Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Review: Still Water Saints. Essayist Call. Sor Juana. NLWC. On-Line Floricanto.

Review: Still Water Saints Neither Here Nor There, But it Matters.

Alex Espinoza. Still Water Saints. NY: Random House, 2007.
ISBN: 978-0-8129-7627-4 (0-8129-7627-4)

Michael Sedano

Being a child of the Inland Empire, I fell prey to hometown distraction reading Alex Espinosa's Still Water Saints. Set in the fictional "Agua Mansa" Califas, the town eludes any “ahah!” moment’s recognition. Agua Mansa defies the mystery of place,
leaving readers from the area slightly discomfited, grasping for that moment of “I know this place!”

Santana winds blow. The Santa Ana River overflows its banks. Agua Mansa’s off the 10. Lots of towns and hamlets from Mentone to Chino fit. Espinoza tosses out tantalizing clues, triangulating cities that are not Agua Mansa. Characters talk of going over to Perris, Riverside, Berdoo, Fontana, so Agua Mansa is none those places.

Marigold? Bryn Mawr? Loma Linda? Redlands? My vote’s on Colton. Big enough to have large shopping centers, lots of poor gente, a botánica. But this son of the Inland Empire cannot be sure, so let Agua Mansa be anywhere along that rio, a town a lot like where I grew up. I always suspected stories like these were taking place by the sankee or out toward Mentone Beach. Thing is, nostalgic readings tend to find comeuppance.

In Agua Mansa, that comes with hard edges: the immigrant boy lured into sex slavery (don’t worry, there’s no detail); the amateur whore and her son (ditto, save for a bit of titillation to a 12 year old boy); the freaks (tattoos and crystal, use your imagination). I suppose every town has sad cases like these losers. The people, yes the people form the heart of this novel. The hairdresser; the art teacher; the muralist; the innocent; the victimized. Perla:

She roamed the banks of the Santa Ana, among the long green stalks, chanting to the moon, to the gods of Night and Shadow. She rose and stepped onto the river, her footsteps gently rippling the surface.

She summoned the spirits of the dead. They whispered their secrets to her, and she scribbled their messages on scraps of paper and in the margins of her phone book:

Tell Ramón the locket fell on the floor between the bed and the nightstand.

I’m all right. It’s like Disneyland up here, only without rides.

I don’t miss my ears because they were too big.

She fought the Devil. Every night he came to her, his head crowned with horns, his skin covered in scales. He cursed and called her names. She beat him back with her bare hands and sent him running, his cloven feet tapping against the tile of her kitchen floor.

She was a Bruja. A Santa. A Divina. A Medium, Prophet, and Healer. Able to pass through walls and read minds, to pull tumors from ailing bodies, to uncross hexes and spells, to raise the dead, and to stop time. When doctors failed, when priests and praying were not enough, the people of Agua Mansa came to the Botánica Oshún, to

Perla, a healer and spiritual person who draws people to her store for tea, amulets, consejos, warmth. Her stories come together around grand themes, each thematic chapter dedicated to a portrait of a particular boy, girl, mother, couple. Just when the reader suspects a surfeit of characters, here comes a new personaje into the mix. Espinoza’s Random House editor had the good judgment to give the writer space to draw out a diverse community of people whose stories revolve around the viejita who runs that store.

When we meet young Perla, she’s dissatisfied in marriage but unafraid to venture out. She meets a curandero just setting up his tiendita in the storefront business. He mentors her, shares wisdom and books. She takes over the shop. From her front window and the empty lot next door she watches Agua Mansa change, maybe for the better maybe not, but sure enough change. Landscape, society, those things change. But the characters who flit in and out of Perla’s Agua Mansa don’t change, whatever their particulars. All come Perla’s way to receive all the help Perla can give.

Perla aside, Still Water Saints is less about sanctity than everyday gente with extraordinary needs and no miracles. It’s not a grim novel, though. There’s always hope, here, there. When a character from an earlier story comes into another character’s story, they pass unrecognized to one another. Yet, the one needs what the other can provide. So close, yet so far. What does it take to bring them together? Empathy hones irony’s sharp points, adding a delicious tension for readers engaged with the characters.

