Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Empanada. Vegan Pop-up. Final On-line Floricanto in April 2013.

Review: Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas.

Michael Sedano

Anel I. Flores. Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas. San Francisco, CA: Kórima Press, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-300-31441-7

Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas is serious adult literature whose experiences, attitudes, and issues would provide your book club with a spirited discussion about directions in United States publishing, genre fiction, Chicana Chicano literature, and cultural change. Such issues should not obscure the fact that Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas offers excellent reading.

A bookclub’s initial reaction might sound like “I didn’t know literature like this existed!” followed with explanations about metaphor and double entendre in words like papaya, tortillera, empanada, and probadita.

With “Lesbiana” in the title, for some readers, Empanada will stand within an as yet unconsidered literary space. As Mariana Romo-Carmona points out in her foreword, “A critical literary space for the work of lesbianas latinas had to be created and fought for—and I think now, more difficult still, it had to be imagined.”

And it had to be published. Which is the mission undertaken by San Francisco’s Kórima Press. The independent publisher describes itself as “Built on the Rarámuri tradition of sharing, Kórima Press is an independent publisher committed to Queer Ch/Xicana and Ch/Xicano literary art.” Kórima’s website lists six titles for from twelve to twenty-eight dollars.

All that aside, treat this book not as an artifact of the nation’s cultural growth but for what it is. Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas is a work of interesting chicana lesbian fiction. A work motivated by the author’s spirt of liberation and identification as a lesbian, Anel I. Flores’ Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas crafts a luscious erotic landscape not to be missed.

Composed out of forty-one probaditas--very short monologues and narratives, or “prose poems”—Empanada traces one woman’s life through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, through sexual awakening, through body image guilt, into a settled life. The writer organizes these in three themes, Food, Religion, Sex.

Flores paces her character’s growth using flashback and reverie, told in a well-adjusted adult voice. All the crap the persona remembers from growing up and being treated like caca, these probaditas tell that she gets past the crap and moves on. Showing That, not How To; in this light, Empanada is not a story of liberation for someone seeking role models, but a tale told by a free woman in a clear voice marked by large measures of humor, horniness, and self-awareness.

In the opening probadita, Flores introduces her protagonist as an enthusiastic epicurean whose sense of pleasure includes chisme, food, and sex. She engages sexual banter with comfortable biculturalism and appears content in her world. Then in probadita after probadita, Flores takes stories back in time then onward again through various events, charging hard toward and around the topic Paloma most endears, sex.

We witness the growing girl at various times from mocosa absorbing kitchen cultura, to bearing up under weight of a familia’s scorn and disappointment. She’s a fat girl who dresses like a boy. She calls attention to herself. Paloma’s anger at her “big boned” body, and appearance, add torment to her emerging sexuality.

Some of Flores’ most sensual, sexually fraught writing, comes out of the food section, particularly the monologue on eating an empanada de calabaza.

“De Calabaza” is an erotic version of William Carlos Williams’ plums in the icebox poem. For Paloma, the crusty delectation gives off an alluring scent that draws her near but she shouldn’t. She imagines a lover’s feet intertwined with hers “like a pleated piecrust.” The sweet wet candied fruit makes her blush. Finally she gives in to her gluttony, she bites, she eats her grandmother’s empanada.

The momentary pleasure of the act also marks a resolution in Paloma’s long-standing fat girl problem. In “Carne in My Teeth,” Paloma confesses, “I blame my obesity on the fact that I can’t talk at the table. When a word is just about to squirt out I stuff food in my mouth and cork it shut.” By the time Paloma can articulate the complexities of “De Calabaza” she’s developed expressivity knowing that speech expiates guilt, her sense of lustful gluttony set aside because this is who she is:

Desnuda, despierta, mi postre is unwrapped. I seize her with my teeth, let my upper body fall over the counter, press my cheek against the small porcelain plate, push her through my lips, take bites of her cuerpo of cake, and taste her against the roof of my mouth.

