courage, but doing it well requires a master’s touch. Espada takes liberties with all three, in a potshot at a literary icon, “How to Read Ezra Pound” that ends with a grand punchline, “If I knew / that a fascist / was a great poet, / I’d shoot him / anyway.”

Particularly in this second section, Espada’s work turns toward thoughts of mortality: Epiphany; for Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008). Like a Word That Somersaults Through the Air; for Abe Osheroff (1915-2008). Walking; for Howard Zinn (1922-2010). Visions of the Chapel Ceiling in Guadalajara; for Sandy Taylor (1931-2007) and Curbstone Press. The Day We Buried You in the Park; for Sandy Taylor. Instructions on the Disposal of My Remains. Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglas.

These eulogies come out as blasphemies owing to an insouciant attitude. When friends bury ashes in Central Park, the widow pours a bag of plant fertilizer onto the ashes to fool the local busybody. The poet remembers Sandy Taylor’s cigarette-stained cackle of a laugh. But most outrageously comes the poet's own final wish: to be stuffed and displayed at a hambuger joint in East Harlem.

The Trouble Ball is a real page-turner. While that’s oft noted about mysteries and suspense novels, it’s compellingly descriptive of Martín Espada’s work. Every poem requires a second, third reading. The collection, too, won’t sit long on a table before it’s back in one’s hands looking over a favorite line or thinking about the two broad forms Espada elects.

The poet favors a lengthy line in numerous pieces. Flip through the pages and see some pages heavy with ink, the lines all the way to the right margin. Turn the page, the next page comes with the abbreviated line, ample white space that more obviously suggests itself as “poetry.” Pay that no mind.

Espada’s first person, autobiographical persona and preference for a lengthy line emphasize the orality of his work. Some pages, dense with type, look like essays. Enjoy the deception. The proselike look of the page soon gives over to distinct cadences that make poems spring from the page like a choral score. Finding the rhythm, a reader begins to rock in one’s chair, a concert-giver enchanted with one’s own performance.

In a final note, physically, The Trouble Ball comes in an attractive package. Perfect bound in shades of green, the poet’s autograph is gold-stamped on the cover. The collection makes a beautiful gift, even with its odd dustjacket foto of a high kicking pitcher.

Ah, the best American poet writing in English. There may be chacun a son gout better Unitedstatesian poets writing in English. Martín Espada, like so many Puerto Rican and Chicana Chicano artists, writes the languages and sensibilities of America the continent. In addition, Espada writes in English with significant Spanish-language expressions. These he translates in appositional phrases appended to a line.

In "The Trouble Ball", for example, the poem’s key expressions were not spoken in English, but Spanish: ¿Donde están los negros?” asked the boy… / No los dejan, his father softly said.

The poem actually reads: ¿Donde están los negros? asked the boy. Where are the Negro players? / No los dejan, his father softly said. They don’t let them play here.

Although code-switching gente sometimes employ appositional translation like that, Espada’s choice to cast the speech in this style strips the language of its poetry, reduces the lines to redundant prose. There's no music in those places.

While the power of Espada’s art often overcomes one’s dismay at his election of that mechanical code-switching artificiality, the device remains an element of style whose emendation from the artist’s repertoire would make him a better poet.

Heartland Writers With Big Hearts and Small Libraries

La Bloga will share details of how you can clean out your libraries of worthwhile titles and do so without the guilty conscience that attends saying goodbye to old friends forever.

Kansas City MO's Latino Writers Collective alerts to the following:

The Latino Writers Collective is invited every summer to perform a workshop for KU's Harvest of Hope Leadership Academy. The workshop is for about 50 kids (high school age), and a huge percentage of them are children of recent immigrants. The kids come from every part of Kansas, especially from the towns that have a lot of meat packing companies, etc... We spend a few hours sharing our poetry and facilitating a writing workshop for the kids. The last few years, we have been collecting books written by Latino authors to give away to these kids. Most of these kids probably don't have access to libraries or bookstores that feature Latino authors. Last year, we gave away (thanks to Sandra Cisneros), a copy of House on Mango Streeet (in Spanish) to everyone in the workshop (1/2 were autographed). Some of these kids have limited English language skills.

In the past few years, I've gone to library sales and discount bookstores to purchase books. The nearby Borders is closing and I bought titles such as; Down These Mean Streets, Amigoland, Burro, and misc. other books written by Octavio Paz or Llorca for the kids that are interested in poetry. On our Facebook page we posted a request for book donations, and people are responding with great enthusiasm. We are receiving many shipments from the Macondo folks and others!

The Collective is dedicated to this workshop and last year the theme was-- "As a recent immigrant, people treat me like...." Other themes we have discussed are-- "When I first started to learn English I Felt...," and we've also had them write poetry based on a poem titled "I am From" (based on George Ella Lyon's original poem).

With the political climate as it currently is, last year's workshop was heartbreaking. The kids were in tears and coming up to the podium to share their stories. The Collective feels that as role models, we must help provide a safety outlet for these kids in which to share their experiences with their peers. The Collective wants them to know that they are not alone,

Oaxaca in H.P.
Woodcarver Jesus Sosa Calvo sends the following announcement. La Bloga does not know the importers sponsoring the event, but knowing the quality of Sosa Calvo's work,this should prove a worthwhile sale.

