Friday, September 24, 2010

Looking Back at Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow

Flor y Canto 2010: Tyson Gaskill (USC Libraries), Dorinda Moreno, Marco A. Domínguez, Sr., Mary Ann Pacheco (Rio Hondo College - 1973 MC), Alurista, Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, Tony Marez, Ron Arias, Verónica Cunningham, Barbara Robinson (USC Libraries), Michael Sedano

The 2010 Flor y Canto floats through our collective subconscious, already a legendary event. As the old vato says, "You should'a been there, compa." The great news is that there is a real chance that the event will be repeated, perhaps even become an annual affair. Now, wouldn't that be special?

Today on La Bloga I'm proud to feature two guests, both of whom participated in the festival, each offering a different perspective. First up is Ron Arias, noted writer and journalist, and one of the presenters at the 1973 Flor y Canto. Then Melinda Palacio gives us her thoughts about her participation in the event, and on a few other things as well. Two different voices speaking from two different vantage points, a veteran and a relative newcomer, but each with the same conclusion -- we need to preserve the flor y canto tradition, nurture it, and let it grow.


Thanks to La Bloga's Michael Sedano and the USC Flor y Canto organizers for bringing back the festival. As a participant of the 1973 event, I loved hearing and seeing that the creative fires among the younger writers still burn as strong as they did decades ago when we were exploding with ethnic self-awareness.

We had all kinds of voices then, as many styles as there were readers--from loud and militant to subtle and lyrical, from funny-rascuachi to pretty and polished, in language from the proper to the invented, nourished by a linguistic bola that's been rolling for thousands of years. That hasn't changed, not at the 2010 readings. It's good to know, for example, that the tongue of the Nahuas still struts its stuff on our stage, to a hip-hop beat no less. ¡Órale, vato!

We are so much more than words. But whether spoken, on the page or digitized, in whatever language we use, words are how we express ourselves best, how we try to paint beauty, sing love, shout rage, cry pain. It's how we think and feel out loud, how we try to hit our target--that is, our reader, our listener, the sleepy, maybe disinterested person in the back row whose attention we are determine to lasso.

Whatever we call ourselves, we writers and poets with shared, hispano-American roots, whatever our concerns, whatever our love or rage, whatever our degree of assimilation into U.S. ways, whatever our personal history, what we all want to do is simply illuminate and define our world. Yes, we entertain, inform, incite and move people emotionally. That's a given. But the entire body of our work, past and present--the poems, the novels, the stories, the plays--they are the creation of our world, to be sure a mini-world of a certain people within the world of all humanity.

I sat next to Alurista during the third day's afternoon readings. We were two gray heads in the first row enjoying the show of young readers. But more than enjoying, I think -- even though neither of us said so -- we were proud to see that the creative spirit and drive among these readers was not only alive but, we felt, if good enough in the minds of their audience, would outlive us all. "We'll die but our words won't ," Alurista said. "Our legacy is words."

So thanks, Michael and USC, for keeping the light on, the legacy going.

-Ron Arias

Known best for his novelita The Road to Tamazunchale, L.A.-born Ron Arias was a teacher and journalist for four decades. Now 68, he lives in Hermosa Beach, CA, with his wife Joan and is working on a novel about a Los Angeles man hunting for the treasure of his past in today's Mexico and in the land of Nueva España more than 400 years ago. (NOTE - You can read my review of The Road to Tamazunchale at this link, here. Without any exaggeration, I can say that this book is one of the classics; The Road set the bar high for Chicano/a writers; and it's a great read even after 35 years.)


El Negocio De Poesia or The Po Biz
Soy Poeta. I am a poet. BordersSenses published my first poem, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, four years ago in 2006. The Maple Leaf Rag also published it and so did Edible Ojai. The poem is about my abuelita, Maria Victoria, and it is the title piece to my first full-length collection. The book-length manuscript has yet to find a publishing home, but over two thirds of the poems have been published.

Last year, my poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place prize and publication (February of 2010.) I wrote the short collection of 22 poems after visiting my father in Folsom prison. When people ask me what I do, I enjoy saying, I am a poet. “No, what do you really do?” they ask. At last week’s wonderful Flor y Canto at USC, the question came up with almost everyone I met. I’d point to the colorful program, at my name for Thursday at 1:45, my fifteen minute spotlight, and say, see, I am a poet. But, no, what do you really do, the question, again. I sing and dance, do Windows and Macs was a better answer for some. I work on websites and help writers get the most out of their computers. I also co-edit an online magazine for writers, Ink Byte. In our digital days of multitasking, it’s not enough to say, I am a poet. People expect a more complicated answer. I salute my writer friends who truly do it all, raise kids, organize literary events, write news articles, cook and clean for their elderly parents or grandparents or both, give dance and guitar lessons, and write best sellers. I write and promote my writing.

