Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review: Confetti Girl. El Drinko de Mayo. Readings Across LA+. Conjunto Update. On-Line Floricanto 3 de Mayo.

Review: Diana López. Confetti Girl. NY: Little, Brown. 2009.
eBook ISBN 9780316052528 - Hardcover ISBN 9780316029551

Michael Sedano

Nothing calls to mind the phrase “literature as equipment for living” more than well-wrought children’s literature. Not the “and they lived happily ever after” treacle of cartoon-derived fairy tales that teach little girls to be unquestioningly obedient, but novels like Diana López’ Confetti Girl.

Adults will enjoy the sweetness of López’ story but will be impatient at its slow-to-start plot. I suspect a girl will be more tolerant. Once engaged, however, a parent, teacher or counselor will find parallels in the book to some kids’ lives, and healing can begin.

López skillfully maintains a balance between middle school coming of age comedy and genuinely serious tragedy, with the edge going to comedy. “Middle” is a good metaphor for what happens to kids between elementary grades and high school. Early teen years may seem a practice life to adults but to the children their problems loom with the same intensity as anyone facing indomitable odds of BFF, asshole bullies, divorced parents. Kids feel stuck in the middle between childhood and adulthood. Constrained by parental and school authority, some kids go off the deep end. And, when divorce and a mother’s death mix with teenage anxieties, what’s a kid to do?

Lina, Apolonia for long, and her high school English teacher father, haven’t yet redrawn their lives after the recent death of Lina’s mother. “A bunch of grapes killed my mother?” Lina responds when her father explains staphylococcus derives from Greek for grapes. Father is always explaining something using literature and dichos. Father’s retreat to literature raises the daughter’s hackles, that he prefers make-believe characters to her real life.

The across the street neighbors have their own tragedy. Mrs. Cantu’s broken spirit manifests itself in cascarones. Daughter Vanessa is a local beauty developing a hard crush on one of her classmates. Uh-oh, one might suspect, sex and STDs and… but no. López doesn’t go there. That would be a moralizing impediment to a kid’s enjoyment, and the usefulness of this text. Instead the author tacitly approves Vanessa’s and Lina’s preliminary explorations; hand-holding, lip kisses. Best Friends since Forever, Vanessa and Lina, but their relationship gets severely stressed when boys and family issues move their lives along.

Parental dating and father’s new woman similarly get kid gloves treatment--more like genuine Corinthian leather, but there's the fun. The new woman is half his age, shapely, and probably Anglo. Heck, mom is shapely too, but hides under baggy clothes. Lina and Vanessa plot to bring Mrs. Cantu out of her funk by concocting a “silver fox” secret admirer. Of course, she’ll put one and one together and come up with Lina’s dad.

Bullying has placed ugly, ugly stories in the news. Lina’s bully is a paper tiger whose worst qualities are name-calling with rapier-swift cuts. The bully thinks Lina’s boyfriend is easy pickings, particularly owing to his stuttering and Lina’s stepping in to defend Carlos. For his part, Carlos resents his bodyguard, and here come misunderstandings that need fixing.

Consequences and accountability make strong appearances. Lina refuses to read Watership Down, study her English vocabulary, but loves science--not dad’s strong suit. When her rebellion produces failing grades, school rules dictate Lina is kicked off the volleyball team. Worse, soccer season starts and Lina cannot join that team. Maybe next year, if she gets her grades in order. For now, no second chances, even from make-up assignments. Then, when Lina lies to cover up failure, she gets caught. An added consequence: grounded and cannot go to the big quinceañera with Carlos. Go ahead and cry.

Early teen years can be a minefield of identity, particularly for bicultural kids like Lina and her pals. The Corpus Christi drawn by López, however, reinforces biculturalism without making a big deal about it. Indeed, Confetti Girl’s English-Spanish content has the distinct flavor of being written for non-Spanish speakers, “Our rule at restaurants is to eat the one thing we’ve never tried, even it it’s tripas, a Tex-Mex dish made out of cow intestines” Lina narrates.

Almost anything occurring in Spanish, like the dicho chapter themes, gets translated (and of course italicized as if a foreign tongue). "Mi’ja" and "quinceañera" have immunity from apposition, but when father talks to daughter, he code-switches, “’Del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho’. It’s a long way from saying you’re going to do something to actually doing it” Dad tells Lina after she promises to make up all her missing assignments in exchange for going to the dance. Mostly, however, López avoids Spanish, and bicultural identity issues. Given the novel’s domestic tranquilities, and pursuit thereof, what López writes is plenty enough for a parent in Anytown, EUA to share with a kid embroiled in the problems that get worked out in Lina's and Vanessa's Corpus Christi.