Imagine Beauty:
Celebrating Mexican Folk Art & Artisans
April 30 – May 1, 2011
11am – 6pm

2453 California St
Huntington Park, CA 90255

A Fundraiser For Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art

·Oaxacan Wood Carvings representing three villages of international fame
·Mata Ortiz Pottery, a significant art movement inspired by ancient tradition
·Sterling Silver Jewelry by Citlal, of the internationally recognized Castillo Family of Taxco
·Paintings and hand crafted mirrors by Adalberto Perez Meillon of Ensenada
·Folk Art from Mexico, Panama and Colombia

Visiting artists will be present to show their work & demonstrate their techniques
·Master Potter Pilo Mora, Lila Silveira & Carlos Carillo from Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua who will demonstrate hand forming of pots without a potter’s wheel, natural paints applied with long strands of children’s hair, and firing in the traditional manner without a kiln.
·Adalberto Perez Meillon from Ensenada, Baja California who will demonstrate painting of designs inspired by ancient traditions on papel amate.
·Jesus Sosa Calvo, an internationally known wood carver from the village of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca. Jesus will be demonstrating the carving of his famous animal figures.

Live Music & Oaxacan Food will set the mood for fantastic days of fun!!

You can contact the organizers for more info by clicking here.

On-Line Floricanto

Francisco X. Alarcón, Xico González, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Andrea Hernandez Holm, Elizabeth Cazessús

1. "For the 'Capitol Nine'" by Francisco X. Alarcón

2. "Haikú fronterizo" por Xico González

3. "Olmecan Eyes" by Lorna Dee Cervantes

4. "La Luna Keeping Watch" by Andrea Hernandez Holm

5. "Arbre de sal / Árbol de Sal" por Elizabeth Cazessús

"For the 'Capitol Nine'" by Francisco X. Alarcón

This poem was inspired by a YouTube showing nine brave Latino students being arrested at the State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona, for a Gandhi-like civil disobedience action in protest of the xenophobic and anti-immigrant SB 1070. My good friend Professor Manuel de Jesús Hernandez from Arizona State University had tagged me the video. I wrote a poem to honor these nine students and he sent the poem to the sudents and friends. I posted the poem on my own Facebook page and the response was overwhelming and led me to create this Facebook page "Poets Responding to SB 1070" with the help of poet Antoiniette Nora Claypoole on April 25, 2010. I am posting the poem again to commemorate a year of this poetic public forum--Francisco X. Alarcón


to the nine students who were arrested on April 20, 2010
at the Arizona State Capitol for protesting SB 1070

by Francisco X. Alarcón

y carnalitas
and sisters:

from afar
we can hear
your heart beats

they are
the drums
of the Earth

our people
follow closely
your steps

as warriors
of justice
and peace

you take on
the Beast
of hatred

the unlawful
police enforcement
of discrimination

chain yourselves
to the doors
of the State Capitol

so that terror
will not leak out
to our streets

your voices
your actions
your courage

can’t be taken
way from us
and put in jail

you are nine
young warriors
like nine sky stars

you are the hope
the best dreams
of our nation

your faces
are radiant
as the Sun

they will break
this dark night
for a new day

yes, carnalitas
and carnalitos:
all our sisters
all our brothers

need no papers
to prove once
and for all

“we are humans
just like you are–
we are not criminals”

our plea comes to
“No to criminalization!
Yes to legalization!”

© 2010 Francisco X. Alarcón
April 20, 2010

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


by Francisco X. Alarcón

we opened
the doors
of our homes

to greet them
they came in
and evicted us

we showed them
the open green
of our valleys

the sacred
clear blue
of the sky

they cut down
the trees
for their furnaces

we gave them
all the fruits
of this land

they poisoned
the rivers
with mercury

yet we survived
the slaughter
of our days

and now
we face them
in this final battle

to save
our lives
the lives of all

desierto / desert
give us
your strength

viento / wind
blow into us
your courage

madre agua /
mother water
guide us in
your tender ways

y carnalitas—
and sisters
don’t be afaid

las flores
las plumas—
the flowers
the feathers
are on our side!

© 2010 Francisco X. Alarcón


a los nueve estudiantes arrestados el 20 de abril de 2010
en el Capitolio Estatal de Arizona por protestar la ley SB 1070

por Francisco X. Alarcón

y carnalitas
y hermanas:

desde lejos
podemos oír
sus corazones latir

ellos son
los tambores
de la Tierra

nuestra gente
sigue de cerca
sus pasos

como guerreros
de la justicia
y la paz

la Bestia
del odio

el uso ilegal
de la policía

se encadenan
a las puertas del
Capitolio Estatal

para que el terror
no se escape hacia
nuestras calles

sus voces
sus acciones
su valentía

no nos las pueden
ya arrebatar
ni encarcelar

ustedes son nueve
jóvenes guerreros
como nueve luceros

son la esperanza
los mejores sueños
de nuestra nación

sus rostros
son radiantes
como el Sol

y romperán
esta negra noche
para un nuevo día

sí, carnalitas
y carnalitos:
todos nuestros
hermanas y hermanos

no necesitan papeles
para de una vez
y por todas probar

“somos humanos
como ustedes son–
no somos criminales

nuestra petición es:
“¡NO a la criminalización!
¡SÍ a la legalización!

