Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: Nightmare Parenting in Mexican Satire. AWP-LA III. Americo Paredes Conference. The Gluten-free Chicano Discovers. Classic Slam!

Review: The Body Where I was Born.

Michael Sedano

Guadalupe Nettel. Translated from the Spanish by J.T. Lichtenstein. The Body Where I was Born. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2015. ISBN:

At seven years old, it’s as if the little girl has already come of age, and as she grows into her thirteenth year, it’s a wonder the adult woman narrating the story isn’t worse off from the wear and tear that little girl undergoes at the hands of a wildly erratic mother, an old-fashioned grandmother, a mysteriously vanished father.

Guadalupe Nettel keeps her reader spellbound at the narrator’s remarkable resilience and the blatant stupidity of the adult world she has to fit into. The child moves around at the edges of normalcy, in her neighborhood, in schools, in family life from Mexico City to a commune in the countryside to Aix in France. Just when she seems to find stasis something or someone blindsides her, kicks her footing out from under her and she spins off into a new, for her, normalcy.

Normal is a difficult concept. The Mexico and Mexicans of J.T. Lichtenstein’s translation of Guadalupe Nettel’s novel—taking the publisher at its word this is a novel not a hellish autobiography—are not los de abajo but seriously upper class hippies who can take an afflicted daughter to Barcelona, New York, Boston, San Diego seeking a cure for the child’s congenital cataract.

Mexico in the 1970s has not yet become the hell-hole of kidnapping and random murder that dominates today’s news reports. That Mexico looms at the outskirts of consciousness, and usefully the novel skirts around politics in favor of depicting the parents’ nihilist pursuit of pleasure in a case study of extreme illogic and selfishness.

The girl doesn’t have a name. In fact, the first time we hear her mother call her anything it’s a viciously endearing nickname. Owing to her vision, the child bends close to peer at objects. Her posture becomes another therapeutic issue and elicits unconsciously casual cruelty from a loving parent:

My habit looked so much to her like curling into a shell that she came up with a nickname, a term of endearment, which she claimed perfectly matched my way of walking.
“Cucaracha!” she yelled every two to three hours. “Stand up straight!” Or, “Cucaracha, it’s time for your atropine drops!” (p.11)

The narrator asks her analyst if it’s possible any human being could emerge from that environment unharmed?

Child abuse is not funny, and this possibility could put a damper on the comedy Nettel extracts from her character’s experience. But comedy—or satire—is where the novel shines, not as elegant tragedy but as a pinnacle of noir fiction.

The title comes from the final stanza of Allen Ginsburg’s “Song.” The poem is worth a reading in its entirety for the light it casts on the raison d’être of this novel. Given the awful events and circumstances of the girl’s upbringing, the narrative could be taken as blood-curdling tragedy. Instead, given the beat milieu of the poem and its status as precursor to the hippie life the child was put through, The Body Where I was Born reads as archly comic, its plot of events not so much relived as crafted for hair-raising comedic effect by a classic unreliable narrator.

Given where the novel might have taken the reader, the girl’s progressive degradations and lifetime of contradictions sneak up on the reader. Readers will have an “aha!” moment when they recognize in Cucaracha elements of the eiron, the hero of satire. No, child abuse isn’t funny, but that’s all grist for Cucaracha’s story-telling prowess.

AWP III: Poetry of Resistance Anthology at Avenue 50 Studio

Among the highlights of the recently concluded Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in the caverns of the Los Angeles Convention Center were the off-site events in the intimate settings of local hotels, cantinas, and galleries.

Since 2010, La Bloga has happily shared column space regularly with the Facebook poetry community Poets Responding to SB 1070: Poetry of Resistance. The outpouring of work from the community, started by Francisco X.Alarcón QEPD, and supported by a team of Moderators, has been magnificent. So much so that Francisco and Odilia Galván Rodríguez compiled a powerful anthology of work from poems that La Bloga published in our La Bloga On-line Floricanto.

Poetry of Resistance. Voices for Social Justice, published by University of Arizona Press, stands as a final labor of Francisco X. Alarcón’s love of life, poetry, and people.
The first copy of the publication reached Francisco’s side just as his spirit was transitioning to the other side. His hands did not get the pleasure of holding the finished product, but his energy felt its presence, just as the packed house at Avenue 50 Studio shared the pleasure of hearing a number of the poets read their work during one of those AWP off-site events.

Fatigue numbers among the topmost elements of the AWP experience. The AWP-LA experience featured an early morning subway ride and short walk to the centro, then a full day’s traipsing about from the distant hotel panels through the warren of trade show aisles, then upstairs to the remote reaches of panel presentations. The train ride home offered a respite for weary feet. Once home, a quick nap became a long nap. As a result, I reached Avenue 50 Studio after La Pachanga was well underway. Drat! I missed some outstanding readers.

Fortunately, John Martinez’ generosity produced a video archive of La Pachanga-Poetry of Resistance readings. The wonderful videos are available via Martinez’ Facebook videos collection at the link below.

