Friday, February 28, 2014

PINTURA: PALABRA – A Report from the Front Lines.

Guest Post by Emma Trelles

A couple of weeks ago, I kissed and made up with my long-time inamorata – poetry. Perhaps Washington DC in mid-February seems a cold place to rekindle the flush of an old love, but this snow-painted city was home-base for “PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis,” and I was invited to attend. Launched by Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, PINTURA/PALABRA assembled 13 poets from DC and around the country for a master ekphrastic workshop and a chance to view & write poem-drafts about “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.”

Back row, l to r: Juan Morales, Valerie Martinez, Carmen Catalayud, Samuel Miranda, John Chavez. Middle row, l to r: E. Carmen Ramos, Maritza Rivera, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Emma Trelles, Elizabeth Acevedo. Front row, l to r: Brenda Cardenas, Carlos Parada Ayala, Francisco Aragon, Dan Vera.

The exhibition, curated by E. Carmen Ramos, originated and is currently on view at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. It will soon travel to Miami, Florida, Sacramento, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Wilmington, Delaware. Letras Latinas is already organizing a PINTURA/PALABRA for Miami, the exhibit’s next stop on its national tour, and additional workshops and programming will follow.
I’m grateful to PINTURA/PALABRA. The creative renewal I experienced during our three days in DC was the perfect anodyne for any writer who has meandered far from her craft, and from the inspiration that can charge it. Work, family, the dull shine of procrastination, or simply staring out the window at the azaleas exploding white along the sidewalk (an essential kind of musing for poets) – any of these divides us, sometimes quite willingly, from writing. Visiting the exhibit, with pen and notebook in hand, I was drawn to a wildly diverse collection of 92 paintings, photographs, sculpture and the like by 72 Latino/a visual artists, and I was able to respond immediately and with little censure or delay.
Camas para Sueños, a gouache on paper made in 1985 by Carmen Lomas Garza, depicts a tender homage to family and the cultural traditions that sustain us. I connected to it immediately, thinking of my younger brother and the hours we spent in the backyard of our childhood home, playing H-O-R-S-E or catching lizards or simply dreaming our own plans for the future.

It’s a time I don’t think about as much anymore, and it felt important to record some of the painting’s intimacy alongside the memories it sparked because my notebooks are the birthplace of so many of my poems.
A small sample of other works I found arresting: Nocturnal(Horizon Line), by Teresita Fernández, a hypnotic landscape layered in horizontal strips of graphite that evoke nighttime and moonlight, and, to me, the shorelines of South Florida, where I was raised and where the artist also lived and studied. 
The artwork that pushed me to draft an actual poem (vs. notes) while in DC, however, was Decoy Gang War Victim, by the 1970s/80s Chicano art collective Asco.  The photograph resembles a movie still and was part of a conceptual-performance series that protested violence, the war in Vietnam, and the media’s regard of Latinos and their culture as violent and of little value. With its shadowed & haunting blue palette, and a pale body splayed in the street as if about to ascend, the photograph possessed what Yeats called a “terrible beauty.” I was compelled to write about it.
Decoy Gang War Victim, Asco, 1974, printed 2010, chromogenic print.

The members of our workshop inspired me as well, a creatively curious assembly of Latino/a writers with backgrounds in history, journalism, academia, visual arts, and more. PINTURA/PALABRA was created by Francisco Aragon, a poet, editor, and director of Letras Latinas, and the DC program was led by two extraordinary poets and educators: Brenda Cardenas and Valerie Martinez. Both provided us with a wealth of writing prompts and ekphrastic poems to mull over long before we arranged our chairs around a first floor conference room at the museum and began to talk shop.
Cardenas and Martinez kicked things off with a colloquium at the Library of Congress, where they discussed the multitude of paths poets may take during their ekphrastic travels. “To me,” said Martinez. “The artwork is correlative, a place to find resonance. Ekphrasis is a way of arriving to the unexpected when we give ourselves over to language. Because language has its own kind of knowledge.”
The weekend closed with a reading at Busboys & Poets, where Split This Rock’s Sunday Kind of Love series graciously welcomed all of the PINTURA/PALABRA poets to read at its spirited monthly gathering. Here’s “Nexus,” by Brenda Cardenas, a poem she read to a packed house and that she had previously wrote in response to Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series.