© 2010 Francisco X. Alarcón
April 20, 2010

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


por Francisco X. Alarcón

las puertas
de nuestra casa

para recibirlos
ellos entraron
y nos despojaron

les mostramos
el verde sin fin
de nuestros valles

el sagrado
y limpio azul
del cielo

ellos cortaron
los árboles
para sus hornos

le dimos todos
los frutos
de esta tierra

ellos envenenaron
con mercurio
los ríos

pero sobrevivimos
la matanza
de nuestros días

y ahora
nos enfrentamos
en esta batalla final

para salvar
nuestras vidas
y las vidas de todos

tu fortaleza

de tu valentía

madre agua
para practicar
tu ternura

y carnalitas–
y hermanas
no tengan temor

las flores
las plumas–
the flowers
the feathers
están a nuestro favor

© 2010 Francisco X. Alarcón

Haikú fronterizo" por Xico González

Con tus pies
y manos, sueñas, inmigrante
tu nueva vida.

Olmecan Eyes

by Lorna Dee Cervantes

Olmecan eyes gaze into the future,
a path of light piercing the forest,
heavy-lidded with the past, ancient
sorrows carved into stone. With rain,
the present leaks into now, into the DNA
of fallen stars, the mystery of oceans,
the settled silt of settling into culture.

Olmecan eyes reborn. The infant
stone unfurling in our navels.
Another civilization reconquers
the wilderness of today. Sun devouring
Earth, we are shadows of the way
we were, beneath the shifting planets,
the comets, the desolate inconsolable moon.

Into the history of obsidian blades,
a human heart beats on the plate,
the slate of our division thinning
into someone's blood. The blood of
The People surging still beneath
the pursed lips, the pierced tongue,
the sudden pulse. We are The People

still. Our constitution stolen
from us in the fear. We rise, not
vengeful, but full of the peace
of knowing, our present tense.

La Luna Keeping Watch

by Andrea Hernandez Holm

We approach a full moon
pulled near
perhaps como una madrecita
cuando su hija
is hurt
drawing close
without embracing
bestowing healing
and light.

En el Día Mundial de la Poesía: "Arbre de sal" (traducción de Pere Bessó), "Árbol de Sal" por Elizabeth Cazessús

Arbre de sal

Hi ha en cadascú de nosaltres
un gra de sal als llavis
que un dia germina, madura i creix
fins a esdevindre un arbre de paraules;
dóna flor i fruit
viu i mor en un jardí de sal.

Árbol de sal

Hay en cada uno de nosotros
un grano de sal en los labios
que un día germina, madura y crece
hasta convertirse en un árbol de palabras;
da flor y fruto
vive y muere en un jardín de sal.

Elizabeth Cazessús


Francisco X. Alarcón, poeta y educador chicano, nació en 1954 y pasó los primeros seis
años de su vida en Wilmington, Calfornia. De niño vivió en Guadalajara, México, pero
desde los dieciocho años ha residido en el estado de California en EE.UU. Es el autor de
once volúmenes de poesía que incluye From the Other Side of Night / Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). Su libro más reciente de poesía bilingüe para niños, Animalario del Iguazú / Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), ha sido seleccionado como un “Notable Book for a Global Society” por la International Reading Association, y como un “Américas Awards
Commended Title” por el Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Actualmente
enseña en el Departamento de Español de la Universidad de California en Davis donde es
Director del Programa de Español para Hispanohablantes.

Elizabeth Cazessús, poet, teacher and cultural journalist, born in Tijuana, Mexico (1960). She has five poetic volumes published under the titles: ¨Ritual and Chant¨(1994), ¨Twenty notes before sleeping (1995)¨, ¨Woman of Salt¨,(2001) ¨House of Dream¨ ¨Reasons of an infidel lady¨(2008). This paradise is not lie, (2009), “Enediana” (2011). From 1985 to 1991 she was actively engaged in cultural journalism for regional newspapers. As performer, she is the creator of ¨poetic rituals¨ that fuse indigenous traditions of northern Mexico with performance art and music. Her short poems have been sang by soprano Lourdes Ambriz and included in the ¨Cancionero Bajacaliforniano¨, a compilation of poems suited to be recorded as opera. The project was directed by composer Enrique Gonzalez Medina at the Centro Nacional de las Artes in Mexico city. Cazessús has participated in national and international poetry conventions: Oaxaca, Sonora, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Chile, U.S.A. Her poetry has been included in Latin American anthologies; Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, Cuba, Puerto Rico, U.S.A; and translated in the United States and Poland. She is a recipient of several literary awards: Premio Municipal de Poesía (1992), Premio Binacional ¨Anita Pompa de Trujillo¨ (1994), and has several honorable mentions in short story. Has a blogspot letronomo, el palpitar de las letras.

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