John Martinez’ videos:

La Bloga columnist Melinda Palacio, Poets Responding Moderators and La Bloga friends, among others, are in Martinez' archive. If the video Facebook status is not public, one may be out of luck, or need to Friend John Martinez, or find the videos by searching Facebook.

Upper left, clockwise: Concepcíon Valadez reads her son Cesar Love's poem. Claudia D. Hernández.
Andrea Mauk. Nancy Aidé González.

Odilia Galván Rodríguez

Andrea Mauk

Nancy Aidé Gonzalez

Sharon Elliott

Clockwise from upper left: Melinda Palacio. Edward A. Vidaurre. Matt Sedillo.  Odilia Galván Rodríguez.

Melinda Palacio

Claudia D. Hernández

Iris de Anda- To Be A Pocha Or Not To Be

Sexto de Mayo (el 7 de Mayo, too): Conference on Américo Paredes on Tap for LA State

Chicano and Mexicano Literature's hardest-working conference impresario, Dr. Roberto Cantu, has planned another important junta for raza scholarship, the 2016 Conference On Américo Paredes: Border Narratives and the Folklore of Greater Mexico.

Sponsored by Cal State L.A.'s Office of the President, the Gigi Gaucher-Morales Memorial Conference Series, the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Natural and Social Sciences, the Department of Chicano Studies, the Department of English, and the Emeriti Association, in conjunction with the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Texas at Austin, and the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at UT-Austin, the conference is open to the public and, except for paying a fee to park, is free.

Cal State University LA is the eastside university in El Sereno, not the one on the westside that is inaccessible except via automobile. CSULA is a short hop by bus from Union Station, the downtown terminus of LA's burgeoning subway and light rail system.

Click here for details and the conference program:

The Gluten-free Chicano’s Palm Springs Discovery

Travel poses a constant hassle for the gluten-free. Unfamiliar restaurants staffed by ill-trained waitstaff mean risk with a threat of a gluten attack. That’s why The Gluten-free Chicano’s Autumnal Equinox visit to Palm Springs was such a delight. Giuseppe’s Pizza makes one of the world’s two most delicious gluten-free pizzas, plus delightfully tasty pasta dishes.

For his Spring visit to Palm Springs, The Gluten-free Chicano dined again at Giuseppe’s then made a fabulous discovery. In the same mall, the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center, Pho533 features not only naturally gluten-free Pho, but a menu offering a rich variety of dishes using Tamari soy sauce, and corn flour, where dangerous places use wheat.

The lobster “popcorn” appetizer comes to table amply filling its glass vessel and toothsomely crunchy from a dusting of corn flour then flash fried. There’s a calamari appetizer for his next visit.

While the Gluten-free Chicano prefers a more savory beef broth to the on-the-sweet-side broth served at Pho533, Mrs. The Gluten-free Chicano had no complaints about her Ginger Soy Marinated Chicken with Jasmine Rice. Ordinarily, gluten-free dishes give her asco. And, the dish being gluten-free, The Gluten-free Chicano was pleased to share a taste of the gourmet chicken dish, and placed it on his “next-time” list.

Pho533 offers unassuming dining ambience, superbly friendly service and staff, and excellent affordability. As always, gluten-free diners need to exercise caution. In addition to gluten-free Rooster brand Sriracha, the restaurant serves a wheat-based Hoisin sauce that must be avoided.

Classic Slam This Weekend in El Lay!

One of United States poetry's finest events comes to Los Angeles' Orpheum Theatre this Saturday, and to the Los Angeles Theater Center on Thursday and Friday: Classic Slam.

High School students challenge themselves to learn a classic poem, analyze it, then compose their own reaction poem. The students read the paired work in a contest pitting dozens of readers in preliminary rounds. Judges apply a rubric of issues and advance selected reader poets to the contest finals.

The event sizzles with high-octane poetic energy. Often standing room only, visitors should arrive early to ensure a seat off the floor. Not that it matters because some of the presenters will floor you with their power and creativity. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and Classic Slam will forever thrill you.

From the organization website:

300 Poets. 50 Schools. 1 Champion.
The Classic Slam is the largest youth classic poetry festival in the world, where high school students from schools throughout Southern California face off to "slam" classic poems by poets like Neruda, Lorca, Hughes, Dickinson, Angelou, etc. in combination with their own spoken word responses. The Classic Slam occurs every year during National Poetry Month for audiences of thousands. 

Scholarships will be awarded to winning teams and bouts will be judged by leading writers, actors, and artists. This year's judges include Sundance actor/director Nate Parker, award-winning poet & journalist Patricia Smith, head of arts for LAUSD Rory Pullens, acclaimed poet Andrea Gibson, and actress/producer Jessica Oyelowo.

General Admission to the event is free.  Suggested donation at the door: $15 for adults and $5 for youth under 18.

Celebrate Get Lit's 10-year anniversary, and join the #LiteraryRiot! 

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