(after Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series, earth-body works, 1973-80)

This body always compost—
hair a plot of thin green stems
snowing a shroud of petals,
skin mud-sucked to bark,
trunk only timber isthmusing
river banks, each finger
a dirty uprooting.

How many stones did I have
to swallow before my legs
believed their own weight?
Dropped into silhouette
of thigh and hip, a ridge
of ossicles crushed to fine
white whispers. Offering Cuilapán

their orphaned pleas, one
twin lingers outside the nave, one
cloistered in a vaulted niche,
its ledge of red roses edging
her blood-soaked robes.
Meat, bone—a deer’s skitter
and bolt from the arrow,
an iguana’s severed tail, spiny tracks.

They say we dig our own graves.
I have laid me down
in a Yagul tomb, outlined
my island arms with twig, rock,
blossom, mud. Our pulse with fire,
glass and blood. I’ve raised
myself in the earth’s beds, left
this map, this exiled breath.

Emma Trelles is the author of Little Spells (GOSS183 Press) and Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and a finalist for ForeWord Reviews’ poetry book of the year. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, PoetsArtists,, Best of the Net, The Rumpus, the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel, and others. In 2013, she was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship in poetry from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

AWP NEWS: Find her Saturday, March 1, from 1:30 pm – 2:45 pm at the AWP Seattle Conference panel, PUBLISHED! From Poetry Manuscript to First Book (Room 303, Western New England MFA Annex, Level 3) and later that evening at the launch for Kalina: The Theatre Under My Skin, a bilingual collection of contemporary Salvadoran poetry (From 6 pm – 7:30 pm, The Rendezvous Lounge at the Jewelbox Theatre, The Grotto, 2322 2nd Ave., Seattle).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicanonautica: Still Weird in Arizona

by Ernest Hogan

Arizona is weird. People ask me why I live here. I just dig that weirdness.

I also found my wonderful wife here. She digs the weirdness, too. She took the pictures that decorate this post. Ah, the romance of decaying cacti! So freaking beautiful! Beauty should be strange or not at all.

So no one should be surprised that the Arizona state legislature came up with a not so beautiful monstrosity like SB 1062, that expands “exercise of religion” and “state action” to protect businesses, corporations, and “people” from lawsuits after denying services based on a sincere religious belief. Like, if you happened to believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and some sodomites wanted pay you for whatever you do for money, you could tell them to go take a hike. What ever happened to good old-fashioned capitalism? I wonder what such an entity would think if they knew that I’m an all-purpose heathen devil who practices creative blasphemy?

Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062. These times they are a-changing. She hasn’t hallucinated about human heads being found in the desert lately, and she told CNN: “I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or they don’t work with. But, I don’t know that it needs to be statutory.”

Believe it or not, there are gays in Arizona. A lot of them work in service-related industries. Couples are making wedding plans, and going to California to get married. 

There are also a lot of Arizonans who have trouble with people who are different from them. That’s why all the English Only, and anti-immigrant noise. These same people interact with and are served by gays every day, but they can’t tell.

These are the folks who came to Arizona to get away from it all. And they haven’t escaped, they’re just in denial.

Meanwhile, three mountain bikers reported seeing a reptilian humanoid near Tucson: “all of a sudden we see this long figure walking across the trail. He is maybe about 6-foot tall, very very skinny, and it had an awkward gait, like a monkey . . . or a man with a disease, almost robotic, kind of.”

But the creature may have not been male. There are species of lizards that are all female, reproducing through parthenogenesis. Like the New Mexico whiptail lizard who “performs a type of pseudocopulation where two females will act out having sex as if one was a male.”

So, look out Arizona, there is no escape. The lesbian lizards of Aztlán are out there, heading for your place of business, seeking your services.

