Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Review: Penelope's Voice. Calaveritas. Walkabout. On-line Floricanto.

In Memoriam: José Montoya
Montoya's placa from the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto at USC

Click here to hear friends remember the great poet, and spend precious moments with José Montoya as he reads his work and talks about his life in art and the movimiento.

Finding a Voice for Penelope

Review: Tino Villanueva. So Spoke Penelope. Cambridge MA: Grolier Poetry Press, 2013.
ISBN: 9781891592027 1891592025

Michael Sedano

The woman approached me in the hall, outside the seminar at the New York Sheraton, book in hand. Now I’m generally not open to hallway sales pitches, but the law of Zeus Xenia requires fairness to strangers, so I let her engage me.

It is the best hallway conversation I can remember. The woman had brought along a single copy of Hay Otra Voz Poems by Tino Villanueva.

No, I admitted, I was not familiar with the poetry nor the poet. I flipped through the artisan-crafted pages that just covered the palm of my hand, scanning a line or two. Yes. Yes, wow. Spanish, English, mezcla. Then I read one at random, “Aquellos Vatos.” An instant classic, I had to own this volume.

That was 1972 or maybe 1973. Today, Villanueva comes forth with another instant classic of chicano literature, So Spoke Penelope. Published in a limited edition of only 800 copies, the slim volume of 60 pages presents 36 one- and two-page meditations Odysseus’ wife consoles herself with over the 20 years her husband went missing in the Trojan War.

Calculating Penelope’s age to be nineteen when her husband sails off to war, the woman ages across the poems until, at the eve of her fortieth year, her story reunites with Odysseus’ in a bloodbath that isn’t mentioned in Penelope’s rapture and falling into bed with her long-absent lover.

Readers will enjoy the sweep of years that creates a poetic plot in Penelope’s biography. Villanueva picks moments of thought at 5 years, then six, ten, eighteen, twenty years, to illustrate Penelope’s determination to wait out the painful absence.

Homer didn’t know Puccini, but Villanueva certainly does. When certain images recall un bel di, it comes as an irony that the smoke Butterfly seeks on the horizon will bring only tragedy, while the sails Penelope longs to see will fulfill the three motives that Villanueva has invested her with, seething passion, desperate patience, and good wife faithfulness.

It’s curious that “home” is a rarely-visited thought throughout the collection. Penelope wants Odysseus back, wants to be wrapped in his passionate arms, wants him in bed, in Ithaca, wants to see his sails on the horizon. All that wanting, longing and absence, yet Penelope’s vocabulary rarely mentions “home.”

Only in the sixth year of wanting does the word enter Penelope’s vocabulary. “Home” implies permanence and resolution, qualities Penelope cannot grasp because she’s stuck in a world of ever-shifting never-satisfied wants and hopes, seemingly at the mercy of gods and goddesses that have already mucked up her world. So she weaves.

Villanueva writes for readers familiar with the Odyssey, rewards their knowledge with a rich tapestry of allusions, and dramatic ironies pointing to the larger context of world literature. Penelope wonders if Odysseus has taken up with another woman, not knowing how Kirke seduced her husband on the other side of this story. Penelope wonders if Odysseus has been captured, and the reader thinks how crafty polytropos used a word game to blind the one-eyed Cyclops and escape captivity.

At their most elemental level, So Spoke Penelope is love poetry. Richly textured from classical literature, each piece nonetheless stands on its own. Each poem deserves to be taken for itself, read one at a time, in any order. They stay with one, these poems, long after closing the book.

So Spoke Penelope is under translation now for Spanish and French readers, and possibly Hangul. From Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad now to Tino Villanueva’s romantic exploration, after 2500 years or so, it’s good seeing Penelope coming into her own. Visit the Grolier on-line bookshop to order your copies.

Walkabout Foto Essay: LA's Figueroa Corridor

Los Angeles moves westerly. For small town-raised me who’d just spent a year in a remote section of Korea, I became addicted to the metropolitan energy of the big city when I hit town in 1970. For me, Broadway and 7th was the reason for having big cities.

