Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Review: Javier O. Huerta's American Copia. News. On-line Floricanto

Javier O. Huerta. American Copia. An Immigrant Epic. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-55885-748-3

Michael Sedano

There’s one word to be said for delaying reading Javier O. Huerta’s flights of fancy that Arte Publico Press published back in 2012: don’t.

If that’s not enough, then six words: Don’t put it off any longer. The “it” is a 108-page wonder whose prose reads more like poetry (given that subtitle, it should), American Copia. An Immigrant Epic.

I heard Huerta read selections from the collection at the 2010 Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow, and looked forward to the book. Now, looking back, I’m sad to have delayed the pleasure.

Readers will discover plenty of fun, interest, provocation, and a bit of confusion reading through the vignettes, poems, a play, and the five first-person narratives that hold the collection together, titled as the book, “American Copia.”

An insignificant confusion--though not to the author one would think--stems from treating the book as autobiographical. Only some is, the rest is fiction; maybe it's all fiction and the "I" simply shares a name and initials with JOH.

The first person voice that begins the collection deals with Huerta’s naturalization document, as does the initial “American Copia” piece. The voice suggested to me the whole would be Huerta’s personal story. Except he’s married to Maria in the first and last segments, but somewhere in between he dates Alma for a while; “La Pouty” takes the “I” to Target to buy bedding for his new living situation; there’s an “almis de mi almis” in Whole Foods aisles with the narrator, but that might be Alma.

Discord and domestic disturbance, however, don’t fit into the essentially comedic motive of the book, so readers will be left to wonder about Maria, and all those trips to the grocery store and those other places noted in the third person. So I offer a word about keeping the personae, places, and temporal shifts organized in one's visualization: “don’t.” Just sit back, turn the page, enjoy.

A provocative piece stands out for sexist egotism that isn’t found elsewhere in the collection, “When I Step, Females Respond.” It’s satire, an experiment to see if Huerta can create an unlikeable persona. He does. That character is a total jerk, and a bully. He’s relentless in pursuing Monica, who’s not interested but is goaded by her friends to go out with the jerk. The pendejo thinks out loud and tells Monica he thinks she doesn’t like him because she thinks he’s “going to hit it and split. And that as soon as you give it up, I’m going to walk out the door.” That’s exactly who this vato is, no matter how good he looks naked.

There is one other place where the good-guy persona disappears, the Preface. It’s a touching and funny instance, a nieto recalling his grandmother’s naturalization comparing it to his. To establish her English language competence, she’s assigned to write “I love America.” She figures the first and last words are the same as in Spanish, then prays for divine help with “love.” She looks at her ring and it spells “love.”

Huerta is aghast at the sentence he’s assigned to write, so much that the sentence becomes the operating motif of the book: “Today I’m going to the grocery store.” The applicant’s ego gets in the way. He's an English major at the U of Houston. “I wanted to tell the INS agent that I could do things with the English language that she could never imagine. Instead I settled for showing her that the sentence scans as iambic pentameter.”

Except it doesn’t. “the grocery store” he scans as u / u / . “Grocery” is a three-syllable word in my dialect, but to force the phrase into iambic “grocery” would be only two syllables, [gro-sry]. Ni modo; the INS agent probably didn’t give a hoot. She stamped the document and welcomed him to his new citizenship.

When my grandmother was naturalized in the late 1950s, she named George Washington and Ike Eisenhower, then answered “jes” to all the questions. At the end, the judge declared, “Emily, you don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” and my gramma answered “Jes.” The judge decreed it, the clerk he wrote it down, “welcome to the United States of America.”

American Copia sizzles with interest from language, subjects, genres, and the nature of Huerta’s experimental attitude to writing in English and Spanish and the mezcla. Among the pieces with lots of interesting stuff going on is the concrete poetry of “Mi amá va a la tienda porque necesitamos”. Typographically, the piece zigs and zags its lines, like a trip through grocery store aisles, up and down, over and back.

The poem also is an abecedario that circles back on itself from the final line back up to the second line (the first is also its title):

“anahorias y A
                        rroz y B
                                    olillos y C
                                                    ilantro y CH

The last two lines wrap back to the second line where it all begins anew"

                                                ocolatl y Y
                            ogurt y Z.”