Ernest Hogan is La Bloga’s Arizona correspondent. He also writes science fiction. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Niño Wrestles the World

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

Señoras y Señores

Niños y Niñas

La Bloga proudly presents:

Niño Wrestles the World written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Niño celebrates la lucha libre at its highest expression.  This irresistible book won the 2014 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award.
La lucha libre is an icon of the Mexican culture. This popular sport is characterized by colorful masks and acrobatic performances. La lucha libre has gone beyond the quadrilateral of the Mexican Arena to other parts of the world making la lucha libre a treasure to keep among new generations.
Niño is a lucha libre competidor. His unique style and strong moves make him an unbeatable luchador. Niño has an energizing personality to wrestle with the most mysterious and out of this world characters. His contenders include: La Momia de Guanajuato, Cabeza Olmeca, La Llorona, el Extraterrestre, el Chamuco and his two Hermanitas.
De dos a tres caídas sin límite de tiempo, Niño will defeat all his adversaries using mighty strategies to conquer victory. ¡Ay, ay, ay, Ajua! Niño is number one. The marvelous illustrations are so gorgeous that you will read the book again and again.
I strongly recommend you to read this enchanting story with your family. To find more amazing stories by Yuyi Morales, I invite you to visit your local library.
Remember that reading gives you wings!!


Yuyi Morales reads Niño Wrestles the World.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Stanford reads Chacon. Gluten-free papas con chorizo. Charnega Poeta.

Review: Daniel Chacón. Hotel Juarez : stories, rooms and loops. Houston, TX : Arte Publico Press, 2013. ISBN: 9781558857681  1558857680

Michael Sedano

If Daniel Chacon ever decides to quit his day job to go into radio, Benjamin Alire Saenz will have to do the same because they make a fabulous duo on the internet radio program Words on a Wire from KTEP. Their recent effort airing on February 23, their poetry show, is an example that deserves a listen, a beautiful on-air floricanto.

Chacon, of course, already has a day job to go with his day job, writer. Take Chacon’s 2013 collection, Hotel Juarez: stories, rooms and loops. Please do. You’ll be happy about it with a tempered joy.

That’s the estimation of a recent assembly of the Stanford Latina Latino Alumni Book Group, whose February selection spotlights Hotel Juarez. Stanford alums in the Los Angeles area who want to join the regular meetings click here.

Stanford Latina Latino Chicana Chicano Book Group
Roberto Garcia, Margie Hernandez, M. Urrutia, Concepción Valadez, Angelique Flores,
 Michael Sedano, Dierdre Reyes, Mario Vasquez 
As a collection of stories, readers find connections between characters and incidents threaded, or looped, in and out of disparate stories. Chacon has a subtle touch and some readers delight when another reader points out unseen connections, a character reappears, a consequence of some inconspicuous act strikes.

Because the book proffers a collection of stories, some readers allow themselves to temper their joy wishing for what they don’t have. Hotel Juárez is a collection, not a novel. Those loops and connections, however, narrow the gaps between the short and long forms of fiction, increasing some readers’ impatience with the start-stop-next of short fiction.

Chacon divides Hotel Juárez into five rooms. Within each room the author sublets space for series of stories developing a character or incident. Part I, The Purple Crayon, is a sketch book. Like the basket of goodies found in the hotel bathroom, each serves its own end but it belongs in the basket.

The title section, the fifth, most whets one’s appetite to see what Chacon can do with the longer form.  Before that is Mujeres Matadas, an intoxicatingly unnerving journey into underground clubs on the Juárez side, intimations of danger always lurking, knowledge of “death metal” music semi-essential. Close readers will wonder why she needed the ride in the first place, since her guitar and bandmates were already set up in the old maquiladora, and what were those red pills?

Chacon anticipates the television-influenced continuity doubters on the copyright page where he places his dedication, “For those who still believe.” The author next provides two instructions on how to read his book. On the dedication page, “The Order of Things”, and a Borges quotation, “esas visiones son minuciosas”. In other words, the author advises, read the book front to back, don’t skip around. The Borges echoes the dedicatory phrase, reality is what you make it.

