Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poetry For The People, National Latino Writer's Conference, Palabra Pura

Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint
Lauren Muller (ed.)

Poetry Month has got me by the inspiration. Last week I wrote about Poetry Everywhere, and this week I want to profile a book that excites, that teaches, that challenges, Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint.

Revolutionary. It's not a word you hear much in conjunction with writing, but I still believe words have the power to change hearts and minds, to change history. Whitman, Sandburg, Neruda, Rich, Piercy, Giovanni, and Jordan herself have all lived it, breathed it, put the word to paper, and the word became wildfire. We have only to look at recent history to know the White House would rather not have poetry in it. That kind of incendiary truth is more than an inconvenient one.

But beyond the title, why is this book revolutionary? It came out of a series workshops for artistic and political empowerment aimed at students and Oakland area residents, led by June Jordan, under the auspices of the University of California at Berkeley. One need only to read her preface to the syllabus to see that there is a fundamental difference in this work than what is commonly offered in mainstream education. An excerpt here, provides a perfect illustration.

• We reach toward the development of literacy in today's world literature of poetry.

• We divide the course of study evenly, between the scrutiny of published poems and the development of new American poetry to be written by the students themselves.

• We present this new American poetry in public readings open to the entire San Francisco Bay Area. These readings are invariable factors of our coursework.

• We publish student poetry in suitably splendid form, and distribute these anthologies at the student readings and through the kind offices of Berkeley bookstores, such as Black Oak Books and Cody's. This is an integral part of our coursework.

• In conjunction with our course work, we invite one or more visiting poets to present their work....Obviously, our guiding criteria, in addition to the excellence of poetry, is the relentless pursuit of ethnic, racial, gender, and linguistic diversity. (Such poets included: Jimmy Santiago Baca, Marilyn Chin, Thulani Davis, Cornelius Eady, Joy Harjo, Li-Young Li, Donna Masini, Adrienne Rich, Nzotake Shange, among others.)

All students regardless of academic status (Freshmen to Graduate) are eligible for for enrollment.

On a more basic, and even more fundamentally profound basis, is the the title of the workshop, Poetry for the People, and Jordan's definition of who is constituency.

• "The People" shall not be defined as a group excluding or derogating anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, class or age.

• "The People" shall consciously undertake to respect and to encourage each other to feel safe enough to attempt the building of a community of trust in which all may be truthful and deeply serious and the messages they craft, and the world they contemplate.

• Poetry for the People rests upon a belief that the art of telling the truth is a necessary and healthy way to create powerful, and positive connections among people who, would otherwise, remain (Unknown and unaware) strangers. The goal is not to kill connections but, rather, to create and to deepen them among truly different men and women.

Once participants were recruited, they met once a week for three hours. Each session starts with an open mic period, during which people try out new work. Then June, a guest speaker, or several student poets lectured a particular poetic genre, history, or tradition. Corresponding to assigned readings, the lectures provided a foundation for in-depth study of different traditions of American poetry---African American, Asian American, Chicano/a, Irish, Native American, women's poetry, and "White" poetry--poetry written by white men established inside 'the canon."

This is precisely the direction I needed I for workshops with variety of youth groups here in Chicago. The groups consist of new poets, whose goal was to craft original material to be performed in the schools and in the community-at-large. I offered a selection of texts, using Jordan's model as a guide. The cross-pollination, the dialogue, the debate that arose with these young writers would have done Ms. Jordan proud. This book is more than a guide, it's a touchstone.

Finally, here's my Cliff Notes recommendation for this book. The world needs more chispa words, needs more hearts and minds on fire. Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint is eloquent fuel for that. June Jordan's legacy continues to push me, to make me question why I do what I do as a writer and a teacher, and more deeply, as a human being.

ISBN-10: 0415911680
ISBN-13: 978-0415911689


Other Important News: Do not miss this year's National Latino Writer's Conference, held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM.

This three-day conference that takes place May 17-19, 2007, invites all writers published and unpublished, to participate in workshops conducted by nationally and internationally known authors in the genres of poetry, fiction, screenwriting, playwriting and news writing. Panels of editors and publishers representing such presses as Arte Público Press, Warner Books, Curbstone Press, Simon and Schuster, University of New Mexico, Arizona and California Presses and many others will speak on the process of getting your work published. Agents will be available for consultation and interview.

In addition to the aforementioned workshops and panels, there will be an open microphone reading at which time registrants can read from their work to an audience of authors and publishers. A Thursday evening social and Friday night banquet will captivate participants into further discussion and networking. Presenters Include:

OSCAR HIJUELOS [Fiction] was the first Hispano to win the Pulitzer Prize for his second novel, Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love which was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante. His novel, Empress of the Splendid Season was published in 1999 and his latest, A Simple Habana Melody was published in 2002.

LORI CARLSON [Youth Literature] is an editor, translator and author of Caña Quemada Burnt Sugar: Contemporary Cuban Poetry, Translations and Originals. Among her other publications are Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on the Young Latino in the U.S. and The Sunday Tertulia, both published by

BRAULIO MUÑOZ [Fiction] is the author of an award winning novel, The Peruvian Notebooks. He is on the faculty of Swarthmore College and has also published A Storyteller: Mario Vargas Llosa Between Civilization and Barbarism, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2000. In addition to literary criticism he also has published another work of fiction, Alejandro y los Pescadores de Tancay which was published in Italy in 2004.

