Friday, January 20, 2012

Spotlight on Richard Vargas

by Melinda Palacio
Poet Richard Vargas

At one time, Richard Vargas attended middle school in Lynwood, California, across the railroad tracks from Watts where Luis J. Rodriguez lived, but the two didn’t meet for the first time until almost 30 years later, when they were both living in Illinois. Vargas left his job with UPS in 1995 due to a back injury, listened to his creative spirit and moved from Southern California to Rockford, Illinois. He found himself working as the community events manager for the local Barnes & Noble and as poetry editor for the town’s weekly newspaper, The Rock River Times. He discovered that the Rockford school board was about to ban Luis Rodriguez’s book, Always Running, over passages that were read out of context and over the airwaves by an overzealous and opportunistic radio talk show host. The outrageous bias Vargas heard on the radio prompted him to write several columns condemning the banning of books. The Rock River Times set up a town hall meeting for Luis Rodriguez to come up from Chicago and defend his book by debating some of the ultra-conservative school board members in public. Rodriguez’s visit was partially successful, receiving coverage on TV, print, and radio. During that month, Always Running became the top selling book at the local Barnes & Noble. But in the end, the school board had their way and banished Luis’ book from the school libraries. Richard has considered Luis his comrade-in-arms ever since then, and in 2007, Luis Rodriguez and Tia Chucha Press published Vargas’ second book of poetry, American Jesus.

For the new year, the poet finds himself again at a crossroads, ripe for reinvention. However, this time, his situation is vastly different as he continues to pursue his poetry. Last year he has received an MFA with distinction from the University of New Mexico and he is the publisher of The Más Tequila Review, a poetry journal with the byline, “Poetry for the rest of us.” He has completed a new poetry manuscript and is searching for a publishing home for his book and a professorship job to take him to his new home, wherever that might be. He only knows that with his MFA completed, he will regretfully have to look outside New Mexico in search of a job where he can use his degree, and leaving the supportive literary community he calls home will be a hard thing to do. Vargas admits he’s a fresh voice outside the canon, with additional experience in organizing literary events and publishing an independent poetry journal, making him a good addition to the right creative writing program. He values the years he’s spent as a graduate student and his too-short stint as the events coordinator for Alamosa Books in Albuquerque. “New Mexico has a vibrant, active poetry scene, and Albuquerque loves its poets.” Vargas said. “I’m really enjoying my time here. If you are a writer, Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole, is a great place to be.”

Last month, La Bloga featured a short film by Viridiana Martinez, “La LLorona,” based on Vargas’ poem children of the lost.

Of his poetry, Virgil Suarez, author of Spared Angola: Memories of a Cuban-American childhood, says, “Richard Vargas is single-handedly re-energizing contemporary poetry and the American vernacular.” Last year, Vargas’s non-fiction works were featured in Kweli Journal and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

One thing that has not changed for the distinguished poet is his desire to use his poetry to speak out against social injustice and the diminishing political voice of the working class. Last year, Vargas organized a fundraiser for the Occupy Movement. In his role as publisher of The Más Tequila Review, Vargas supports poetry that gives a voice to the many and takes a stand against the abuse of power by the few. The Winter 2012 issue of The Más Tequila Review will be available in early Feb.

Richard welcomes visits to his website.

Future Events for Richard Vargas

Richard will be joining Tia Chucha Press events at AWP in Chicago.

"Here is the AWP / Tia Chucha Press author signing schedule for Friday, March 2:

Jose Antonio Rodriguez 11:00 am
Michael Warr 12:00 noon
Patricia Smith 1:00 pm
Patricia Spears Jones 2:00 pm
Richard Vargas 3:00 pm

Also we have an outside-AWP reading with the Guild Complex on Thursday, March 1, 2012 in the evening details TBA. This will include Michael Warr and Patricia Smith and Luis J. Rodriguez as featured readings, along with A.Van Jordan, Patricia Spears Jones, and Richard Vargas.

(La Bloga's Melinda Palacio and Daniel Olivas will be on a panel at AWP: Wachale: Chicano Debut Novelists at 10:30, Saturday March 3.)

