Friday, April 22, 2016

Poetry, Awards, (and Shadows) in the Air

Melinda Palacio
Mayor Helene Schneider Proclaims Poetry Month in Santa Barbara.

April is National Poetry Month. I was fortunate to have witnessed the declaration of Poetry Month in Santa Barbara by Mayor Helene Schneider. She read the proclamation and handed the ornate sheaf to Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle.

Standing with SB Poet Laureate Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

Earlier in the month, I had the pleasure of seeing Juan Felipe Herrera receive the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at the Los Angeles Times Book Awards, part of the festivities of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held at USC April 9 & 10.
Juan Felipe Herrera 
It was wonderful to hear the polite audience erupt in grand enthusiasm for our poet who has just been appointed to second term as Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Chicano with the honor of National Poet Laureate.
The Poet's Shadow

Our Poet Laureate pays respect to his roots during his acceptance speech.

Walking back with his award and shadow.

Juan Felipe Herrera and Melinda Palacio

Initially, I wasn't going to attend the festival of books, let alone the awards ceremony, but I'm sure glad I did. I almost let a little rain and overall exhaustion from having rallied to make all of my reading and panel commitments at the AWP conference, only a week earlier in Los Angeles, and only a few days after the funeral services for my grandmother. My first day at AWP I struggled to find my voice. I arrived on Thursday and had missed the offsite reading for the Coiled Serpent release party (I also missed the Coiled Serpent events at the book festival due to not quite being myself after spending a month in Del Rio before my grandmother's funeral). In the evening, during the Con Tinta Pachanga and the reading for the Poetry of Resistance anthology,  I had the biggest frog in my throat. John Martinez filmed all the readers. I was not aware of being videoed or taped. However, I am glad the event was documented even if I wasn't able to give 100 percent. I followed through with the reading, along with my two panels, and an interview with the Griffith Park Reading Series. Although both Vicky Vertiz and Veronica Reyes, organizers of my AWP panels, along with Sara Finery Turgeon of the Griffith Park Reading Series, had given me an out and said that I did not have to attend, given my grievous state, I was determined to follow through with my literary commitments.

A week later, I kept asking myself why I had set so many plans in motion and had agreed to another big book event in Los Angeles. In my mind, I was thinking that this book event would be just for fun. I'd tag along with Reyna and we would catch up and relax and attend I was under no obligation to present or read. It would be a nerdy book vacation for two days, and a chance to acquaint myself with all of the changes in Downtown L.A. since I moved to Santa Barbara. However, after hearing that fellow Bloguero, Michael Sedano was in the hospital and that we wouldn't have a chance to catch up at the festival and seeing the rare sight of rain, along with a terrible accident on the 101, I had second thoughts about spending another weekend downtown. While I was driving to Los Angeles, I rehearsed a new script. I was going to tell Reyna that I would have lunch with her and then I was going to drive back home. Reyna Grande was one of the ceremony's presenters and she got me a ticket and seat in the front row. We missed most of the book festival, but arrived in time for Reyna to participate in the award ceremony's dress rehearsal while I spent an hour taking in as much of the book festival as I could. The best part was running into my old pen pal from High School. I thanked him for his handwritten correspondence and urged him to write me a new letter after all these years (I hope he does). In addition to Reyna's presentation and Juan Felipe's award, I was pleasantly surprised to see that La Bloga's own, Sam Quinones, was nominated for an award in the the Current Issues category for his book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. Last, Valeria Luiselli's novel, The Story of My Teeth, won in the Fiction category. This same book also garnered the First Fiction award last year. Read Olga Garcia Echeverria's review of this unique novel on La Bloga. 

Reyna Grande presented the award for debut novel to Chigozie Obioma for The Fishermen.

It was nice to see La Bloga's Sam Quinones up for a Current Interest Award.

La Bloga Represents

Reyna Grande and Melinda Palacio

Happy Poetry Month. Read some new poetry anthologies for a sampling of voices: Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles, edited by La Bloga's Daniel Olivas and Neelanjana Banerjee, and Ruben J. Rodriguez (Tia Chucha Press 2016) and Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press 2016), edited by Francisco X. Alarcón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Rare Feathers: Poems on Bird & Art, edited by Nancy Gifford Chryss Yost, and George Yatchisin (Gunpowder Press 2015).

If you missed hearing about my big poetry event and art show in Santa Barbara earlier this month, you can read about it here on La Bloga for April 08.

Happy Earth Day!
Happy National Poetry Month!
Happy Jazz Fest in New Orleans! 

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