In another segment, Huerta alludes to memorizing his grocery lists from A to Z, so the poem could be his mnemonic. Quíen sabe, right?

Javier O. Huerta is having lots of fun writing this stuff, a mirror image of what readers will do when they read the book, have fun. There’s his begats chapter, a tender piece dedicated to an autistic nephew. There’s a little story of the four year-old shopping cart who can’t leave the parking lot owing to new technology. Frequent allusions to a Huerta-now-famous imagined biographer penning important textbooks on Huerta’s career. This plays the humble card with feigned authenticity (oh sure, there’ll be a weighty tome with a chapter on Huerta’s theories of Chicano aesthetics).

There’s the fun pun involving Gertrude Stein and José Montoya. The two anachronistically go to a supermarket in the 60s. Stein says “a rose is a rose is a rose” and Montoya picks up a bag and proclaims “Arroz is arroz is arroz.”

Outrageous! And all part of the fun packed into 108 pages and readily available from your local independent bookseller or via the publisher. American Copia. An Immigrant Epic is a wondrous summer read that I delayed too long to read. But now I have and I'm glad to know this work. You will be, too, when you've seized the day.

U.S. publishing being what it is—even for an outstanding razacentric publisher like Arte Publico—titles come and go. Right now, American Copia. An Immigrant Epic is there for the ordering. Don’t wait another minute or there’ll be no there there.

LA Raza History: Important Places Being Decided

The City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources and the Los Angeles Conservancy invite you to share your insights about places in the city of Los Angeles that are important to Latino History.

La Bloga friend Jessica Ceballos notes, "give your input on the newest draft of the historic context statement of places and stories important to Latinas/os. Your input regarding what is important to you and to your community will inform the citywide survey and it will help to protect sites important to the Latino community."

Your input will inform SurveyLA - the citywide survey of historic resources.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015
7-8:30 PM

Angelica Lutheran Church
1345 S. Burlington Ave
Los Angeles, CA

For information, contact Janet Hansen at janet.hansen@lacity.org

Altadena Poetry Readings Ongoing

La Bloga friend and guest columnist Thelma T. Reyna brings poetry to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains as part of her service as Poet Laureate of Altadena, California. An early afternoon fête like these readings is always a boon to the "early to bed" crowd, and great precursor to hitting a favorite restaurant's early-bird menu, or a happy hour.

Los Angeles area gente will find this place easily. Go to Pasadena and drive north on Lake Avenue to the city limit. On the West side see the sign "Last Place For Coffee" and that's the spot.

This week--Saturday July 11--features Ricardo Lira Acuna, Gloriana Casey, Mina Kirby, Mary Monroe, and Toti O'Brien.

On-line Floricanto: Three for the Seventh Month
Rafael Barón, Neeli Cherkovski, Carlos Santibáñez Andonegui

The Moderators of Poetry of Resistance: Poets Responding to SB 1070  nominate three poets for this month’s La Bloga On-line Floricanto.

As we move through the summer months, poets will want to submit their work to the Facebook group so the Moderators can consider work for the upcoming On-line Floricantos. Click here for guidelines.

"I Am With You" by Rafael Barón:
"A Letter to Li Po" by Neeli Cherkovski
"Técnica del fresco" por Carlos Santibáñez Andonegui

I Am with You
By Rafael Barón

I am with you, hombre
when you beckon
the sun to join you
in another day of harvesting a paycheck
with dry swollen hands and a stiff back
to provide for the familia

I am with you, hombre
when you claw at the dirt road to your dreams
as the sun clothes you
as the sweat caresses your neck
before it lays to nurture la tierra

I am with you, hombre, mujer
when you glide through the vast dryness
thirsty to be arrived, attempting again and again
to escape, hoping for a better life
and always aguantando

I am with you, mujer
when you join the fields
plucking out exhaustion
and thoughts race your manos

I am with you, mujer
when silent nights
are filled with shrieking
louder still the pain in your body
and your calloused hands donate caricias

I am with you, hombre, mujer
when you are denied a raise
when you receive no healthcare
when you receive no promotions
because you have no citizenship