(I wonder where Maggie Mallen is these days? Maggie, a Teatro a la Brava actor I was directing, challenged me to approach poet Ricardo Sánchez at a post-performance pachanga one night in Calexico. “Call it ‘Corpus Krispies,’” Maggie said, “it pisses them off.” So I give it a go, “órale, Ricardo, I hear you’re from Korpos Krispies” I asked the large poet. Sánchez looks me down and up, glowers, and says, “nomás dimos Corpus.” And then we did a big abrazo of joyful carnalismo in the middle of the dance floor. QEPD, Ricardo.)

Note. This review continues exploration of the work of emerging writers. For Teresa Márquez' bibliography of emerging writers, click here.

El Drinko de Mayo

Birongas, birongas, birongas. For the gluten-afflicted, regular beer is poison, painfully unpleasant. Gente like me, a cold Bard's hits the spot. On the other hand, or in it, if you're the two-fisted type, you might mix up a big batch of Barbaritas, nature's most nearly perfect drinko de mayo refreshment.

Here are the basics, from the gluten-free cooking segment at Read Raza. Click for the full process:

Fresh limes or lemons.
Good tequila like Cuervo Tradicional, or rotgut like Cuervo Gold.
Sugar with ground Jamaica blossoms (dried or powdered).
Triple sec.
Ice. Blender. Thirst.

Mix the liquids a day ahead. Add equal measures alcol and limonade and adjust to taste. (I keep a mason jar of sugar with Jamaica leaves that I process in a Cuisineart. You want the leaves and stems broken down to powder and tiny bits.)

Make sure the blender jar is clean and holds liquid.
The Barbarita base contains twice the Tequila to the two liqueurs. There is twice the Triple sec to Cointreau. In a Mrs. Hubbard moment, you can do without the Cointreau or the Triple sec, but one or the other is de rigueur.

The Hospitality Moment: When you’re ready to serve Barbaritas, add ice to the blender. Add twice the measure of ice to liquid. Experiment with your blender. I dump in ice to the 32 oz. line, then add Barbarita mix to the 16 oz. line, then whiz on highest spin until I have a slush, adding ice until the slush holds its shape when poured into a prepared glass.

The lip smacking finishing touch of the Barbarita is a Tuaca float. A stiffer icy slush lets the Tuaca sit on its own, in front of the limonade, giving lips a bright surprise with each sip.

Tiny bits of Jamaica come with a sip. Chew them, spit them out, or eat them. Enjoy the experience.

Late-Breaking Tip

La Bloga friend and chicano vampire detective novelist Mario Acevedo sends along this link to a fascinating fantasy lit fan page, The League of Reluctant Adults.

Mario shares this note of interest to his readers and Friday Bloguero Manuel Ramos: I have a short story, "No Soy Loco," in the anthology, You Don't Have A Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens, from Arte Publico Press. We've been getting very good reviews. My contribution features mysterious voices, a drunken abusive dad, alien criminals, eye gouging, and a teenage boy getting his hands impaled to a Ouija board. Fun stuff!

Fellow Denver writer, the award-winning Manuel Ramos, also contributed to the anthology with his story, "The Back Up." Here's a KUHF podcast of the erudite Ramos discussing his path to literary success (via the lawyer route) and his involvement with the Chicano protests

Avenue 50 Studio Showcase

Northeast Los Angeles' celebrated gallery, Avenue 50 Studio, hosts a reading to raise awareness about the detainment in Libya of writer/journalist Jim Foley and companions, beginning at 6 pm. on May 7, Saturday.

8 Angelina Angelino poets— Billy Burgos, Rafael Alvarado, S.A. Griffin, Jeff Rochlin, Luivette Resto, Annette Cruz, Yago S. Cura, and Dennis Cruz—will read their original work at Ave 50 Studio (131 North Avenue 50 L.A., CA 90042-3903 / (323) 258-1435) to publicize the plight of James Foley, and call upon the Libyan government to release James and three other journalists who were detained with him, Clare Gillis, Manu Brabo, and Anton Hammerl.