Readers will find themselves looking through a lot of eyes throughout the stories. If you read an electronic edition of Empanada, do a search for “eyes” and you’ll find “eyes” is Flores’ most powerful word. She uses eyes to designate and load perceptions. The eyes of the beholder report one set of facts, the beliefs of the beheld lead to different conclusions, simultaneously. The technique allows Flores to capture uncomfortably perceptive moments when you’re seeing the same scene through multiple characters’ eyes at once, empathizing with Paloma but comprehending the responses seen in her family’s eyes:

At the table, mi papi’s eyes screen a double-feature-daydream of her, scratching at my back barely hours ago, while la Chavela Vargas sings, sobbing and screaming to her lover who left like the paloma, and her eyes se mueren sin mirar sus ojos, die without her eyes. Paloma Negra, why did you go from my clock radio’s Mexican oldies, and boleros viejos? I loved dad’s eyes, her nails under my skin and on my back, la Chavela Vargas, y Sunday dreaming.
Floating in flight from my father’s eyes and crisscrossing the table to my mother’s eyes, the granite fence that keeps Mexicans out of our country for irrational reasons or orders from irrational and ignorant authorities, the rifle and the brown river shot into her eyes, against solid concrete cheeks mapped with streets of her town and his pueblito. I used to love to look at my mother’s eyes until she drowned.

With Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas, Anel I. Flores appears on the literary stage as a writer to be reckoned with. It’s too darn bad the publisher doesn’t allow the work to stand on its own as a piece of fiction.

Instead of just opening on page one, Kórima's placed Mariana Romo-Carmona’s eleven-page hyperbolic Foreward in the lead. Romo frames the book as a chingona rhetorical artifact of the movimiento for women’s lib, claiming, Empanada: A Lesbiana Story in Probaditas can truly be said to be the work of the first generation of writers for whom the reality of a critical reception for their work exists, and as such, it is their job to ignore that there were ever any boundaries on our creativity, and to take us beyond, way beyond the concept of boundaries.

The prefacist’s attitudes are needful and important, but oddly out of place after a reader's slogged through those eleven pages of academic-flavored prose, then feels the tone the author sets in her own one page introduction, waking to the smell of tortillas hechas de mano and the chatter of females en la cocina, where all our secrets are divulged and our dreams are told at the table.

I’m distressed the author and her editor fail to carry far enough their claim of writing “beyond the concept of boundaries”. The text kowtows to orthographic prescriptivism that interrupts continuity with italics imposed upon every putatively foreign word.

Who is this orthographic villain—the Author? Editor? Tradition? Who fails to understand multicultural gente who seek out work like Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas don’t think, speak, or hear ordinary language in italics. Such typographic conventionality disrespects readers comfortably literate in the dialects of their community while producing minefields of italic interruptions like this:

As a little tejanita, when given the privilege to escape cleaning, and instead sleep past 8:00 am on Saturday morning, it was because mami and buela were blessing us with homemade tortillas. The soft smell was so comforting, I often daydreamed there was a tortilla right under my cheek, between my pillow and me. I dreamt of digging my nose into the warm tortilla’s powdery surface and then devouring her without any table manners or reservations. But when the tortilla didn’t appear, I joined them in the kitchen, both in their pastel colored batas from the night before, to eat a fresh tortilla steaming hot, right off the cast iron comal.

Boundary-breaking work should really break boundaries. That Flores and her editor fail in the most basic element of publishing marks the distance Kórima has yet to travel to escape conventionality and demonstrate their understanding that trying is not achieving.

Italics (and arrobas which thankfully are absent from Empanada's bag of tricks) alone aren't reason to reject a title, but they set up a litany of regret that so outstanding a set of stories must be vandalized by taggers spraying italics just because they can.

Mail Bag
Vegan Pop-Up in Oxnard

La Bloga friend Michele Serros sends news that should draw legions of hungry gente on May 25 to her neck of the woods, Oxnard.