I am with you hombre, mujer
when you are beaten darker shades
of brown for being brown
when you are mocked for speaking
the language of accents

when you are denied acknowledgment
in the halls
in the buildings
on the sidewalks
because you exist in obscurity
when you inhale venom, free of charge – gratis

when concerns are for production –
not you the human
when laws restrict your choices,
our freedom, your pursuit of happiness
when laws protect those who exploit you
because consumerism is alive

I am with you now
in that understanding
that we are nosotros
that we exist in the same separateness
in the same discrimination
in the same obscurity
in the same shaming

I am with you then
in those moments
when you doubt
the American dream
when you doubt
the better life del Norte
when you doubt
the importance of you

I am with you

Rafael Barón is a San Diego native currently finishing a double major – English and Chicana/o Studies – at San Diego State University. He hopes to continue his education for an MFA in creative writing. And would like to help others find their writing voice so that they can find the confidence and ability to express themselves. In the meantime, he spends his free time working on his poetry, a book of short stories and a non-fiction book.

by Neeli Cherkovski

you are safe
old Chinese poet
safe from us
polite and informed
you are kind enough
we expect no more
you’re heart is here
in our heavenly car
we will only go so far
until we cross the stream
and find you standing
not staid but reserved
you hand us the moon
and we fold it
into our pockets
and then you tell
the butterfly
to become a silly old crow
just because
you want us to open
our hearts and awaken
to the rhythm
of a vast drum

Dear Sir
please hold my note
a moment
through all the Chinese
misery and pottery
do not let go
you placed the moon
into snow
and never relinquished
the bold and mad spirit
of the song

Técnica del fresco
Por Carlos Santibáñez Andonegui

Para una pintura de barniz eterno, el ojo ha de estar
siempre entre la niebla y el sol
(Da Vinci)

Sobre los huesos frescos del muerto
se celebra la misa
y ahí comienza todo
lo que sé de este mundo bañado en sangre.

Fresco se ha de tomar, fresco se ha de dejar;
¿Ha de añadir tocino a su tragedia?
vaya por el retorno a la edad media
y en su pared revuelva agua de cal.

Me reproduzco, muero, nazco y crezco.
Pinto. Hago la técnica del fresco.

Siento que nazco ya por la mañana
y ando buscando un padre o tutor.
Que me cambie le pido, a mi Señor,
y le doy mi conciencia por un ratito.
Mi conciencia: dos chapas y un segurito.

En mi banco se cobran a pura sangre.
Todo el que nace firma un pagaré a toda madre.

El colegio es ahora lo que me viene bien.
Fina capa de cosas que hay que saber.

Soy colegial y pinto por alegría.
Sólo el área que alcance a cubrir un día…

Porque al secarse todo endurece.
De repente uno crece.
Goethe me dijo anoche en la cama:
¡Mete las manos en la vida humana!

¡Llevan corriente!

Verse las manos, dice un personaje
de la cinta “Persona”
trae mala suerte.
Egipcios, godos, griegos y romanos
usaron huevo, goma arábiga y cera
para arrancar lo fresco
de lo inerte.

Meto las manos en la vida humana.
He arrancado lo fresco de lo inerte.
Soy como Goethe.

Pero también ejerzo la cartera de Marina,
Soy Senador Vitalicio del Reino,
Soy como el fresco propiamente dicho

Porque sigo jugando a los palitos.

Pienso que el sol se va de mis manos.
Desde motocicleta de alto cilindraje
se realizan disparos.

Al filo de las diez de la noche
Lo presiento y me altero.
En mi lugar habrá un agujero.

Seguramente fue otro interno brillante.
¡Oh, Dios del Fuego!
Tú le dijiste: ¡Ve a calentar!

En el Colegio pronto se enseñará:
A la muerte de Carlos el Temerario,
El Condado pasó a su hija María.

Me reproduzco, muero, nazco, crezco.
Pinto. Hago la técnica del fresco.

Y los internos van huyendo
en salud
Al “Periférico de la Juventud”.

1 comment:

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Hi, Michael. Thanks for the shout-out! It was great seeing you at our event and look forward to perhaps seeing you at another one (we have 2 left; the 3 Poets Laureate read on SAT., JULY 18.) If not, thanks so much for being there and for this summary here. Take care.