Laureate Closes Term Poetically: The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World
The “crown jewel” of the University of California system shifted from Berkeley to UC’s Riverside campus last week, where faculty member and California Poet Laureate emeritus, Juan Felipe Herrera
Unity Poem Fiesta.
Stephen Cullenberg, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, rounded up a cohort of sponsors to give the event first-class cachet from entry onto campus to the siting of the free lunch, poetry tables, and presentations on a main campus walkway. Hundreds of passersby, if for only the minute’s traverse, shared The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World. Click here for sponsor details.
A major bugbear of attending University public programs is paying nine bucks parking to attend a free event. UCR took care of it, free parking. Organizers set aside the closest-to-campus parking lot for poetry. Making sure drivers find their free parking, directional signs line the highway approaching campus.
This superb planning put smiles on faces following the signs to the fiesta a quarter mile distant. Reaching the walkway, the first tent greeting visitors is the free lunch. A soft tacos bar—three per eater, asada, pollo, vegetables--with the trimmings.
In the shady park, multiple hydrating stations offer iced water, juice, coffees. Another proof of top-notch planning, there’s ample supply of cups.
Ambience goes unnoticed in events like these, and this is the curse and compliment of being among the organizing staff. The curse is not being noticed for your crucial role, the compliment is visitors aren’t supposed to notice planning, preparation, attention to detail. Nothing staff can do about the intense desert sun. Empty rows of folding chairs close to the speeches and readings weren’t enough to lure any but a few gente from the cooling lawn and deep shade.
|Herrera, Chancellor Wilcox, Dean Cullenberg, Winer|
The kids perform a beautiful choral reading of their composition Roses are red violets are blue There's only one unity between me and you! The poem was composed by the students as an element of the Poet Laureate’s The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World Project.
Improvising from a chapbook assembled from the Unity poem, the choir performs call-and-response voice music. The bass and drums of Trokka Rhythm & Spoken Word Percussion Group, featuring poet John Martinez on congas, add to the enjoyment of both the choir and the audience. Martinez lays down some complex beats.
Herrera has invited poets from across California to join him today. They form the heart of the Unity Voice Choir. Herrera begins the aural feast by reading off the chapbook page. The choir follows along, guided by the book. Inspiration conquers page and Herrera calls out rhythmic and singsong variations, short gasps or multisyllabic chant, puro a la brava taking off on rhyme and reason that have the choir laughing to keep up. The words call out all manner of inspiration from fruit to vegetable to love.
Puro fun, this closing segment of the California Poet Laureate Project, The Most Incredible & Biggest Poem on Unity in the World.
Video by Concepción Valadez
The Unity Poem Fiesta sent-off the California Poet Laureate in grand style and highest spirits. Herrera’s work as Laureate lends significant prestige to the University, one more signal of UCR’s rapid coming-of-age as a major cultural force for the Inland Empire. Read about the Unity Poem Project here.
Click here to read the California legislation creating the California Poet Laureateship.
Luis J. Rodriguez Named Los Angeles Poet Laureate
A nourishing sign of poetry continuity arrives even as Juan Felipe Herrera closes his two years as the California Poet Laureate. The day after the UCR fiesta, the Mayor of Los Angeles announced the Los Angeles Poet Laureate is Luis J. Rodriguez.
A candidate for Governor of California, Rodriguez lost in the primary despite articulating a philosophy of unity and opportunity. The Los Angeles Laureateship reminds gente that foremost Rodriguez is a poet. Given Rodriguez' activist nature, Los Angeles should look forward to eye-opening poetry initiatives that reflect the City's objectives for the Poet Laureate program:
Enhance the presence and appreciation of poetry and the literary arts in Los Angeles;
Create a focal point for the expression of Los Angeles culture through the literary arts;
Raise awareness of the power of literature, poetry, and the spoken word;
Inspire an emerging generation of critical thinkers, writers, storytellers, and literary artists;
Bring the literary arts to people in Los Angeles who have limited access to poetry or have few opportunities for exposure to expressive writing;
Encourage both the reading and writing of literature; and,
Create a new body of literary works that commemorate the diversity and vibrancy of the LA region.
La Bloga sends abrazos and felicidades to Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of the City of Los Angeles.
News & Notes
Teatro Summit Sweeping Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Theatre Center in the heart of Los Angeles is the site of an historical gathering of professional raza theater companies from across the nation. If LATC's publicity sounds ambitiously chingón that's because they stand behind their work.