Serros promises a pop-up menu, estilo vegan, in the historic Woolworth building. Serros' husband, Chef Antonio of Flacos restaurant, is cooking. The menu includes food to please the Gluten-free Chicano, so extra ¡bravo! to Chef Antonio.

Menu will include Flacos’ signature dishes like crispy “Soyquitos” with spicy avocado salsa, vegan tamales (both banana leaf and soy-gluten free), huaraches, spicy pozole, soft tacos (textured soy protein with traditional almond-based mole sauce served on handmade organic corn tortillas), homemade horchata (sweetened to perfection with brown rice milk) and refreshing agua fresca de fresa, squeezed from Oxnard-grown organic strawberries.

Seatings commence at 5p.m. in Fresh & Fabulous Cafe, 401 South “A” Street, Oxnard CA 93030.

Mail Bag
Aztlán Libre Press Honors Poet

San Antonio's Aztlán Libre Press brings ever more ambitious and significant work to market. For the independent publisher's sixth title, Aztlán Libre elects to honor the career of poet Reyes Cárdenas with a retrospective covering years 1970 through 2010.

La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda, who, with Anisa Onofre, run the press, advises the collection divides into 11 sections, six of which feature new, heretofore unpublished, poems.

The publisher offers 15% off copies ordered through April 30 via its website.

Aztlán Libre Press books are also available through Small Press Distribution at www.spdbooks.org

Final On-line Floricanto of Fourth Month Features Five Poets
Elena Díaz Bjorkquist,Victor Avila, Ramón Piñero, Maritza Rivera, Francisco X. Alarcón

Do You Want to See My Papers? by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
Viva Chicano Park! by Victor Avila
Mis Lágrimas/My Tears by Ramón Piñero
Without Papers by Maritza Rivera
Jasmine In Qatari Prison/Jazmín En Prisión De Qatar by Francisco X. Alarcón

Do You Want to See My Papers?
by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Dirty Mexican!
I knew the look,
No need for words.

The man tightened his grip
On the baby,
Didn’t hold the door
Open for me.

Later we met again
In a narrow aisle.
He pushed his cart
Toward me,

Challenging with his eyes—
I should back up.
Instead, I continued forward,
Said, “We can make it work.”

No response.

We met halfway,
He didn’t give an inch.
Our carts squeezed past,
No room to spare.

His grand-baby reached out,
Placed his chubby white hand
On my brown one,
Smiled at me.

The man snatched his hand
Placed it back on the cart
Pushed the cart past me,
Didn’t say a word,

But I knew.

© 2013 Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Viva Chicano Park!
by Victor Avila

Has it really been
43 years since
they turned this patch of dirt
into a canyon of beauty?

Here the multicolored hues
triumphantly ascend the concrete columns.
They speak of a struggle
and of a battle won.

It is Aztlan's new cathedral,
a church for our people
where Xochipilli in his revelry
delights in all he sees.

43 years and 43 years more.

Viva Barrio Logan!

Viva la Raza!

Viva Chicano Park!

© 2013 Victor Avila

Mis Lágrimas/My Tears
by Ramón Piñero

my children are dying
throughout the globe
some by their own hands
others helped along
by visible and
invisible demons

my babies are being
choked to death
by the poison in the
air and others by the poison
in their mothers' milk.

some are closing
their eyes and laying
still/yet others are walking
upright with no light
in their eyes
dead to sensation
dead to all
around them

my children are dying
all around me
they are dying in the desert
they are dying in the cities
they are dying in Americas'
in the Steppes
and the camps
in Jordan
on 110th street
and around the

my children
are dying at the
hands of those
who say they love them
at the hands of
those who
don't really care

they're dying with
their eyes open
glued to games that
offer instant gratification
their eyes open to suffering
and pain\unseeing
through the artificial
that symbol of riches
that decay with time
there is no reset button
no extra lives

my children are dying
while we argue over
where to place their bones
where to build their mausoleums
what fancy words
will be their epitaph

my children need to live
they need to dance atop the
rainbows\and sing aloud
so that no evil can touch them;
laugh so that the only sadness they know
is that the laugh needs to be louder
so that their Gods can no longer
plead ignorance/can no longer turn
a deaf ear to
those little
voices of angels
as they sing
for our redemption

© 2013 Ramón Piñero

Without Papers
by Maritza Rivera

The R-word, the S-word, N:
the alphabet is riddled
with such offensive letters.