Thousands of pedestrians cars and buses streamed in every direction. Traffic cops danced in the intersections controlling cross traffic armed only with whistle and gesture. The great ones danced through their workday, whistling and gyrating and standing firmly, hand out, the line of inching vehicles halts, subject to only the cop’s trilling chifle and a wave of the hand. Broadway and 7th was also an Amen Corner.

Preachers paced the corners, beseeching passersby to hear the Word shouted to be heard above the roar of cars,  buses, and piercing whistles. Quiet acolytes insisted tracts at avoiding hands, asking a nickle when they catch an eye. Days when a second proselyte takes up nearby space sets off loud competitions, each preaching harder than the other guy to save our souls.

Where have all the traffic cops gone, long time passing? And the street corner preachers, the quiet tract ladies, the senior citizens in Clifton’s cafeteria, waiting for the first opportunity to pounce on leftovers? Gone to Flower (and Figueroa), every one. Oh, when will we ever learn?

Today’s El Lay looks to infuse a different pulse on the city by creating a metropolitan entertainment venue around the Convention Center, Staples Center, and mega-entertainment complex L.A. Live. With enough money, and a compliant city government, real estate developers may be able to inject a downtown football stadium into the site.

A visit to the area via shank’s mare and public transportation recently illustrated the intertia already building in this easterly boundary of the metro heart of Los Angeles.

L.A. Live from Staples Center offers flapping banners and LED signage. 
Getting there from anywhere in LA means paying at least twenty bucks to park within a quarter mile of the development. Walking there from the nearby Metro station is a breeze for able-bodied folks, as I discovered on a stroll to the 2013 Digital Video Expo at the Convention Center.

Metro country is no country for old men and women. LA Metro makes it as difficult as imaginable to get a Senior Discount. The electronic ticket dispenser reads like a satire on officialese. I helped two women having difficulty with the choice. The pensioners were opting for a $1.25 ride, when there is a .25 option in the morning.

For a Sr. to get a specially-coded access card that avoids that rip-off, the Senior must show up with a photograph—not a xerox, una foto--proof of age, a filled-in form, in person to one of only four locations. There is no check for proof of age when buying a TAP at the machines.

Development is converting Figueroa and Flower streets into a highrise corridor. It’s going to be impressive from the adjacent Harbor Freeway. The west coast’s tallest structure is being anchored to the ground at the corner of Fig and 7th, only 45 minutes from Broadway only on the worst traffic day.

For now, the site is a hole in the ground, the vista of the striking grey-white Wedbush building and others, soon to disappear forever from this vantage point.

Soon-to-be-impossible vista of Wedbush building.

At the Convention Center, the  digital video exposition serves a tiny collection of vendors, and a scant assortment of visitors. The salespeople exhibited little enthusiasm for the crowd, making little effort to get people to stop and talk.

Few vendors buy floor space with expectations of selling something. A few advertise show specials but the majority of companies come here to show the flag. A few hand out trinkets in exchange for a conversation or a badge scan. Alzo video featured sixty dollar light stands, if you looked closely, and handed out hook-and-loop cable ties.

Digital Video Expo illustrates what it costs to own a studio. The pithy sentiment behind “power of the press belongs to the person who owns one” becomes pricey sentiment when thinking to produce competitive and effective video.

Eight grand for that HS-2000 from Datavideo, add another ten thousand dollars for ancillary necessities, and when that purchase order hits the floor, you’ve cut your slice of the video production pie. At these prices, there’s nothing rasquachi about your studio, unless you can’t write.

To see additional DV Expo fotos, click here.

Exiting the convention hall relieved that I’m no longer working trade shows, a stroll in the shadow of the Staples Center curves around to a plaza featuring monumental sculpture of broadcaster Chick Hearn and Showtime legends Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Golden patina on Jabbar's hook shot glows in the open shade revealing contours wrought by the artist’s hands. As impressively graceful this bronze moment, the crowd congregates for souvenir fotos at Magic’s feet.