A vibrant company that hires local actors and develops plays by local writers, LATC recognizes an obligation to widen the artistic horizons of what people get to see on stage. Per LATC's website, Encuentro brings
a month-long celebration of Latina/o theater from October 12 through November 10. This groundbreaking month-long event is the first theater festival in the U.S. to bring together more than 19 theater companies and 150 artists from the U.S. and Puerto Rico to present 19 works that represent the multi-faceted Latina/o experience on stage – from violence at the border and pressing immigration concerns to the complexities of romantic relationships and families.
Visit the teatro's website for tickets and curtain times.
News & Notes
Anaya Lecture Slated for Albuquerque
The UNM Department of English hosts distinguished writer Ana Castillo to deliver the 5th annual Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest, on Thursday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in George Pearl Hall room 101. A reception will follow. George Pearl Hall houses the School of Architecture and Planning and is located on Central and Cornell NE. The lecture is free and open to the public.
On-line Floricanto for the 14th of the Tenth
Victor Avila, Richard Vargas, Oralia Rodríguez, Jeff Cannon
The Moderators of the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070; Poetry of Resistance commend four poets in the second of this month's pair of La Bloga On-line Floricantos.
Looking Through Chain-Link at McAllen Station
by Victor Avila
Although this young girl is not Ruby Bridges
and has never heard her name
she has the same heart of forgiveness
for those looking to blame
this anonymous child for every ill in the world
as she tries to get sleep in McAllen Station.
In her dreams she looks into the eyes of an ambiguous nation
and sees two completely different faces.
One speaks with empathetic eyes that understand her suffering.
While the other face...speaks about God's love and mercy
but seemingly, only on Sundays.
She's awakened by the hum of fans on the ceiling-
beside her, a younger sister who is still sleeping.
She notices a orange butterfly just outside the window.
She wonders what it would be like to have wings
that could fly over any wall or any border.
No, her dreams of becoming a butterfly will not be denied.
Certainly not by those who shout venomous words
that she can't understand. She's beginning to learn
that forgiveness is greater than hatred found in some hearts.
And that humility is a sign of true strength no matter the circumstance.
It's as if God has polished her heart
and it now reflects His light for the world to see.
Her love is His love and a beacon for all
including those who protest her presence through ill-conceived notions.
Yes, the butterfly has flown and left McAllen Station
And flutters northward beyond the reach of ignorance and hatred.
song for Shenandoah… for Luis Ramirez
by Richard Vargas
“The Devil has the people by the throat…” Annina, explaining to Rick why she is leaving her country. Casablanca
oh Shenandoah, strip mined and bare
by the sweat of men cursing in broken
English as coal-black dust streaks their
European faces with eyes on the
mother to Tommy and Jimmy
Dorsey who gave our soldiers
big band swing music as they
dodged bullets on the way to
victory over Berlin and Tokyo
land of Mrs. T’s Pierogies
and a meager slice of the
American dream worth
$12, 562 per capita income
at the start of the 21st century
some say the name
is derived from indigenous tongues
means “beautiful star daughter”
small town once proud once
thriving thirty thousand strong
today’s headcount barely five thousand
Shenandoah hangs on like another
forgotten whistle stop crying out
for new blood new people
until we heed your call
we climb your walls and
wade through muddy brown river
we walk and run across deserts
hide in bushes and seek shade
while drinking warm water from
discarded plastic Coke bottles
tied to our waists with twine
we die with swollen tongues from border heat
we smother in the trunks of cars and asphyxiate
packed like sardines in 40 ft. trailers left to
bake in the noonday sun for the jobs you
don’t want and the wages you refuse
the grass will always be greener
the grass will always be greener
the grass will always be greener
Shenandoah, we claim you
cut your lawns
bus the tables
wash your dishes
take out the garbage
sweep your sidewalks
shore up crumbling walls
patch the cracks in your
weathered face with flowers
that bloom in the spring
the bass of a tuba
vibrates dirty windows
shakes the dust off
worn and faded curtains
we bring tortillas and pico
de gallo to your table
Tecate and pan dulce
the laughter of children
breaking open Spider-Man
piñatas on birthdays
we are grateful because
for us a day’s hard work
is a gift from God
Shenandoah, your children walk
the streets angry and drunk on
the sweet lies of corporate media
mouthpieces singing empty and false:
The Mexicans are coming!
