Sunday, February 28, 2016

Here Comes The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles

Olga García Echeverría

the angels here
have pigeon's wings
blue collars
washed in sweat
the common salt
in tears
tongues swirl
in a stew of cultures
singing asphalt songs
in the mist of seagulls
bebop atop
the San Andreas
a humble plate
of beings

– “Los Angeles” by Kamau Daáood (from The Coiled Serpent)

Tia Chucha's latest publishing endeavor is an exciting anthology featuring a wide range of poetic voices. The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles will formally be released on April 15th, 2016. However, copies will be available at the upcoming AWP conference in LA. We will keep you posted on events and readings.

Co-edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Daniel A. Olivas, and Ruben Rodriguez, the anthology is dedicate to three late writers of color whose work and spirit have inspired so many of us--Wanda Coleman, John Trudell, and Francisco X. Alarcon. Coiled Serpent opens with a brief and powerful introduction by our very own Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez, who reminds us that “Los Angeles is one of the richest cities in the United States and one of the poorest. What lies beneath all the seething are the social and economic gaps.”

This is an anthology that speaks (sin pelos en la lengua) from and about those gaps. Hollywood (the industry that fabricates and sells so many glittery myths of our city) knows nothing about the real LA revealed in these pages. As Rodriguez writes, this is “poetry that captures a city, a dreamscape, the shape of land and culture… from its underbelly and from among the unseen and unheard. These are artistic weapons in the social battles upturning what America is today and what it can be—toward a grander sense of belonging and inheritance.”

Spanning 355 pages, the anthology includes the work of many well-known and beloved Angelino writers, including work by Coleman and Trudell. There are too many authors to name here, but among the featured poets are Melinda Palacio, Holly Prado, Ruben Martinez, traci kato-kiriyama, Lynne Thompson, Amy Uyematsu, Peter Harris, liz gonzález, Dorothy Randall Gray, Chiwan Choi, Mike Sonken, Terry Wolverton, Antonieta Villamil, Luivette Resto, Thelma T. Reyna, Abel Salas, Iris De Anda, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Jessica Ceballos, Claudia Rodriguez, Erika Ayón, Alejandra Sanchez, and Jamie Asaye FitzGerald.

With shimmering scales made up of metaphor and verse, The Coiled Serpent slithers through the poetic landscapes of LA. It gives us an intimate welcome, “...please / leave your bags at the door / don't carry what you don't need / come in have a seat / because i want to confess to you/ everything...”(Ricardo Lira Acuña). It crosses continents in “Haze” by Tanzila Ahmed, “Today / Los Angeles smells like India, / Like heavy fog and survival trash burning / Like the thick air / of dawn and dusk.”

“The coiled serpent is connected to the earth, but also ready to spring, to strike, to defend or to protect,” Rodriguez tells us.
Everywhere the serpent goes, there are migrations and the honoring of migrants, like Iliana Carter's powerful portrait of her Salvadorean grandmother, “a woman scorned, brutalized, / the fire that must have burned in her, / courage forged into black diamonds, / beat into shape by his violence / she fled with those dark stars inside her...” and in Karineh Mahdessian's “Here”, a portrait of a father transplanting the most fragile of things, “He has traveled far / to arrive with packed dreams and two babies / Here / He breaks his knees / Bends his back / Callouses his hands / suns his cheeks...”
Yago S. Cura gives us a Los Angeles County Jail Sonnet. He poets, “Jail is the real Mother of Invention: I have seen shoelaces made from the elastic / of a T-shirt, I have seen three miniscule toothbrushes lashed together to form / a wavelet-taming brush, I have seen a playing card used as a telescope, / a rhinoplasty / performed with golf pencils, and portraits of 2Pac, Mandela, and Rosa Parks / made entirely from Bologna...”
Everywhere the serpent goes, there are forgotten people, little people. “The little people listen with a fancy step / Fire in the village /The little people can’t help but dance /Fire in the village…” (John Trudell)

There are two-tongued cantos in this anthology that ask, “Why must we bite one tongue to let the other speak...?” (Iliana Cuellar). 

There's traffic running through this collection—a prayer in traffic, a curse in traffic, a buzzing refrain in traffic. There are odes to pan dulce and buñelos, love letters, F. Douglas Brown seeking advice for a daughter who is all “cherry coke and a pack of bubble gum.” How to talk about and upack the horror of lynchings and Sandra Bland? Or the genocide so alive in our city (cities), our world, our times?

These are poems about ashes, those  of the deceased and those left behind on city blocks as evidence of rebellions. And water. The divergence of water. The longing for water. There are meditations on poverty, money, gentrification, illness, earthquakes, and the crumbling of precious things, cookies, hearts, memory, bone.

Abuelitas, mothers, fathers, uncles, bus stop prophets, street vendors, lovers, drunks, the homeless, and the poets —they all populate these pages not as victims or cardboard caricatures but as resilient three-dimensional urban angels who uncover and discover, who rise up and remind us all to “give thanks and kiss cracked cement / moist lips deposit seeds of sea / into abyss that is our barren world / until the ceremony of our breath / conjures enough tears / to water our next steps” (Iris De Anda).

This is an anthology not to be missed. Look out for it. Support it. Help us spread the word. Gracias.

Luis J. Rodriguez is founding editor of Tía Chucha Press, which has been publishing culturally rich, socially engaged poetry books for 27 years, and co- founder of Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore. He is currently Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.

Neelanjana Banerjee, managing editor at Kaya Press and co-editor of the award-winning Indivisible: An Anthology of South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas Press). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Pank Magazine, The Rumpus, World Literature Today, the Literary Review, and more.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of seven books including the award-winning novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press). His first nonfiction book is Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews (San Diego State University Press). Olivas is also the editor of the landmark anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press).

Ruben J. Rodriguez, a recent graduate of UCLA, Magna Cum Laude, was previously an editor at Westwind magazine and has read at UCLA’s Powell Library.


Daniel Olivas said...

Olga, thank you so much for this beautiful and thoughtful review. We are so proud of the amazing poets in this anthology.

Luis Rodriguez said...

Thanks Olga and La Bloga. Coiled Serpent is a work of love--for poetry, for stories, for our vast multi-faceted voices. People should go out and get this anthology. Order it anywhere where books are sold--online, in stores, or otherwise. Share it widely. Tia Chucha Press is a premier Los Angeles press that has 27 years publishing culturally rich and socially engaged literature. It is the publishing wing of a wonderful cultural space called Tia Chucha's Cultural Center & Bookstore:

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Gracias, Daniel and Luis. It is truly a beautiful and powerful anthology. Felicidades on featuring so many amazing voices from Los Angeles.