Los Angeles’ recently enacted mural ordinance will prevent advertisers from painting on this wall and calling it art. But in one's “wouldn’t it be cool” fantasy mural register, imagine this wall hand-painted with a permanent work of magnificent arte!

Three-wings advertising "Grand Theft Auto" video game.
The gente standing protest sign duty didn’t want to talk about the cause. They are struggling against the powers of the earth, as well as the powers that be. The banner acts like a sail in the wind whipping in from the coast and swirling around here, against the tall buildings in its path.

I suspect more development--maybe even that football stadium—lies around the corner and like that wind, even if you see it coming, there’s not a thing you can do about it except lean into it and hold your place.

Thirty years ago, the southern edge of this convention center neighborhood got hit by a freak tornado that swept through a half block near Olympic Blvd, ripping a few panels of siding off an immigrant hotel. A few shaken residents were interviewed for the local newscasts. That afternoon, I sat waiting in a Pasadena ballet studio. Two women sat far from my bench. One woman exulted, “Isn’t it great the tornado didn’t hit someplace important?”

Click here for a gallery of foto:msedano walkabout fotos.

DDLM Poetry Contest: Calaveras Literarias

Last week, La Bloga announced its first annual this-side-of-la-frontera open call for poets to join La Bloga's Dia de los Muertos contest: Send up to three calaveras in English, Spanish, or mezcla to win inclusion in the October 29, On-line Floricanto, and perhaps a memorable prize. For details and links to calaveras literarias, click here.

Place your calaveras literarias in the body of an email (no files, please) and be sure to include your name and mail address in event your work wins one of the fabulous TBA prizes. Click here for the address, which is calaveras@readraza.com.

To Be Announced prizes will have a DDLM or Hallowe'en theme. Get those calaverita juices flowing and let's see if La Bloga can help transplant this Mexicano poetic tradition pa' esta lado.

Premio Aztlán Includes $1000 and a Good Time at the NHCC

Greta Pullen of the National Hispanic Cultural Center is spreading word of the centro's highly sought literary award, Premio Aztlán. Here's most of the release Greta sends.

Albuquerque, NM—September 14--The competition for the Premio Aztlán will be open for entries on December 1, 2013. The closing date for entries is January 31, 2014. Writers who have published not more than two books are encouraged to contact their publishers about submission. The submissions must include 6 copies of the book, a letter of interest, or if from publisher, a letter of nomination, the author’s curriculum vitae, resumé or background information. The latter must include a list of published works and examples of any communal involvement in the Chicana/Chicano community.

The Premio Aztlán Literary Prize is a national literary award, established to encourage and reward emerging Chicana and Chicano authors. Renowned author, Rudolfo Anaya and his wife, Patricia, founded the Premio Aztlán in 1993. In 2008, upon the request of Rudolfo Anaya, the prize was moved to the National Hispanic Cultural Center where the lecture and award ceremony now take place during the National Latino Writers Conference.

The winner of the Premio Aztlán will be awarded $1,000.

The guidelines are as follows:
• Literary prize is for a work of fiction (novels and collections of short stories) published in the 2013 calendar year.
• Authors must have published not more than two books.
• Entries must be the work of living authors.
• Edited works, self-published books or manuscripts in process are not accepted.
• No poetry or children’s literature will be considered.
• If named as a recipient, person must be present to receive the award and is expected to give a lecture at the National Latino Writers Conference in May 2014. Travel and lodging will be paid for by the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
• Honorarium will be given following the recipient’s presentation at the National Latino Writers Conference. Non-attendance at the Premio Aztlán award ceremony will result in the selected honoree’s forfeiture of the prize.