At USC’s Flor y Canto, several people missed my fifteen minutes of fame. They had many excuses. The number one excuse was that they had too much fun the evening before and were late in getting to the festival. I was the third person on the second day, after Michael Sedano had set several ground rules, which the first couple of readers followed. We shortened our reading time and adhered to Sedano’s schedule. Naturally, several people missed my early reading. When people apologized, I was quick with a self-promoting answer. “No problema,” I said. “Don’t worry. You can buy my book.” I am proud to admit it was a pretty good strategy. Our cameraman, Jesus Treviño found me during the break and bought my book, others who missed me, Juan Felipe Herrera, also bought a book. I love it when a famous person buys my book, a poetry pleasure. Juan Felipe also enjoyed a photograph I took of him. Click here for my website to see all the photos. Some of the veterano poets were mas amable. Marco Antonio Dominguez gave away copies of his book. He said, “me gusta regalar.”

When I’m not writing poetry, I’m writing fiction. Someday soon, in a few months, next Spring, Bilingual Review Press will publish my first novel,
Ocotillo Dreams. I’m also working on a second novel and I’m always writing new poems. These days I’m lucky my poems are getting published more regularly than four years ago, when I only had one publishing credit to my name. After the one poem, I had one short story published in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. I must’ve sent half a dozen stories to the editor, Daniel Olivas. I was determined to be included in the anthology. My determination has paid off. I now have several short stories and poems published. Maria Melendez, editor of Pilgrimage Magazine heard my brand new poem, disconcerted crow, the one I dedicated to my favorite birders, Barbara and Michael Sedano, and asked to publish the poem in the literary magazine’s December issue. After numerous rejections, having an editor ask me for work they’ve just heard means I’m official. I am a poet. Soy poeta.

How Fire Is A Story, Waiting
My grandmother caught the flame in her thick hands.
Curled fingers made nimble by kaleidoscope embers.

Fire burns hot and cold if you know where to touch it, she said.

I watched the red glow spit and wiggle as it
snaked down the thin timber, a striptease,
born out of the festive sound of a half-filled matchbox.

Through orange windows framed by obsidian eyes, I saw the child she once was.
A little girl who raised herself because her mother had a coughing disease.
Blood on her mother’s handkerchief didn’t stop her from dreaming.
Maria Victoria was going to be a singer with her deep, cinnamon stick voice.

She watched novelas in the kitchen while waiting for dough to rise.
Her body, heavy with worry for two families and three lifetimes. She tucked
Mariachi dreams under her girdle. Lullabies escaped on mornings
warmed by her song falling into gas burners turned on high.

The flame on a stove was never the same. It had a bad hangover,
didn’t remember the many matches lit when its starter broke down.

My grandmother rolled paper into a funnel,
stole fire from the pilot to light the stubborn burner on the right.
Crimson burned blue on the white paper, its folded edges
curled black like a lace ruffle on a skirt.

The finicky flame can’t comment on its magic.
The thousands of tortillas and pancakes cooked over the years.
How I burned myself roasting a hot dog campfire style.
How a melted pencil smudged under my sister’s eyelid makes her beautiful.

My grandmother noticed the time, almost noon.
She needed to make three dozen tortillas to feed her family of thirteen.
The show over, she blew the match into a swirl of gray squiggles,
snuffed before it had a chance to burn hot on her finger.

Funny, how fire is a story, waiting.

Melinda Palacio is from South-Central Los Angeles and now lives in Santa Barbara. Her poetry chapbook won Kulupi Press' Sense of Place 2009 competition. Her first novel, Ocotillo Dreams, will be published by Bilingual Review Press.



msedano said...

thank you manuel for bringing these two writers together to remind me what fun we had last week.

thank you ron and melinda. you've extended the warmth and community we enjoyed last week and it feels good.

your reading of disconcerted crow, melinda, was a perfect moment for us. what a pleasurable honor having una poeta dedicate a reading to us.

Melinda Palacio said...

Muy amable, I'm ready for next year.