KATHLEEN de AZEVEDO [Fiction] is the author of an award winning novel, Samba Dreams. She is on the faculty of Skyline College and her work has appeared in numerous publications including: Los Angeles Times, Americas, Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Greensboro Review and many others. Her novel Samba Dreams, "reflects the conflict between the Brazilian and the American culture: the sensual and the pragmatic; the myth of self-determination and the myth of El Dorado."

PAT MORA [Youth Literature] is a nationally prominent poet/writer. Among her many writing awards, she was the winner of the 2006 NHCC Literary Award and author of Adobe Odes. Her many books of poetry, fiction and children's literature have made her one of the most productive and respected Chicana writers on the literary scene.

BENJAMIN SAENZ [Poetry] is a prolific poet and fiction writer. He is the author of Dreaming the End of War. He is on the faculty of University of Texas, El Paso and his latest book joins his many others. A former roofer, onion picker, janitor, theologian and Catholic priest, Saenz is now a prize winning essayist, novelist, poet and activist passionately in love with El Paso and its peoples.

SÁNCHEZ-PADILLA [Playwriting] is a native New Mexican, identifies herself as a literary media and performing artist. Her six produced plays include: La Guadalupe Que Camina, Mali and Maya: A Story of Malinche, Letty y su Mama, Contradictions Split-Rebozo, and An Altar for Emma. As part of her workshop on playwriting, she will perform segments from two of these plays.

CORCHADO [News writer] is a renowned investigative journalist with the Dallas Morning News and previously with the Wall Street Journal and the El Paso Herald-Post. He has won several awards for his coverage of Mexicans in the United States through special projects including: "The Mexicanization of the United States," and the "Disappearing Border." His reporting led to an internal U.S. inquiry and the removal of heads of the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency. His reporting on drug violence along the border led to the discovery of crimes committed in Texan cities under the order of Mexican drug cartels. Google Alfredo Corchado + Dallas Morning News and visit

NAVA [Marketing] Director of Marketing for NM Monuments of DCA. She is a specialist on writing for marketing and commercial media. Author of It's All in the Frijoles, Nava is an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, author and motivational speaker. Her book was winner of the Latino Literary Hall of Fames' 2001 Best Self-help Book Award and was also featured in the Writers Corner of Google "Yolanda Nava."

GRILLO-MARXUACH [Screenwriting] is a writer for major TV serials like Boomtown, Medium, Lost, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Charmed and many others. He also writes his own comics with titles like Super-Skrull which he did for Marvel Comics Mini Series and Middleman, which he did for Viper Comics. He hosts a weekly video show performed entirely by Grillo-Marxuach. New episodes appear on his main website, or Google "Javier Grillo-Marxuach."

This three-day conference costs a total of $300.00 including all meals. Previous attendees receive a "founders discount" of $50.00 if you register by February 1st. Travel and lodging will be your responsibility. Participating hotels are listed on the registration form. For more information please call 505.246.2261 x148 or email

Take at look at some of the luminaries that will be there, mi gente, Pat Mora, Oscar Hijuelos, Jose Montoya. Don't miss this fantastic event!


Más y más -- from the northern outpost of Aztlán

Palabra Pura

April 3, 2007 – To celebrate National Poetry Month, the Guild Complex’s bilingual reading series, Palabra Pura, will feature internationally acclaimed poet Victor Hernández Cruz in a reading on Wednesday, April 18, 2007. Palabra Pura features Chicano and Latino poets reading work in Spanish, English and a combination of the two languages. The series offers Chicago’s large Spanish-speaking population, the third largest in the United States, a venue to read their poetry as originally composed and helps audiences learn more about the strong tradition of poetry in Spanish. A special emphasis is placed on poets who have recently published books or won recognition for their work.

Exploding onto the poetry scene in the 1970s with a distinctive voice in the Nuyorican school of émigré poetry, Victor Hernández Cruz probes the grammatical and syntactical conventions within English and Spanish to create his own bilingual idiom. He is the author of numerous poetry collections, most recently The Mountain in the Sea. He will be introduced by award-winning journalist, Achy Obejas, who will also lead a question and answer session following the reading.

Palabra Pura is a collaborative project between the Guild Complex, Letra Latinas of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the Rafael Cintron-Ortiz Latino Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Arena Cultural and contratiempo. Co-sponsors for this special presentation are The Poetry Foundation and HotHouse, the center for International Performance & Exhibition. This series is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

Palabra Pura continues its second year of programming with the Victor Hernández Cruz reading this Wednesday, April 18 at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, Chicago. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The reading begins at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. 18 and over. For more information, please check the Guild Complex website, or call 1877.394.50

And to further entice you, The Poetry Foundation's website is posting an interview conducted by Francisco Aragon with Victor Hernández Cruz, plus five poems with commentary by local poets.

Get a glimpse of this spare and evocative poetry at the following:

5 poets comment on 5 Victor Hernández Cruz poems

Francisco Aragon interviews VHC:

It's a taste of what will be a can't miss night of poetry in Chicago!

Lisa Alvarado

1 comment:

msedano said...

how practical a meeting and workshop. normally i attend trade shows where the objective is market and sell product. sounds like something to plan ahead for next year's calendar. when's the next one?