According to eyewitnesses, Foley, one of the first journalists to arrive on the scene of the Libyan unrest, was stopped by security forces outside Brega on April 5, 2011. Foley is an independent correspondent working for the Global Post traveling with three other journalists, Clare Gillis, an American correspondent for The Atlantic and U.S.A. Today, Spanish photographer, Manu Brabo, and South African photographer Anton Hammerl. Eyewitnesses report their vehicle was fired upon and they were taken. They were later spotted in a Tripoli detention center. No further information has been reported on their safety, anticipated release or any charges against them.

Raised in New Hampshire, James Wright Foley worked for years as an inner-city teacher with Teach For America in Phoenix and the Cook County Boot Camp in Chicago before pursuing his journalism career. He attended the graduate program in journalism at the Medill School of Jouralism. Following graduation, Foley embraced war reporting and traveled to the Middle East in 2008, where he embedded with the Indiana National Guard and 101st Airborne in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. Following Iraq, Foley covered the war in Afghanistan as a multimedia reporter for Global Post. He worked from the frontlines during the 2010 troop surge on volatile mountain outposts and the offensive in Kandahar. His story for Global Post, “On Location: A firefight in Kunar Province”, September 19, 2010, is a 2011 Webby award honoree.

Beyond Baroque Showcase

LA's westside is where my grampa used to call "pa'lla" when someplace was too far downrange to visit. But when there's a fabulous event in Venice--the edge of the continent near the Pacific Ocean--the journey has lots of payback.

Saturday May 7 beginning at 4 p.m., the venerable arts space, Beyond Baroque, is celebrating the diversity of the Southern California literary community with a multidimensional reading featuring poets from several arts institutions.

Happily, La Bloga's Friday Bloguera, Melinda Palacio, reads with Gloria Enedina Alvarez and William Archila, representing Los Angeles' Palabra literary magazine. Beam me to Venice, Escotty.

Click the image below for a new window with a larger, more legible read.

Conjunto Festival Update
Remember that song from Bernstein's West Side Story, "Something's coming, something good, if I can wait....Maybe tonight..."? With a lot more certitude, the lyric describes what's coming to San Antonio on May 10 & 12 at the Guadalupe Theatre, continuing at Rosedale Park on 13-15 May.

Click here for the festival webpage where you'll find links to the full schedule. Music, discussions, vendors, two locations, food, cultura. You'll want a program; this year's festival program features several engaging musica-themed pieces such as:

Rosa Canales Pérez

Vive para bailar
baila para vivir.

Old barrio bailadora
Raised on the music
Of Saturday night conjuntos
Playing in the salones
Of San Benito, Texas
Remembers dancing
At La Villita when it
Was an open air patio
A stone’s throw
From las cantinas de
La Cuadra de San Bene
These days she counts
Good fortune by whether
She’s got a bailador,
Pero si no, she dances
With amigos, primos, tíos
Or sobrinos – age doesn’t
Matter as long as she
Can dance – porque

Vive para bailar
baila para vivir

Rosa Canales Pérez was born in Hebbronville and raised in Premont. She is a retired high school teacher reinvented as a singer, songwriter and poet. Currently involved in a border roots music project called “Pauraque,” she also performs with husband, Joe Pérez in a ranchero duet they call Rumbo al’ Anacua. Rosa has lived in the Rio Grande Valley for the past 30 years.

penultimate note, the + in Readings
Cave Canem Hosts Martín Espada Launch Reading May 12

Cave Canem Foundation, North America’s premier home for Black
poetry, will partner with The Acentos Foundation to host American Book Award winner Martín Espada’s New York City debut of The Trouble Ball (W. W. Norton, 2011) on Thursday, May 12, 6:30 pm, at 20 Jay Street, Suite 310‐A, Brooklyn, NY.

La Bloga enjoyed the collection and recommends it highly to any who want to read America's outstanding voice: The Trouble Ball floats a few masterpieces that will sustain the poet’s reputation as the best American poet writing in English. Like Dudamel at every concert, Espada once again earns his ovation with this diverse collection of masterpieces and pieces.

Called by Patricia Smith “a masterful mix of infectious music and revelations that change the way we are rooted to the world,” The Trouble Ball is Espada’s ninth collection of poetry and his 18th book in print. He will be joined by poets Virginia K. Lee and John Murillo reading selections from their original work.

The event is open to the public with a suggested admission of $5‐$10 to benefit Cave Canem and Acentos. For more information, visit Cave Canem's website or call 718.858.0000.