April 15, 3-5 pm, Richard Vargas reads with Margaret Randall, Lauren Camp, and ElaineUpton on the theme of “Family and Heritage.” Unitarian-Universalist Church, 107 W. Barcelona Rd., Santa Fe, NM.

when you beat me

Richard Vargas

does your arm tire

as you swing your

baton into the thud

of my flesh and bone

and you hear me

moan in pain

when you crack

my ribs and jab

my soft belly

do you feel like a

job well done when

you pin me on the

ground and harness

my wrists like a

rodeo cowboy

hogties cattle

no matter that

we are both looked

down upon by those

on their balconies

of glass and steel

who laugh and joke

as they spread caviar

on fancy crackers

that will never pass

our lips

while you choke me

knock me down

look at how they

raise their flutes

of exquisite champagne

sparkling in the sun

blinding you with

cold brilliance

and empty nods

of approval

for a friend who objects to comparing the events leading up to the Holocaust
with what is happening today in Arizona
by Richard Vargas

“I’m marked by the color of my skin. / The bullets are discrete and designed
to kill slowly. /
They are aiming at my children. / These are the facts.”
by Lorna Dee Cervantes from Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races by

for you “never again”
is personal and sacred
never again to being reduced
to less than human
never again to madmen
who spit their words
at you like careless
but calculated grenades
never again to being
scapegoat while a
government dulls
the minds and hearts
of its citizens to accept
the atrocities it will do
in their names
but even as i read this
we both know
it is
happening again
all over the world
and now
within our own borders
the tribes are different
yet they are the same
the raging wall of flame
that almost consumed
your people still burns
aided by strong winds
flapping the flags of old
and new hatreds
it’s a modern day
pogrom in the making
fingers pointing at “illegal
aliens” and “anchor babies”
words devised to strip
away humanity from
the powerless
but you and i know
what’s really going on
the names of brown people
are being redacted
from our children’s
history books
right now
we both know this beginning
this beginning with an end
no one wants to think about
but dwells deep inside our
fear gnawing nonstop like
a shiny slick maggot
so let us use your words
your gift to the world
language to name
the unspeakable
the unimaginable
the horrible
we will stand together
shout them out with
your same passion
and defiance in the
face of this heartless
never again
never again
nunca más


Luis J. Rodriguez has two Los Angeles appearances this weekend (an opportunity to get your copy of Rodriguez's new book It Calls You Back signed:

Saturday, January 21, 2012 - Contributors to the PM Press anthology, "Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail: Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion," including Luis J. Rodriguez, John A. Imani, Larry Fondation, Penny Mickelbury, moderated by Gary Phillips, will discuss the intersection between fiction and politics. 2 to 3:30 pm at the William Grant Still Art Center, 2520 S. West View Street, L.A. CA 90016. Contact: 213-847-1540

Sunday, January 22, 2012 - Poetry reading at Avenue 50 Studio, 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA. 2 to 4 pm. Contact: Luivette Resto or Kathy Gallegos 323-258-1435


Writing Workshop, limited space available, with Reyna Grande

What: Creative Writing Workshops with award-winning author, Reyna Grande.
When: 4 Thursdays, Jan. 19th to February 9th @6:30pm
Where: Private residence, East Whittier (Los Angeles County)
Who: Anyone who is looking for a supportive environment, guidance, and encouragement.
How much: $100.00 for four sessions

Contact Reyna Grande at for more information about the classes. If you are working on a fiction or creative non-fiction project and are looking for feedback on your work, and/or would like to learn more about the craft of writing, then this class is for you! Space is limited!
About the Author:
Reyna Grande is the author of Across a Hundred Mountains, which received an American Book Award, the El Premio Aztlan Literary Award, and a Latino Books Into Movies Award. Her second novel was the recepient of a Latino Book Award. Her memoir, The Distance Between Us, is due for publication in August 2012. She is a sought-after speaker, educator, and event organizer. Visit her website at


Announcements for Melinda Palacio:

Two reviews of Ocotillo Dreams came in this week. The Los Angeles Examiner by Frank Mundo and the first review in Spanish by Lydia Gil for EFE.

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