Those words of advice, however, may be a magnificent author’s joke. The final section, Hotel Juárez, features a character, the professor, who attracts dogs and street kids. Maybe. The dogs are real enough—feed them tacos and they’ll follow you anywhere—but the kids and the implied danger may be hallucinations of a brain-fried pendejo.

Chacon has us on the professor’s side through the ten stories of this title section. “Believe” he’s told us. We believe, in The Best Tortas , Ever!, the professor is duped by the rock cocaine dealer. We believe the boys pick him up, trail him, box him in. We smile at his futility in buying an inkpen to use as a sword against an attack. We believe, maybe would welcome a fight scene. But when he pulls out of his sock a glass pipe we didn’t know was there and fires up those rocks, one's vision of the professor's world crumbles into the unreliability of a drugged-out narrator who really had us fooled. This is what you get for believing.

The Stanford women object that Chacon’s women are flat and deserve stronger, longer, more minuciosas visiones. La mujer matada is a fascinating character in her eponymous piece, but she’s ultimately only window dressing on the narrator’s set. In Tasty Chicken the narrator is a woman with a quirky fear that glittery makeup on her cleavage will infiltrate her bloodstream, grow and multiply to explode her body like a critter from an outer space movie. Pobrecita, and las mujeres have a point there.

The beauties of using books, especially one as rich in detail, loops, connections, predicaments as Hotel Juárez, include the ability to take your time, set the book down then come back to it, repeat and reread, and see the same words every time. That’s also a beauty of internet radio. Click on this link to Words on a Wire Poetry Show and listen to a beautiful example of aural floricanto. Like a book and other interposed media, you can return to time and again and repeat the experience, just as some of Hotel Juárez' stories, loops and rooms merit several visits before noticing you finally feel comfortable in that world.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Papas con Chorizo y Blanquillos

"Boys have huevos," my Grandmother explained, "gallinas hacen blanquillos." I was acquiring speech and language and that lesson stays with me since I was four years old.

Gramma probably taught me that as we gathered blanquillos from the jaula the gallinas shared with the goats and rabbits, at the back of the yard, past the excusado, by the nopales.

I imagine we went inside where she stoked the wood-burning stove and made me a breakfast of papas con chorizo y blanquillos. The dish has been a staple of The Gluten-free Chicano's diet for as long as he remembers.

My grandmother would roll out a perfect tortilla de harina, toast it on the stovetop, and drop it steaming onto my plate. We didn't use forks.

Nowadays I have to be gluten free, and, served with tortillas de maíz, here is a gluten-free breakfast of champions.

Dice the papas into uniform cubes and drop into a thin layer of cooking oil in a hot sartén. Stir the papas and turn so they begin to brown on all sides.

Add ⅓ of an onion, chopped, and a couple of sliced dientes de ajo and continue cooking until you can pierce the papas with a fork. Set the papas aside.

I buy a chub of pork chorizo and slice off a third of it to serve two. Spray the pan with nonstick coating and over medium flame, soften the chorizo five minutes, stirring and scraping.

Add the cooked papas to the chorizo and stir together.

I plan on one blanquillo per person, though this dish is almost infinitely expandable with more of everything.

Stir the eggs into the mixture and cook until the eggs have the texture you enjoy, wet and shiny or dry and hard. Serve with sliced fresh tomatoes from the garden when available, tortillas de maíz, and a hot salsa chile.

This is a fifteen minute refrigerator to plate gluten-free meal. Be sure to read all ingredients on the chorizo and tortillas to ensure absence of wheat, barley, or rye products.

A Foto Minus a Thousand Curses Plus a Million Tears

Charnega Chicana Poeta Publishes

La Bloga friend Raquel Delgado, poet and performance artist la Pocha Catalana, debuts her collection, El centro de la llama from Barcelona’s Excodra Editorial.