On-Line Floricanto

This week's submissions from the moderators of the Facebook group, Poets Responding to Sb 1070, include some familar poets along with a few debuts: Devreaux Baker, Jabez W. Churchill, Griselda Muñoz, James Downs, Raul Sanchez, Victor Avila. Please comment on work you enjoy, or not, by clicking the Comment counter below the bios and mugshots.

1. "Desert Mind" by Devreaux Baker

2. "Reconsider The Lillies / Considerad de nuevo las azucenas" by Jabez W. Churchill

3. "My Drum" by Griselda Muñoz

4. "There Is a Fence Around My Heart" by James Downs

5. "Behind the Barbed Wire" by Raul Sanchez

6. "A Hope Beyond the Stars" by Victor Avila

Desert Mind
by Devreaux Baker

I heard voices beneath the sand
whispering words with consonants
like heart-beats, syllables like prayers.
I heard wind singing through
channels of rock mind, sky spirit,
river soul.
I walked all morning into the past
where mourning becomes a wedding dress
I have been handed
in a marriage with past deeds,
present lives,
and future expectations.
I walked past ancient places
that live beneath skin, sing in bones,
clap hands to a beat
that dwells in all worlds as one beat,
and lifts all voices into one voice.
I held the morning like a burning bush,
a fire that could never end, a mantra
turning into a path from this world
to the next.
I knelt at the edge of lives
that pulled hope
on such strong currents
they would never stop flowing.
Man-made borders dissolved
into rain and earth
and the language of stars.

Devreaux Baker

Reconsider The Lillies
by Jabez W. Churchill

The dark,
night’s starry crown,
does not flee the floodlights
but reigns beyond our sight
on both sides of the border.
Nor does the oak
outside the bathroom stir
while I lie awake
in expectation of the dawn,
but drinks more deeply from the earth below.
Nor do the cats loose sleep,
unequal to the dawn.
But still, I wonder
if I shall ever see
wall and wire recycled,
five hundred miles of taquerias and ice cream stands
open front and back,
and anxious fear
that most will be asleep
at opening time.

Considerad de nuevo las azucenas

La noche,
su corona estrellada,
no huye de los faroles
sino reina
más allá de nuestra vista
por ambos lados de la frontera.
Ni tiembla el roble
encima de la bañera
donde inquieto me acuesto
esperando el alba
sino bebe más profundo de la tierra.
Ni los gatos
pierden sueño,
desiguales al amanecer.
Pero sigo inseguro
si llegaré a ver
pared y alambre reciclados,
quinientas millas de taquerías y heladerías sirviendo ambos
y ansioso temo
que todos sequirán durmiendo
a la hora de comenzar.

by Gris Muñoz

We are the women who
morning ceremonies,
and greeting the sun
with our staffs and beaded shawls,
carved drums and
feathered songs.

We are the women that
even now read psalms
with gasped heartbeats-
burned codices tattooed
on our bronze bodies,
we remember
when we sat and accepted blood soaked scrolls
proclaiming us the enemy
of a god we did not know.
We planted corn.

We are the women
remember those who have
walked before.

In swayed reverence
we visit cemeteries
and walk delicately;
a coffee can with three white lilies
sits where I’ve buried
my victories and
when I have to walk
down dark city streets
a jaguar walks nearby,
protecting me.

Its true I fear no man or angry spirit
that might approach
because five hundred years of prayers
have taught me
the divine that accompanies
also resides
in its

Five hundred years later
I still sing songs to the sun
I’m still His Aztec flower
my hymns remain
my drum.

Griselda Muñoz

There Is a Fence Around My Heart
by James Downs

There is a fence around
My heart and if I do not
Tear it down it will
Dismantle me I can see
The others on the other
Side waiting waiting for
Me to let them in and
If I don’t I will be alone
With my rabid thoughts
There is a fence around
My heart and if I do not
Tear it down it will
Dismantle me

James Downs

Behind the Barbed Wire
by Raul Sanchez

In the olden days
southwest folks
...lived along
dusty border towns
before there was
a fence
before there was
a wall
now they live
fenced in
lined up
against the wall.