Readers will find Espinoza’s frequent references to setting--the winds and those place names—give the novel a rich texture and sense of place that brings life to the people on the page. Still Water Saints is one of those puro character novels readers will want to share with friends or book clubs.

Read the rest of the opening chapter at this link.

Essayist Call

La Bloga friend Sergio Troncoso sends along this writer’s call for a volume Troncoso is editing with Sarah Cortez for Arte Público.

Request for Submissions
The Lost Border: Essays on how life and culture have been changed by the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border

This new anthology will focus on the unique life and culture along the U.S.-Mexico border that has been changed and even lost because of the recent drug violence. This book will feature writers from both sides of the border who explore the culture that has been changed or lost, the lives that have been split in two, and the way of life that has been interrupted, or even eradicated, by the violence along the border.

Some of the questions that might be explored are: What way of life has been lost due to the recent violence? What are the ramifications of this change for culture, politics, families, institutions, the arts, and even individual psyches? Will it be possible to regain what has been truncated? What might the border’s future be? Are there any positive side-effects?

We hope that writers will conjure the past in telling moments and reflect on the forces that have spun out of control to destroy the unique bi-national, bicultural existence of la frontera. Location is a vitally important and intrinsic element of the essays we seek, and each essay should show substantial ties to the border through the essayist’s lived experience. We anticipate that the writing will draw scholars as well as those in the general public who wish to thoughtfully negotiate the border’s current complexities.

The publisher of this project will be Arte Público Press and the anticipated publication date is in 2012.

Please read the submission guidelines and follow them. We look forward to reading your submission. We will contact you by email about acceptance or rejection of your essay.

Sarah Cortez (Cortez.Sarah@gmail.com) and Sergio Troncoso (SergioTroncoso@gmail.com)



Submission Guidelines:
The deadline is August 1, 2011 postmark, without exceptions. The length of the essay should be 3,000 to 6,000 words; please title your essay. The essay should be unpublished and written in English. All contributors shall be Latina/o.

Each essay should be typed in Times Roman 12-point type with standard manuscript formatting for margins and spacing.

Include your name, snail-mail address, two contact phone numbers, two email addresses, and exact word count in the top left margin of the first page of your manuscript.

We do not accept electronic submissions. Mail two hard copies of the essay and your bio to Sergio Troncoso, 2373 Broadway, Suite 1808, New York, NY 10024. No submissions will be returned; please keep a copy for your records.

Please include a one-paragraph biography summarizing your publishing credits. Include a sentence or two that defines your relationship with the border (e.g. cities or towns lived in, length of residence/familiarity).

If your essay is accepted, we will need an electronic file as a Word document. We will contact you about suggested revisions.

Sor Juana Conference Reminder

Scholars and Sor Juana interested gente will remember to plan for the Cal State LA conference organized by La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú.

For details, click the title above to navigate to the conference site.

Invitation to Join National Latino Writers Conference 2011

La Bloga friend Carlos Vasquez, Director History and Literary Arts at Alburque's National Hispanic Cultural Center, reminds writers they have time to apply to the May 2011 conference. La Bloga-Tuesday columnist Michael Sedano joins this year's NLWC faculty, presenting a workshop on "Reading Your Stuff Aloud."
foto:NHCC. Rudolfo Anaya conducts workshop.
Three years after it opened its doors to the public, the National Hispanic Cultural Center organized and sponsored the first annual National Latino Writers Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Based on the premise that Latino/Hispanic writers were poorly represented in the output of major publishers in the United States, and even within the ranks of smaller and academic presses, the NHCC sought to create a vehicle by which Hispanic writers could come together and learn the ways of the publishing world. Thus was born the only national writer’s conference dedicated to Latino themes and taught by Latino writers.

Eschewing self-publication as an avenue to disseminate the extraordinary output by Latino writers, the objective was to see that Hispanics learned the procedures and the foibles of getting published by refereed commercial and academic presses. At the same time, realizing that often entry to publishing was first through small independent presses, much attention was given to making those available to writers as well.

foto:NHCC. Martín Espada wins NHCC Literary Award.
By organizing an annual conference, limiting the size of registration, and by providing successful published writers willing to share their knowledge and experience, the NLWC has offered workshops on the following literary genres: the novel, short fiction, nonfiction essay; poetry, memoir, mystery, comedy, news writing, travel writing, play writing, screenwriting and children’s literature. In addition to workshops led by experienced authors, the conference also provides panels where editors, publishers, agents and publicists provide guidance and answer questions from those in attendance. By keeping the registration to fifty, the three-day conference offers a unique intimacy between registrants and faculty members.

