Monday, November 17, 2008

Luis Omar Salinas: Some Notes About My Friend

A Personal Remembrance by Karen (Harlow) McClintock

--Fresno, California, October 2008

I first met the poet Luis Omar Salinas around 2001, when he was a customer in my gift shop and gallery in Fresno, California. I had no idea who he was. He bought English note cards with poetry on them. He was an elderly man who walked very slowly with a cane. He had wavy gray hair and a mustache. He spoke with a Spanish accent in short, clipped sentences. Sometimes one had to strain to hear him. He began visiting me at my store about once a week when he drove to Fresno from Sanger for his physical therapy sessions.

Later, when he suffered a debilitating stroke, I began to take him to breakfast on Sunday mornings throughout the next couple years. Many times I took him to Fresno to have breakfast, visit bookstores, enjoy parks, poetry readings, and have coffee at Starbuck's. During this time, I was also able to take his picture on numerous occasions, including author pictures of him for books and events. To my knowledge, I took the only professional photos of him in the last years of his life.

He was ill the entire time I knew him. He was often hospitalized, and since he had few visitors, I visited him regularly, usually daily, and did what I could to see to some of his needs (like writing paper, glasses, pens, radios, warm clothing, and other simple items to make his life more comfortable). He would sit in the lobby at the front window of the hospital waiting for me to arrive each night after work. I was tired, but didn't want to disappoint him. He told me a lot about his life during these visits, which I found really interesting. He told me once, "I was supposed to pick avocados, I chose to be a poet."

How was he to be around? Well, he was unique to say the least. He bore his illnesses (diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses) with stoic dignity and rarely complained. However, he was very vocal about people he knew, and was often cantankerous and difficult, though he seemed to be calmer around me than with others.

Omar was also capable of great thoughtfulness and grand gestures upon occasion. He suffered from bipolar disorder, for which he took regular medication. He was very lonely, often feeling alienated from the rest of the world. He lost his birth mother at an early age, and his real father never acknowledged him as his son. He was adopted by his uncle and aunt, who loved him dearly and were good parents. Omar lived at home most of his life.

He preferred the country to the city, and the ocean most of all. He often wrote about the sea in his poems. He loved nature and music, and classic movies like old John Wayne flicks.

He liked to show his poems to me, and I was the subject of some of them, though I told him I would accept them "on behalf of all women" and not personally. I felt any reason for him to write poetry was good and positive for him, and for the world. I became a big fan of Omar's poetry, and learned something about the subject by reading his work and talking about it with him. I have so many stories. He would always ask me which of his poems I liked, and why. He once bought me a book by Elizabeth Browning and made me read it! He gave me many books over the years, some from the best Hispanic authors and poets in the nation, including books from his personal collection that he'd been given by friends and writers.

He hadn't been able to write much the last year before he died. It was amazing he wrote his last book, Elegy for Desire, while he was so ill.

Omar passed away early this summer, 2008. I finished this charcoal drawing I started long ago, as a memorial to him. It is based on two pictures I saw of him when he was a young man in his late twenties at Fresno State University. In it, you can see the gypsy he was, and the visionary he came to be.
A Poem by Karen (Harlow) McClintock

It was Sunday, Starbucks, dutch.
Omar was looking a bit like Anthony Quinn.

"Tell me about your life" I asked.
Omar said nothing.

Instead he got out a pack of cigarettes
and slowly lit one, taking a long deep drag.

The smoke still coming out his lips,
He looked straight at me and said,

"I was born a disaster."

New Grant Opportunity: Cultural Exchange International Pilot Program

The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is accepting grant applications for the Cultural Exchange International (CEI) Pilot Program, a two-year grants program intended to celebrate the arts and culture of our City's lively and thriving communities. Its intent is also to build bridges around the world and contribute to the cultural capital of the region. With generous funding support from the Durfee Foundation, DCA will award between three to seven grants, generally ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, in each of the four (4), six-month grants cycles from Fall of 2008 until 2010.

The CEI Pilot Program will allow DCA to bring international arts professionals (artists, arts administrators, arts/cultural educators and scholars, creative entrepreneurs, and cultural experts) to Los Angeles to exhibit, present, perform, conduct research, and enter into collaborative relationships with arts organizations and artists. LA audiences will be treated to concerts, visual arts exhibitions, film screenings, panel discussions, master classes, and a whole host of activities that will allow them to experience the arts and culture of peoples from around the world. Similarly, LA arts professionals who want to share LA's multicultural riches will be able to represent this world-class city and, upon their return, share experiences with LA audiences through workshops, panel discussions, exhibitions, and performances.

The grant guidelines can be viewed here. For more information, please contact Joe Smoke, DCA's Cultural Grant Program Director, at:

◙ OUT Magazine announces the 100 men and women who made 2008 year to remember. And guess which FOLB (Friend of La Bloga) made the exclusive list of the four writers? Rigoberto González! This is what OUT says about Rigoberto:

One of today's most incisive literary voices, writer-critic Rigoberto González (second from left) won the American Book Award for his 2006 coming-of-age memoir, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa. Its follow-up, the new short story collection Men Without Bliss, exposes the debilitating effects of Latino machismo culture. This recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant will have his young adult novel, The Mariposa Club, published by Alyson Books in 2009.

Read the entire article here. ¡Bravo!

◙ That’s all for this week. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!


msedano said...

Karen (and Daniel), thank you for a warm tribute to a fine poet, Luis Omar Salinas. Salinas' work with Lillian Faderman, stands as one of the best anthologies of Chicana and Chicano writing of the 1970s. Karen, thank you for taking such good care for the spirit and well-being of an old man. Salinas didn't fall on his ass after all.


ESerna said...

Karen's thoughtful, poetic, visual portrait is fitting of one of the greatest Xicano poets that walked Aztlan. He seems to be lingering still, much like his poems, in this biting chill breeze that haunts us, like an Aztec Angel. He will be missed, especially by his cultural progeny,
el Fantasma en Santa Monica
y el Chicano Secret Service

Felix said...

I am originally from Sanger, California. In the early '70, I worked next to Luis Omar Salinas. His family had a clothing store called C&S Clothing next to Tejerian's Men Clothing where I worked. We would chat with eachother in the front sidewalk. I knew he was a great poet and author. Not too many local people knew this at the time.

Angelina said...

Thank you so much for this! I was reading Sandra Cisneros’ book A House of My Own where she tells about hosting Luis Omar Salinas for a poetry reading. I always enjoyed sharing My Father is A Simple Man with my Middle Schoolers in my 8th grade Language Arts class. He was fortunate to have you in his life. Thank you for the pictures, the drawing and your poem.