Charnegas Charnegos are Catalunya’s chicanada. Beset by social exigencies, charnegas charnegos employ code-switching dialects, a sense of Peoplehood, and poetry to claim their place among their peers.

Here's Raquel Delgado's bio from her publisher's website:

Charnega, nació en Barcelona en 1979. Es licenciada en Filología Hispánica. En 2001 inició un estudio lingüístico sobre Spanglish que le llevó a centrar su investigación sobre el pueblo chicano. En 2006 colaboró en la organización de las primeras Jornadas Chicanas en Casa Amèrica de Catalunya en las que presentó su lectura En Busca de un Aztlán, donde realiza un análisis tanto lingüístico como cultural del pueblo chicano comparándolo con los catalanes de primera generación. Dos años después se celebraron las segundas Jornadas Chicanas donde presentó la lectura La conciencia fronteriza en el nuevo arte chicano. Allí conoció a los artistas Guillermo Gómez-Peña y Roberto Sifuentes, miembros fundadores del colectivo La Pocha Nostra. El mismo año realizó un taller de performance con ellos en Evora, Portugal.

En 2009 presentó su performance Post-Colonial Malinches: Tongues of Fire en El Mundo Zurdo: The First International Conference on Gloria Anzaldúa en la University of Texas at San Antonio, y en La Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival en Chicago.

En 2010 presentó su trabajo Entrails' Wail en La Cova de les Cultures, en Barcelona y en el Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival en Chicago. También ha participado como poeta en el Festival de Flor y Canto en San Francisco, en el Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow en Los Angeles, siendo la primera española que participa en este festival chicano desde que se inició en 1973. También participó en Mujerismo en la Avenue 50th Studio.

Es conocida como La Pocha Catalana, que es una reinvención del término charnega, y que expresa el gran paralelismo que existe entre charnegos y chicanos.

Community College Writers Anthology Call

La Bloga friend Chella Courington, faculty adviser of Santa Barbara City College's literary publication, Painted Cave sends the following.

Painted Cave Literary Magazine is accepting submissions from community college student writers nationwide for its inaugural issue May 2014.  Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis.

Painted Cave is the online student-run, faculty-guided literary journal of Santa Barbara City College. We publish the work of community college student writers in fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction.

Painted Cave reserves First North American Serial Rights. We accept simultaneous submissions, but please notify us immediately if your work is accepted elsewhere.

Paste your submission in the body of the email to

Include the genre of the submission, title(s) and your name in the subject line (Fiction, “Born Too Late,” Mary Mullins).

We accept the following genres:
Flash Fiction: 1-3 pieces, no more than 750 words each.
Fiction: 1 piece, no more than 5000 words.
Poetry: 3-5 poems, no more then 50 lines each.
Creative Nonfiction: 1 piece, no more than 5000 words.
Flash Creative Nonfiction: 1-3 pieces, no more than 750 words each.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Each year, AWP holds its Annual Conference & Bookfair in a different region of the United States in order to celebrate the outstanding authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers, and small press publishers of that region. The Annual Conference typically features hundreds of presentations: readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums plus hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings. The conference attracts more than 10,000 attendees and hundreds of publishers. It’s one of the biggest and liveliest literary gatherings in the country.

This year it's in Seattle, specifically at the Washington State Convention Center & Sheraton Seattle Hotel, February 26 through March 1, 2014. For a general overview of this year's conference including panel and event schedules, visit here.

On Friday, February 28, noon to 1:15 p.m., I will be moderating a panel titled "Chicana/o Noir: Murder, Mayhem and Mexican Americans" with panelists Lucha Corpi, Manuel Ramos, Sarah Cortez and Michael Nava. For more specific information on this panel visit this link.

Also on Friday, I will be at the Fairy Tale Review table (K26) from 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. in honor of the review's tenth anniversary edition, The Emerald Issue. I have a little story featured in it titled, "The Last Dream of Pánfilo Velasco."