An important factor is that young and old writers alike are beginning to challenge and stretch the boundaries of the time-proven literary genres. For example, novels and short fiction alike have delved into areas not usually seen in American literature. While new genres come from those immigrants with recent immigrant experience who retell the American story in another time frame, it also involves the use of multiple codes of communication. Many emerging Latino writers, for example, use a combination of language codes (English/Spanish/Slang/Regional dialects, to convey deep emotion and unique historical experiences.

foto:NHCC. Denise Chávez workshop.
Much of what is written today, emerges in other formats of communication whether it is theatre, radio, movies, TV, social media , or verbal performance. For that reason we have instituted workshops at the conference on topics like “how to present (perform) your work.”
As a result of attending the conference a number of writers have had their work published. Each year the works of two or three registrants get published. Writers have found agents and editors to work with. .In addition other sorts of unions have come about as a result of the networking that takes place. For example a former New York editor became a literary agent with a West Coast agency giving the agency a bi-coastal presence. There are many other success stories that emanate from the NLWC.

foto:NHCC. Luis Urrea wins NHCC Literary Award.
In addition to the workshops and panels, the NLWC has also established a literary prize that is awarded bi-annually. It recognizes Latino/Hispanic authors who have produced a significant body of work and whose writing method or topical choices have engendered the attention of younger writers and set a standard of quality worthy of emulation. In 2006 another prize became the purview of the NLWC. The Premio Aztlán, founded by noted Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya and his wife Patricia in 1993 and for thirteen years was awarded by the University of New Mexico, has become an annual feature of the NLWC. The annual prize is awarded to an emerging Chicano/a writer who has published their first book and shows the promise to be a productive author.

In order to make the conference accessible to a wide range of Latino writers, the cost is nominal in comparison with other national conferences. The $300 registration covers all workshops and panels as well as meals and a formal awards banquet. During the three-day conference, several opportunities are provided for registrants to read from their work in open microphone sessions. This is one of the most attractive features for aspiring writers who often lead a solitary existence while crafting their own work. Also a great attraction is the guaranteed one-on-one interviews with an author, an editor and an agent during the course of the conference or especially on Saturday morning of the event.

foto:NHCC. Carlos Vásquez & Carlos Fuentes
Each year of the conference the organizers have incorporated many of the registrant’s suggestions captured through evaluations of the conference by those in attendance. This and the intimacy and sense of community that results have many returning to the conference two, three and even four times. Each year the breadth of registrations represents more states of the American union and often also registrants from Mexico and Canada as well. Each year we have added more workshops taught in Spanish by Latin American or Spanish (this year a Moroccan writer) for those who write in the Spanish language.

In order to make the conference experience accessible to college and university students, each year scholarships are awarded to students enrolled in writing courses or programs at one of New Mexico’s two or four-year institutions of higher learning. It is the goal of the organizers to be able to offer such scholarships to students nationwide.

The conference however, is open to all regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality.

Come join us, learn, grow, and get your work known. (click link for more information).

Carlos Vásquez, Director
History and Literary Arts
National Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico

foto:NHCC. NLWC class of 2010 .

On-Line Floricanto, March 8, 2011

1. "Blown Away" by S.M.T. Hedger
2. "The Politics of Existence" by Genny Lim
3. "Dream Act Bicycle Ride" by Abel Salas
4. "When I'm Gone" by Jesus Cortez
5. "San Rafael/Mexico City Blues Poem" by Macki X Carl

Blown Away

Where have all the children gone?
One by one they left?