October On-line Floricanto

“After Spain is Lost to Me, I Return” by Carmen Calatayud
"Walking on Holy Ground" by Hedy Garcia Treviño
“Border Bound” by Odilia Galván Rodríguez
“Weeping Woman” by Andrea Hernadez Holm
"Border Crossing" by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

After Spain is Lost to Me, I Return
Valencia, España
Carmen Calatayud

I am rooted but alive
I am flowering and dying.
~Peter Gizzi

I walk streets of stone sewn to Arab ground.
I swim in saffron.
Salt water cracks the code lodged in my throat.
My voice rises like forgotten fog that wraps the sea,
history still alive in these chromosomes.
At night, silky bats nest in my hair.
We listen to the whisper of Hebrew chants.
I long to dance like gitanas
who sob through the soles of their shoes.
The blue wind of war keeps me awake
at night. I float over shadows and hum.
Hope rides a Vespa through ancient alleys
after too much wine. Winds around in circles.
My gente dressed in black for years,
begged for nocturnal peace.
The veil of possibility stands still to
honor the fragments of holy lives.
I wear my violet cape to fly over the dead:
Their caramel skin and olive eyes
Their butterfly hands and palm-tree feet
Their moon-shaped breasts that leak with love.

Copyright 2013 Carmen Calatayud. All rights reserved.

Carmen Calatayud is the author of In the Company of Spirits (Press 53, 2012).
The book was chosen as a runner-up for the Walt Whitman Award by the Academy of American Poets. Carmen is a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner and recipient of a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellowship. Her poetry has been published in journals such as Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cutthroat, Gargoyle, Más Tequila Review, PALABRA: A Journal of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and Red River Review. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in publications for The Nature Conservancy and Amtrak. Born to a Spanish father and Irish mother in the U.S., she is a poet moderator for Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook group that features poetry and news about the Arizona immigration law that legalizes racial profiling. Carmen works as a psychotherapist in Washington, DC.

walking on holy ground
hedy garcia treviño

I Walk on Holy Ground
Every sprig every bush every tree sings a song and has a memory
of she who gave them life.
The baby Palo Verde in our yard planted by loving hands last Spring
waves to she who gave him life.
She placed every stone carefully beneath the Phoenix sun leaving us pathways for tired eyes to gaze upon the moon.
Under the Phoenix sun fragile ones wither if not tended with care. Broken hearts have learned to listen for the sounds of life. The flutter of wings and butterfly visits are celebrated with great joy in the gardens of she who gave them life.
Embracing the arrival of clouds that dance in the sky painting images and leaving shadows of angel feathers cast upon holy ground.

Hedy M. Garcia Treviño has written poetry since the age of eight.
Her first poem came as a result of being punished for speaking Spanish in school. Her poetry has been published in numerous journal's and other publications. She has performed her poetry at numerous cultural events. She continues to write poetry, and inspires others to use the written word as a form of self discovery and personal healing. Hedy is also one of the moderators for Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Border Bound
Odilia Galván Rodríguez
"There have always been borders
for a people considered other
in their own land."

Tejas 1938
terrible signs

she cannot read
but someone translates
you can not sit there
here is where we order
take our food to go.
In school, the teacher tries a smile
as she shows their place
sits them all in a huddle
in the back of the room.
Sister says, speaking Spanish is bad
will be repaid with a ruler, or worse.

the Rio Grande

bad medicine
having a father
found face down
in the river-border
between here and there
both sides were his home and
dark spirits rise
from such deaths
to negotiate a crossing
to a place with no confines
the ultimate other side.

it is not so easy
if ones spirit clings
to this life’s plane
refuses to move on
for unfinished business
or reasons of their own
restless, they refuse
to find peace
these spirit become walkers too
constantly crossing the living
trying to find home.

the sleepy border

the border was not serious
not a force
to be reckoned with
people and things crossed
that's how the word illegal
was made popular
because our own
United States was lax
on how it policed this edge
of its new world.

new world b-order

The bigger and better border is
no deterrent to a people forced
to work as slaves in sweatshops
and on US corporate farms
in Mexico
people find a way to survive
there are ways around
and under obstacles
the powers that be know this and
when it’s convenient, look the other way
their hate turns to a sick love, again.