Raúl Sánchez 4-19-2011

A Hope Beyond the Stars
for Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly

With a final kiss
the said goodbye.
Propped in a hospital bed
she spoke with gray-green eyes.
And those eyes said,
"I am with you Mark and by your side,
through-out this journey, this final flight."
(Cihuatl tlacatl quimixnahuatia)*

The turquoise of heaven awaits
an astronaut and his crew.
We light bundles of sage to the winds.
Our incantations will see them through.
Toward uncertain skies of obsidian darkness
the shuttle turns. Gabby's prayers
and ours travel with them.
We await their safe return.
(Nochtlaca tlamanaltlaliz popchtli)

As he's lifted into space
he thinks of his wife.
He knows one day soon
she will again walk by his side.
Where have life's journeys taken them?
Both have traveled far.
A man and a woman see their future together.
And it lies beyond the pale luminosity of ordinary stars.
(Tlahtachia iyolo ahuiliztli)*

*A man and woman say goodbye
*All people offer incense
*Hearts awaken with joy

Victor Avila


"Desert Mind" by Devreaux Baker
"Reconsider The Lillies / Considerad de nuevo las azucenas" by Jabez W. Churchill
"My Drum" by Griselda Muñoz
"There Is a Fence Around My Heart" by James Dow
"Behind the Barbed Wire" by Raul Sanchez
"A Hope Beyond the Stars" by Victor Avila

Devreaux BakerDevreaux Baker's poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies including; ZYZZYVA, The American Voice, New Millennium Writings and 100 Thousand Poets For Change. She has published three books of poetry; Light at the Edge, Beyond the Circumstance of Sight, and Red Willow People. She was an editor of Wood, Water, Air and Fire: The Anthology of Mendocino Women Poets. She is the recipient of a MacDowell Poetry Fellowship, a Hawthornden Castle International Poetry Fellowship, the Helene Wurlitzer Writing Foundation Award and three California Arts Council Awards to produce the Public Radio Program: Voyagers: Original Student Writing for Public Radio. She has taught poetry in the schools with the California Poets in Schools Program and conducted workshops in the United States, Mexico, France and Scotland. She calls Taos home.

Jabez W. ChurchillBorn in Northern California, educated in Argentina and the U.S. Mariner since 1971: Eastern Med., Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific Northwest. Single dad, retired peace officer, currently teaching modern languages, Spanish and French, at Santa Rosa and Mendocino Colleges. California Poet in the Public Schools since 1998. Submitting bilingual poetry for publication since 1979.


SONG OF SEASONS, Small Poetry Press, 1996
CONTROLLED BURN, Small Poetry Press, 1996
THE VEIL/EL VELO, Kulupi Press, 2000
SANTA CLARA REVIEW, Spring/Summer 2002
americas review, 2003
languageandculture.net, chapbook series, 2005
FIRST LEAVES, 2009, Literary and Art Journal

Scholarship from la Casa de las Americas, la Habana, Cuba, 2003
Featured at the Summer Dream Poetry Festival in Vancouver, B.C., 2008, 2009, 2010, and upcoming 2011.

James DownsJames Downs lives and works in Yosemite National Park, California. A native Texan, James moved to the golden state in 1993 and happily calls himself a "permanent Californian." James produces a twice yearly onstage writers’ night, WORDS. James has a chapbook WHERE MANZANITA (2000) and a full-length volume MERGE WITH THE RIVER (2004), both published by Poetic Matrix Press, and hopes to have his third in 2012. In 2009, James became the Associate Editor of Poetic Matrix Press. In his spare time, he writes lyrics with a musician friend for SAWHORSE. Most importantly, James wants you to know that he married his love of seven years, Joy, in the summer of 2007 on his publisher’s land by a creek under a willow tree. Best decision of his life.

Raúl Sánchez Raúl Sánchez is a Seattle Bio-Tech technician, translator, DJ, and cook who conducts workshops on The Day of the Dead. His work appeared on-line in The Sylvan Echo, Flurry, La Bloga, Gazoobitales with Pirene’s Fountain being the latest. In print his work appears in the second Anthology by The Miracle Theatre Viva la Word!, Latino Cultural Magazine, on Bookmarks by the Seattle Public Library 2007 Poetic Art Project, and in the Anthology Speaking Desde las Heridas (Publisher: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México).

Victor Avila Victor Avila is a Los Angeles-based poet and songwriter. He is a widely published poet and a winner of the Chicano Poetry Prize. He recently started writing and illustrating ghost stories for Ghoula Comix. One of those stories will be appearing in Ghoula Comix #2."

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