I want never to see
The pool of blood a child leaves

Still worse is
To look away

The sightless that walk amongst us
Take it all in stride

Bullets rip through our innocents
A shame we can’t conceal

When a small frame falls
From the view of crosshairs

I see the mournful mothers
I hear the wailing fathers

We have lost so many now
Our children pay the price

Too little the time
Too empty the casing

Caught in the scope
Of zero tolerance

Too void the justice
Too loud the boom

How can we emerge from the darkness
When we kill the light

Written for the fallen desert blossoms:

Tanee Natividad
16 years old girl
Shot and killed
Tucson, Arizona
November 18, 2001

Brisenia Flores
9 year old girl
Shot and killed
Arivaca, Arizona
May 30, 2009

Sergio Huereca
15 year old boy
Shot and killed
Mexico-Texas Border
June 6, 2010

Brenda Arenas
15 year old girl
Shot and killed
Tucson, Arizona
August 5, 2009

Christina Green
9 year old girl
Shot and killed
Tucson, Arizona
January 8, 2011

Lovingly this poem is dedicated to these children; and to all children that find their end in front of a gun.

The Politics of Existence

Three Blind Mice, three blind mice
See how they run, see how they run

We have laid traps for you
Do you know the grammar of being?
We don’t want you!
It is not just a question of
syntax or meaning
The problem of existence is
the problem of citizenship
You think it is a joke?

You have no papers
No number in the system
You do not exist
You are a non-being
another, an other
You see, the problem of
existence is identity and
you have none
legally speaking

You exist in a dream of yourself
in a country unto yourself
You think you are alive
because you are running, running
scared from the farmer’s wife
who cut off your tails with a carving knife
But yet you come
in a river of invisibility
in the blind faith of possibility
at daybreak, at midnight
in the cold sweat of gunfire
under a deaf mute moon
riding on the shadow of a coyote
at three o’clock, six o’clock
breaking the curfew of hours
slipping through the rules and cracks
into a desert with no water, no food
with fingers, nose and face numb
from stray bullets, asking
“What day is it? What time is it?
How do I reach the other side?”

You want the aroma of coffee
the sound of twittering birds and
a nice warm fire to thaw your bones
because you know that life is a miracle
not a right and that sleep arises from
the division of dawn and breath
out of the death of previous days
into the creation of new being
but you are not allowed to breathe
to be reborn or to give birth and
there will be no one to count your
dead once you are gone
so you carry them on your shoulders
all the ones who cried for help
the ones with the crushed skulls
mangled flesh and bullet holes
the Brisenia Floreses and
their fathers or the five thousand
nameless others in their unmarked
graves and their unending funerals
because in spite of the wreaths
the pink and yellow roses and
the smell of death
they did not exist
did not figure in the syntax
or geometry of existence
but only in the mundane
procession of days and
alien life as pleased
by the Border Gods
You only hear the last words
of Brisenia echoing in your ears
“Please don’t shoot me!”

copyright 2011 by Genny Lim


This morning after
East Los rains and the
purifying power of
water flooding the
streets of Boyle Heights
and City Terrace
a group of biciclistas
gather en el corazon
del pueblo before
a 50 mile bike ride
in support of a
Dream Act for kids
in the state that gave
us granola and tofu,
an army of immigrant
love astride two wheels
on the way to Santa Ana
to show how much
the dream does matter
This morning after
a return from the
first-ever Floricanto
in Washington DC
maestros y maestras
and the power of
poetry like seeds
erupting from earth
This morning after
music and celebration
at La Mina Circle with
the boys from Chamba
who open their doors
with respect and grace
This morning when
the California sun
blesses my face and
reminds me of my
forever Valentine
my mother born on
February 14th under
the sign of Aquarius
who has my heart
always there on the
other side of life
This morning when
I read of another
poet's passing like
the tide or a moon
that gravity recalls
I sing an ode to
Mujeres de Maiz and
the brothers and
sisters who pedal
south for sueños
I give thanks for
this day and again
for all my relations
for a songtress who
invites me to read
near the ocean on
the west side of LA
and the peace that
comes from knowing
that I have been kissed
on a bar stool by a
pre-school teacher
who then shakes
my hand and tells me
I should be glad
each time I am

abel salas

20 de febrero

When I'm Gone

Who will you hate
when I'm gone?
When your plan
is done,
and this dream
of yours
becomes my
will you hate
your eyes
for reminding
you of me,
or that mole
that contrasts
with the perfection
you seek,
or your daughter
or son who
speak in a
tongue that
resembles mine...
who will you hate
when there is no
one to hate,
this hate not
fooled by "ignorance",
because you
have always known
my face...

