Thursday, April 29, 2010

INTERVIEW WITH FRANCISCO ARAGÓN: Latino Poetry and National Poetry Month

Francisco Aragón interviewed by Lydia Gil

LG: Could you comment on the representation of Latino poets during National Poetry Month? Were there any major events that highlighted Latino poets?

FA: Two events come to mind with regard to events featuring Latino and Latina poets this month. One took place this past April 17th in the Bronx: "ACENTOS Festival of Latino and Latina Poets." Fish Vargas and Rich Villar were, I believe, the principal organizers and among the poets that took part were Martin Espada and Willie Perdomo among more established voices and Diana Marie Delgado, Rachel McKibbens, and Paul Martinez Pompa, among more emerging ones. But there were many more. The other signature event this past month took place at an AWP off-site event in Denver, CO on April 9th: it was a "One Poem Festival" sponsored by Momotombo Press and PALABRA and whose organizers included the poets John Michael Rivera, J. Michael Martínez and elena minor, the editor of PALABRA. This event featured nearly 30 poets from all over the country, including Richard Blanco, Diana Garcia, Tim Z. Hernandez, Kristin Naca, Gloria Vando and so many others. One special feature of the evening was that at its conclusion, Silvia Curbelo, the judge of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, officially announced Emma Trelles as the winner of the 4th edition of this prize, which supports the publication of a first book by a Latino or Latina poet. I would also point to the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO, particularly the efforts of Linda Rodriguez in organizing both readings and workshops there.

LG: Have you seen any major developments in the visibility and production of Latino poets in the US in the past decade? If so, to what do you attribute them?

FA: I mentioned earlier the group ACENTOS, certainly the vital work they do in the Bronx with their workshops and their readings has gone a long way towards providing a haven where Latino and Latina poets can shine. In Chicago, the Guild Complex, a community based literary organization, has spearheaded the PALABRA PURA reading series to great success in partnership with Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame. University of Arizona Press, with its Camino del Sol series, and Bilingual Press with its new Canto Cosas series has created publishing opportunities for Latino poets. Scapegoat Press, headed by Ben Furnish, is a new small press, whose inaugural volume was an anthology of Latino poets from the Midwest. I'd also single out Poetry Daily: among the more mainstream online venues for poetry, this one has been especially diligent, in my view, in showcasing poems by Latinos and Latinas. Just off the top of my head, I know they've featured work by Rigoberto Gonzalez, Brenda Cárdenas, William Archila, Orlando Ricardo Menes, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Eduardo C. Corral, David Dominguez and others. Poetry Daily has set a benchmark of sorts in terms of inclusivity and taking an more accurate and complete pulse of American poetry. As far as what I attribute this to, I think it’s a result of a growing awareness of our numbers, but also the result of particular efforts at advocacy among certain groups and people. I’ve mentioned some above. I’d add, for example, the efforts of CON TINTA, a group of Chicano/Latino activist writers, and I’d also single out the efforts of Chicano writer Rigoberto González, whose work as a book reviewer for the El Paso Times and other venues has helped shift the conversation where Chicano/Latino writers is concerned.

LG: What about Latino poets who write in Spanish, can they find a market in the US today? Is this likely to change?

FA: This is an area in Latino poetry that I think continues to be undervalued and under appreciated. But there are entities out there doing vital work like the monthly in Chicago called Contratiempo, who has been organizing an annual festival in Chicago showcasing poetry written in Spanish and which publishes a fine literary supplement to their monthly called Deshoras. In Washington DC there is a group called “ParaEsoLaPalabra who hold events at an annex of the Folger Library to feature poets writing in Spanish. Among the poets that come to mind are the Argentine, but long-time DC-based poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio, who has been tireless in promoting poetry written in Spanish in the US. In CA, I think of Francisco X. Alarcón. And I think of Lourdes Vásquez and Cecilia Vicuña and Marjorie Agosín, to name a few. But I’m sure there are many others.

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