Jessica Ceballos has every reason for ebullience when she stands at the lectern smiling back at a standing room only audience crowding into Avenue 50 Studio’s main gallery for 2014’s first monthly Bluebird Reading. Curator Raoul de la Sota’s dynamic exhibition, Indigenous Roots: Visual Interpretations of Personal Histories, provides a stunning ambiente for the day’s featured artists and open mic.
Bluebird today brings together essayist-poet Wendy C. Ortiz, novelist Daniel Chacón, poet Verónica Reyes, and absurdist Scott Schultz.
Wendy C. Ortiz works across genres as a poet and essayist. At Bluebird, Ortiz shared one poem and excerpts from Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press).
The author reads her stuff with clear, conversational neutrality, a style that fits her sharp-eyed participant observer role as a character in Ortiz' creative nonfiction. Imagine a calm, evenly-paced reading of outlandish events as you read Ortiz’ experience getting medical marijuana Rx:
In five minutes time, I listen to what sounds like a million words, spoken at breakneck speed, most of which I can understand, and watch this doctor scribble a number of words on a form as he explains to me why I want medical marijuana over standard pharmaceuticals. He explains my own symptoms to me and there are only two moments when I must interject a reply to his monologue. I walk out and wait a few more minutes; my name is called from the window, and I’m deemed certified. I pay,
While the writer doesn’t hit the reader over the head with how bogus the operation works, the poet might want to lead her audience along with a gesture or a vocalism when she reads
a reporter who happens upon a scene,
then carefully whispers his findings
to his audience, not realizing there is one,
maybe two, alright,
ten of us, and more
quietly folding the paper half by half, humming,
silently urging some kind of heroes along.
The poet here faces her audience, gestures; she smiles, raises a brow, turns, quien sabe. Not just because she can, but audiences are limited to what they hear and see, and people get distracted in that collapsible chair, so the poet helps her words along. Those words deserve it. The audience deserves it. Booksellers love it. People take home poems they enjoyed hearing.
Samples of Ortiz’ prose work on the web are here: http://www.wendyortiz.com/prose.shtml and here is the poem Ortiz read at Bluebird, Accused (1 & 2) http://finery.tumblr.com/
Wendy C. Ortiz brings significant talent to the page and will surely enjoy spreading readership, an author in demand. Her audience, and her work, deserve attention to presentation.
Presentational ethos shines in Daniel Chacon’s reading, influencing a sure but most amenable control over listeners and setting. He nearly gives up the lectern.
As Chacon warms up the audience, several interruptions force him to ad lib by engaging individuals he knows or ran into at Huizache’s party last night.
A photographer’s plastic chair elects to collapse and extend the interruption.
Daniel looks down at the discomfited fellow and asks, “’Em,’ is that you?” and shakes hands with me.
Photographer’s rule number one is be invisible. Or unobstrusive. The loud crash and contorting sitter get everyone’s attention.
Abel Salas rushes from his SRO spot to offer a hand, others solicit my well being. I tell them I landed well. I elect to work the lens from the floor.
Chacon reads a touching story of ethnic irony from his first book, not the current collection Hotel Juárez Stories, Rooms and Loops. He said it was to honor the old stuff, a grand idea.
Chacon had not brought copies to sell, but a bookstore would sell out of both volumes, Unending Rooms as well as the new one, after a reading like Chacon's Bluebird presentation.
Verónica Reyes reads her poetry beautifully, rhythmic and rich in dialect fit to the work. Good stuff well presented are poetry magic. Reyes nearly cast a spell on her Bluebird audience with her selections. Poets should remember that lecterns are the enemy of effective presentation. Slide that thing to the side and face the audience with all the technology your body offers.
Reyes’ audience participation number was the climax of her piece and gente got into it. Some of them. Others sat on their hands, the texters, peor, when the poet calls “¡Panocha!” and the audience responds “Power!” Stanzas like these deserve readings equal to their potency:
On stage she glides into the center like a subject
She read all her poesía from jota chronicles
Layered with Marimacha pride
The theme: “orgullo sin fronteras”
“from Panocha Power”
I sat alone in a room with no familia around
Waiting for el Día de los Reyes to arrive
Over the years, everyone fluttered away like chuparrosas
leaving this house empty of laughter, cariño
“from El Año Nuevo: A Tamale Evening Ritual / IV. 1999”
Verónica Reyes is another talent whose time is arriving. Her first collection Chopper! Chopper! is required reading in C/S courses--it needs to--for its evocatively quintessential voice and local color. If anyone should have taken more time in front of that audience, Reyes is she.
Ceballos takes the stage to introduce Scott Scholtz by way of explanation because he’s gonna take a lot of time. Schultz is a writer of regular stuff for popular media, but his Bluebird reading offers an outlandish adventure in absurdity and willing victimization in the name of art and literature. It was funny.
Schultz sets up a plausible preamble, some composer with an alternately pronounceable surname. He works that gag pretty well. The premise loops around a two-note chord held on an electric keyboard while he talks. B and F# above middle C, something only slightly dischordant but an effective irritant.