© 2013 Maritza Rivera

for poet Mohammad ibn al-Ajami
by Francisco X. Alarcón

we are all Mohammad ibn al-Ajami! —
we sit in jail with him condemned
to a life in prison

for writing a poem
celebrating the Arab Spring,
“Tunisian Jasmine” —

“We are all Tunisia
in the face of repressive elite!...
The Arab governments

and those who rules them are,
without exception, thieves,

what kind of lions are these
who feel so threatened
by spoken truths

so compelled to keep
within their jaws and paws
a jasmine shining in the dark

© Francisco X. Alarcón
February 5, 2013

The sentencing of Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami came nearly two years after he wrote a poem titled "Tunisian Jasmine," supporting the uprisings in the Arab world. "We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites!" al-Ajami wrote. "The Arab governments and who rules them are, without exception, thieves. Thieves!"
In February 2013, it was reported that al-Ajami's life sentence had been reduced to fifteen years. Defense attorneys seeking his immediate release said they were planning an appeal to Qatar's supreme court.

al poeta Mohammad ibn al-Ajami
por Francisco X. Alarcón

¡todos somos Mohammad ibn al-Ajami! —
en la cárcel estamos con él condenados
a cadena perpetua

por escribir un poema
celebrando la Primavera Árabe
“Jasmin de Túnez” —

“Todos somos Túnez
frente a las élites represivas!...
Los gobiernos árabes

y todos los que los rigen son,
sin excepción, ladrones,

qué tipo de leones son estos
que se sienten tan amenazados
por verdades enunciadas

tan obligados a atrapar
en sus fauces y garras a un jasmín
dando luz en tanta oscuridad

© Francisco X. Alarcón
5 de febrero de 2013

Do You Want to See My Papers? by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
Viva Chicano Park! by Victor Avila
Mis Lágrimas/My Tears by Ramón Piñero
Without Papers by Maritza Rivera
Jasmine In Qatari Prison/Jazmín En Prisión De Qatar by Francisco X. Alarcón

After an incident like the one in “Do You Want to See My Papers,” I have to wait and let the anger subside before I can write a poem about it. William Wordsworth once said, "Poetry is made up of emotion recollected in tranquility." I found early on in my writing that people are more apt to hear something not written in anger.

A writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, Elena writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She co-edited Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos and Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems, anthologies written by her writers collective Sowing the Seeds.

As an Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Scholar, Elena has performed as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation and done presentations about Morenci, Arizona for twelve years. In 2012 she received the Arizona Commission on the Arts Bill Desmond Writing Award for excelling nonfiction writing and the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Public Humanities Scholar Award in recognition of her work to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. She was nominated for Tucson Poet Laureate in 2012. She is one of the moderators of the Facebook page Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Her website is at http://elenadiazbjorkquist.com/.

Victor Avila is an award-winning poet. Two of his poems where recently included in the anthology Occupy SF-Poems From the Movement. He has taught in California public schools for over 20 years.

Ramón Piñero. Ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever.
Nuff said...
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, born in Los Angeles, in 1954, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992), Sonetos a la locura y otras penas / Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company 2001), De amor oscuro / Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press 1991, and 2001).
His latest books are Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun/Poemas para el Nuevo Sol (Swan Scythe Press 2010), and for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008) which was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and as an Américas Awards Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together/Poiemas para sonar juntos (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award.
He teaches at the University of California, Davis, where he directs the Spanish for Native Speakers Porgram. He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:

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