Present Day

the neo-cavalry chases
new Apaches
Cora, Comanches,
Huichol, Papago, Pima
Tohono O'Odham and Yaqui.
There is an indigenous invasion
Thousands coming north
Terracotta people
Who all look the same
To those who hate
anyone who doesn’t look like them.

Coyotes the two
and four legged kind
perched on the ledge
observing prey lost
on the outer part
the edge
separating us
from ourselves
worse, from each other
between these
broken and split


Author Odilia Galván Rodríguez, is of Chicano-Lipan Apache ancestry, born in Galveston, Texas and raised on the south side of Chicago.
As a social justice activist for many years, Ms. Galván Rodríguez worked as a community and labor organizer, for the United Farm Workers of America AFL-CIO and other community based organizations, and served on various city/county boards and commissions. She is the author of three books of poetry, of which Migratory Birds: New and Noted Poems, is her latest publication.  Her creative writing has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies such as, The En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples, New Chicana / Chicano Writing: 1& 2, Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Contemporary Native American Women's Writings of North America, Here is my kingdom: Hispanic-American literature and art for young people, Zyzzyva, The Beltway Poetry Quarterly, La Bloga as well as other online sites. She most recently worked as the English Edition Editor for Tricontinental Magazine, in Havana, Cuba under OSPAAAL, an NGO with consultative status to the United Nations.  She is also one of the facilitators of Poets Responding to SB1070, a Facebook page dedicated to calling attention to the unjust laws recently passed in Arizona which target Latinos, and teaches Empowering People Through Creative Writing Workshops nationally.

Weeping Woman
Andrea Hernandez Holm

I am the motherland
divided by borders
inside and out.

Andrea Hernandez Holm lives in Tucson, Arizona.
She has been a poet-moderator of Poets Responding to SB 1070 since 2010. Her poetry has appeared in Generations Literary Journal, La Sagrada, El Coraje, The Blue Guitar Magazine, La Bloga On-line Floricanto, and Red Ink. Andrea is a PhD student in the Mexican American Studies Department at the University of Arizona, and holds an M.S. in Mexican American Studies and an M.A. in American Indian Studies. Andrea's primary research interests include indigeneity, identity, and the intersection of identity with creative writing. Andrea was born in Arizona and lives there now with her husband and two teenage sons. She loves the desert with a wide open heart.

Border Crossing
Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

We walked across the bridge
From El Paso to Juarez, past las Marías,
Squatting on the Mexican side,
The only sign we’d left the U.S.

Settled on dirty serapes, they dangled
Trinkets at me, hand strung necklaces
With beads like colorful candy their
Children sucked and savored.

I dropped coins in their cups,
Refused to buy the jewelry,
Passed up the cheap pottery,
Not wanting to see the poverty.

These were not border women.
What had brought them here?
How poor was life in their
Village to bring them to this?

My coins gone, I hurried
past, knowing I couldn’t
Help them, couldn’t
Help any of them.

The smells and sounds of Juarez
Assailed me; the stink of rancid food,
Sewage in the gutters, loud music,
Streets crowded with people and cars.

I could go no further into Mexico,
Land of my grandparents.
In panic, I retreated, rushed past
The women, their mocositos,

Left my husband
Trailing behind me
As I ran back to the U.S.
The land of my birth.

©May 8, 2013

Elena Díaz Björkquist is a writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, Arizona.
She writes about Morenci where she was born. Elena is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon and co-editor of Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos and Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems, anthologies written the writers collective Sowing the Seeds.

As an Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Scholar, Elena’s performed as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation and done presentations about Morenci for twelve years. In 2012 she received the Arizona Commission on the Arts Bill Desmond Writing Award for excelling nonfiction writing and the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Public Humanities Scholar Award in recognition of her work to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. She was nominated for Tucson Poet Laureate in 2012 and is one of the moderators of the Facebook page Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Elena’s website is at http://elenadiazbjorkquist.com/.

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