The Mexicans are coming!
The Mexicans are here!
a man’s head kicked hard
with the force of a hate unleashed
from the dark side of fear and loathing
will crack like a melon dropped
on the pavement and its juices
will slowly leak and stain the street
a religious medal hanging from
the neck and stomped into a man’s
chest will imprint the holy face
of the savior deep into the skin
brand him in the name of
he foams at
he is still
hiding behind screen names
on the internet a new generation
of minutemen join in
take aim and post comments:
“these boys sacrificed their futures
in much the same way a marine
sacrifices his life on the battlefield
we are being invaded
if i was on the jury no way
these boys would be convicted
more dead illegals will discourage
future border jumps”
sometimes a moment
is an hour, a week, a year
sometimes a decade or
a century passes in the blink
of an eye when all it takes
to recall the history of
our people buried deep
in our genes is the
sound of one word
is the humiliation of
tired and hungry ancestors
enduring its ugly sound
while picking Texas cotton
and California grapes from
sunup to sundown
is the mean reminder of
all that can never be and
all that will be denied
is the neighborhood
where houses can be rented
and the side of the railroad
tracks that are off limits
is long drives down
dusty roads looking
for crops to pick and ditches
to dig in a strange land
where wages are determined
by skin color
and still we come
again and again
Shenandoah, why are you weeping
why are your shoulders hung low
do not hide your face in shame
your sad cry rolling through
the valleys and bouncing off
the mountains is not in vain
no matter how many miles
there are between us
how many walls are raised
to keep us out
“This poem began to take form while I was a student of Prof. Jesse Aleman at the University of New Mexico. He provided early criticism that helped me shape the poem into what it is today. A few years later, at the National Latino Writers Conference, (National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM) I had a one-on-one session with poet/teacher, Francisco X. Alarcon, and he gave the poem an in-depth critique that led to the final edits. I am grateful for their consideration and professional input.”
He will be reading at the following Midwest venues in Oct. 2014:
10/15: Left Bank Books, St. Louis
10/16: The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Indianapolis
10/17: Rainbow Bookstore Co-op, Madison, WI
10/19: City Lit Books (w/Diana Pando and Carlos Cumpian) Chicago
por Oralia Rodríguez
Tumultos de cenizas
ríen, al no poder llorar,
se volvieron flores deshojadas
en brazos por el viento,
la muerte danza, danza
en un eterno letargo,
marcan su ritmo.
Las sombras se abrazan
al escuchar los alaridos
de los jazmines mutilados,
el dolor vuelto a nacer,
el estómago es un nido de alacranes,
aún estas ahí?.
La humanidad se viste de indiferencia
las palabras son menos que sal,
el cielo vomita lumbre,
el laúd esta de luto,
ahora guía al cortejo
de trozos de ilusiones, sueños y esperanzas,
que ni la embriaguez
los gobiernos como perros se disputan,
muerden, ladran, engañan
en la tierra de nadie.
La Tierra cual cántaro de sangre,
las bestias, se jactan, besan los trozos
que encuentran a su paso
Cuando la mar se seque sabrá
que muerde mis adentros,
la verdad, ¿cuál verdad?
Tan simple, tan llano
© Oralia Rodríguez
Before the Darkness
by Jeff Cannon
I fold a homeless leaf weary
writing to the air
Then your distant light falls on me
potent fire thread
I uncurl from that brown devouring mouth
Swallowing me into the sad stomach of
its Detroit trashed home
where boarded windows weep
life less rooms eat me with
their endless moans
the food betrayed dreams can only place
on empty tables
Lift me poet light from this dungeon
i am alive
must speak despite the words that fail me
words no longer moist
more brittle autumn whispers than
volcanic passion that rose before
darkness pressed against my throat
Save me poet light
warm me by your sounding
the way Neruda passed the vibrant ocean
to everyone imprisoned
I am your wounded kin
my fleshless palm still presses against
the open wound
spurting what’s left of me against
dead concrete side walks
angry roads, death fumed cars, mad driver driven
Since the vocabulary of love got stopped
at the border
the guards couldn’t find its number
sent love back into the desert to die
my word brothers, my verse sisters
i may be sinking ankle caught but
not ready yet to descend into oblivion
without at least
before the bullets
© Jeff Cannon, 08/08/2014, 12:09 am, at desk with thanks to my sister and brother poets, in particular this time to Francisco X. Alarcon.