By: Jesus Cortez

"San Rafael/Mexico City Blues Poem"

A superficial reading of one of these poems [in the book of lyrics by Kerouac] led me to believe he was referring to Burroughs -- the section where Kerouac is taking down the words of old junkie Bill Garver -- I think he calls him Bill Gaines -- "Boy if you only knew how good dem bacons and dem eggs is, you'd give up poetry boy and dig in,"etc. -- the theme carries through about five choruses [of the book].

O magic countless in time this morning,
O risen sun late on the horizon,
San Rafael, your office workers
with shiny hair and backpacks
a tow in endless motion and still asleep
on sleek commuter buses
do not notice the copy of Mexico City Blues
beside my bag on the seat cushion
next to me.
This workaday I will play tag
with Kerouac,
and I am still in that reverie
as the bus pulls into
a transfer stop.
Now workers with grit-worn shirts
standing in line at a deli
quick stop
smile as they fill
cups of coffee and pay.
In the Canal the street are dim
candlelight from the ones
holding prayer vigils
against the ICE raids
shines in sweet candescence.
Earth kisses the sun
through them.

Carl Macki


1. "Blown Away" by S.M.T. Hedger
2. "The Politics of Existence" by Genny Lim
3. "Dream Act Bicycle Ride" by Abel Salas
4. "When I'm Gone" by Jesus Cortez
5. "San Rafael/Mexico City Blues Poem" by Macki X Carl

S. M. T. HedgerSara was born and raised in the Arizona desert amongst the foothills of the Superstition Spring Mountains. It was a beautiful childhood full of vibrant sunsets and cactus bones. She became aware of social issues and inequalities at a very young age, and has always used poetry to mend. Her first published poem, “Why War?”, was written when she was in the 2nd grade and featured in her school newspaper. More recently her poetry has been seen on Immigrants2befree and on the Facebook page Poets Responding to SB1070. In January, Sara was invited to read “I Will Be Silent No More” on France Kassing’s radio show, on KDVS 90.3 FM broadcast from UC Davis, California. Her work will also appear in Blue Guitar Magazine this spring. She has written thousands of poems and is working on her first book. Her proudest achievement is her volunteer work to stop the deportation of American veterans. You can join her and learn more at www.valenzuelabothers.com. Currently she lives in Syracuse, NY as a student, wife and mother.

Genny LimShe is author of Paper Angels, which aired on PBS’s American Playhouse in 1985 and more recently, awarded Best Site Specific Performance at San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2010. She has two poetry collections, Winter Place, Child of War and is co-author of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island. Her solo performance, Where is Tibet? was featured in Women on the Way Festival in January 2011 and she has performed in live and recorded poetry/music collaborations with jazz masters, Max Roach, Herbie Lewis, Francis Wong, Jon Jang and John Santos.

Abel SalasAbel Salas is the publisher/editor at Brooklyn & Boyle, an Eastside arts, literature and community journal based in the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood. A poet and journalist, he also currently serves on the board at Corazón del Pueblo, an East Side community cultural arts center and collective. He has taught creative writing in LA County juvenile halls and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Artillery Magazine, New Angeles Monthly, Latina Magazine, The Austin Chronicle,The Brownsville Herald, and Zyzzyva, A Journal of West Coast Art & Architecture, among many others. Salas has been invited to share his poetry on stages in Havana, Toluca, Mexico D.F. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Los Angel[es]: El Lay and the chapbook Lone Oak in December/El Encino Invernal (1998) and the monograph Hija de Guadalupe/Child of Guadalupe (2007). A moderator with the Facebook commuyity Poets Responding to SB1070, he recently traveled to Washington DC to help coordinate a historic Floricanto on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Jesus Cortez
Jesus Cortez is a 30 year-old poet from West Anaheim, California. His inspiration comes from his immigrant background, the street life, the pain of his people and the pain of all people. He knows that poems are like bullets against oppression, but that more action is needed if changes are to come.

Carl Macki
Carl Macki is a writer, graphic artist & promoter living in Fairfax, California. A frequent contributor to social networks, he maintains his oldest blog at http://thizzled.blogspot.com.

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