The self-conscious monologue recounts an hours-long performance of this same one-note symphony. Schultz sets the scene at a hipster café in Echo Park. That’s a joke in bad taste to gente being pushed out of Echo Park or near-by York Blvd by the hipsters, but that's beside the point. Schultz’ thing is being totally ridiculous--that was the point. We sit there collectively and endure. In a different venue, he might pass around the mota he talks about. He'd be a hit.
Scott Schultz' performance is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiments an artist needs go through to understand the limits of audience and kindness.
Sheesh, we get the joke, and after five more minutes it grows less funny, ten minutes more and everyone is waiting for Jessica to call time, and Scott Schultz is figuring out how long he can get away with it before Ceballos reaches her limits of kindness.
Boundless, almost, la Jessica.
Buen hecho, Scott, it almost worked.
Bluebird’s Open Mic draws people who want to hear poetry, not just the poets reading to themselves, though there are lots of readers today.
This day the signup includes readers from Santa Barbara and Ventura, first-timer Bluebird readers. Isabel Hirama stopped by from Taiwan. Isabel is the tourist who joined a metro subway reading Ceballos organized last July.
Gallery Director Kathy Gallegos tells me she keeps her door open to listen. Artist Pola Lopez’ studio adjoins the main space, and she and Heriberto Luna listen in as well. Who knows how Bluebird poesía may have influenced Luna’s Celestial Hummingbirds featured on the cover of Bloguera Xánath Caraza’s February release chapbook, Noche de colibríes: Ekphrastic Poems (Pandora lobo estepario Press, 2014)
One of the Deans of LA poetry and performance, veterano Don Newton, makes a rare appearance. He elects to read an Amiri Baraka masterpiece. QEPD. Newton is one of the founders of La Palabra readings Avenue 50 Studio hosts fourth Sunday of every month, now hosted by Luivette Resto and Karineh Mahdessian.
Sadly, the lengthy program depletes the audience and the final readers face a shrinking house. Ni modo. They read their stuff to an audience, each brings work to life that was meant for these gente right here right now. If there's one person, give the reading of your life!
Back in 2010, on the eve of Festival de Flor y Canto: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Abel Salas organized a spontaneous celebration of Chicana Chicano poetry, Floricanto Adelantado at Corazón del Pueblo. That was one of the greatest nights of poetry ever to hit Boyle Heights, and there's a lot of poetry in Boyle Heights.
Yvonne Estrada's sonnet cycle begins in her driver's seat on a public bus and winds its way to the lectern at Avenue 50 Studio. Hers is interesting poetry that La Bloga will explore in an upcoming column.
Visit Read! Raza's Writers and Oracy links for details on rehearsing and tips to make your next reading a satisfying experience for reader and audience, and sells books. Here's a gallery of these and more fotos.
Aural On-line Floricanto: Olivia de San Diego. "I've Heard"
This poem by Olivia de San Diego, “I’ve Heard,” was published in La Raza (Los Angeles) II no. 6, April 30, 1969. I do not know of any anthology collecting this wonderfully succinct declaration of personhood and Chicanismo.
I love the intensity of the reader’s voice. Tragically, because I loved those kids, I no longer have a credit to tell me her name. That group of students she met found a new world in the poetry I assigned them to read. The rhetoric of identification and liberation gives motive power to students reading work like this for the first time.
This powerful piece had a dramatic impact on the reader, infecting her with an informed militancy motivating her ongoing investigation of poetry. Like any student, she derived satisfaction from performance for a peer audience. She reaffirmed her struggle to remain in school and graduate. There's the power of poetry.
by Olivia de San Diego
Black is beautiful
Brown is Beautiful
To feel is to be
My feelings are beautiful
Because they’re real
Because they're me
And I'm being brave enough
To aIlow myself to feel.
To be myself. . . to grow
Who can / will understand
Who can I turn to
Who will help me untwist my stomach
My body is screwed with this
pain. . . mi grito
es loud and long
Can't you hear it?
that I feel ugly. . .
to discover after all these years. . .
That I don't love myself
That all these years I've been look-
ing at myself through gavacho eyes
Damn! I was a racist
I hated myself because I'm me???
No more, white man, no more
I'm a Chicana
Y sabes que white man. pig educator.
No chingas conmigo mas!!!
Barrio Writers Funding Campaign
|Barrio Writers read at Latino Book & Family Festival|
Crowd funding offers unique opportunity to see your money go directly to support a cause. Barrio Writers finds kids who want to express themselves, puts them through writing workshops and writerly socializing experiences, gathers them for reading in public, and publishes the achievers in Barrio Writers' annual book.
Founded in Orange County California by La Bloga friend Sara Rafael Garcia, the program has taken root in Austin Texas where Garcia attends graduate school and lives a TA's existence.
Garcia and a team of dedicated gente have published four annuals and set their sights now on a two-state book.
Visit Barrio Writers' Indiegogo page to help. Each sponsor gets a personalized poem written by a Barrio Writer.