And at 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. that same Friday, I will be at the University of Arizona Press booth (#1605) to sign my novel, The Book of Want. Come on by and check out the other wonderful titles!

Because the representation of Latin@ writers has grown throughout the years, I have gone through the AWP online schedule and marked those panels that have significant Latin@ representation. You may visit that schedule here. If I've missed a panel, please drop a comment below and give the relevant information including a link.

Finally, don't forget to join Con Tinta and los Norteños Writers in honoring Jesús “El Flaco” Maldonado and Kathleen Alcalá on Thursday, February 27, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Mexico Cantina y Cocina, Pacific Place-Level 4, 600 Pine St. (or 1611 6th Ave.), Seattle, WA 98101. Ph #: (206) 405-3400. Please be our guest and join us for hors d’oeuvre,  cash bar celebration and more.  If you're interested, here is Xánath's post from last week that has more information.

See you in Seattle!

P.S. If you're on Twitter, I will be tweeting from @olivasdan to #LatinoLit and #AWP14.


[UPDATED INFORMATION] My interview with poet Verónica Reyes regarding her debut collection, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives (Arktoi/Red Hen Press), will go live this Thursday and may be read at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Just click the link under her bio and enjoy...on Thursday!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Conversation with Verónica Reyes on Bordered Lives and Poetry

Olga García Echeverría

La chuparosa skates the wind, stops midflight, hovers near petals, and drinks the flor's miel
like me--I am a marimacha crossing la tierra, el mundo and always coming back to East L.A.

--Verónica Reyes
"East L.A. Poet"

In October of 2013, Arktoi Books (an Imprint of Red Hen Press) published Verónica Reyes' first collection of poetry, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives. Entre las páginas de este libro helicopters roam, tortillas torcidas fly, violins soothe a man's heart, diablos ask for comida and compassion, Xicanas theorize over jotería and sopa. There's deseo in these pages, rivers running from California to Texas, and super queers riding buses, chanting, "Panocha Power!" The collection embodies different landscapes, from bilingual East L.A. to the dusty desert of El Paso and the mountains of Juárez, from West Hollywood to the valles of Zacatecas.

The agua took her back to her childhood in México
rain that blessed her alma como copal shrouding her skin
She inhaled the desert aroma over concrete, nopales, 
and limones beneath splintered street telephone wires
Socorro breathed in once and inhaled México in East L.A.

I first met Verónica Reyes in El Paso, Texas, many moons ago when we were both MFA students in the creative writing program at The University of Texas at El Paso. This past Friday I was able to interview Verónica at Primera Taza in Boyle Heights. Like two caffeinated pericas, we talked for a long time about her book, politics, publishing, and poetry. This bloga is only a snippet of our conversation interweaved with excerpts of Reyes' poetry from Chopper!  Chopper!

The green-yellow helicopters scan the land and the wind lathers us in a cool summer breeze
Years ago in the '70s we'd play "Chopper Chopper" up the shrubbery loma cradling buildings
the fire station, Smokey the Bear, the practice range; on Saturdays we'd hear the pop, pop
And my mamá on hot summer days made rainbows for us with her magic and a manguera

A Sagittarius, who according to her girlfriend acts more like a Cancer, Reyes is a prolific bus rider and currently a professor of English and Composition at California State University Los Angeles. When she is not teaching, she takes off to different parts of the world--Canada, Berlin, London, México--to breathe outside of the U.S. and to write. But no matter where she goes or lives, she always ends up coming back to East L.A. It's the place she calls home.

The Mexican lime tree towers in the desert backyard blooming flowered lives
And the white-marbled sun blasts a fat ray on the dry zacate, leathered nopales
This is my childhood home where I grew up hearing my mamá sing "Paloma Blanca"
This is my childhood home where I grew up listening to my papá playing viólin
This is my childhood home: beneath two jails, below the loma, by the freeway

As a 15-year-old marimacha back in the day, Verónica Reyes shunned the whole quinceañera cosa and instead got herself a standard college-ruled notebook. She carried this rasquachi journal around capturing palabras and poesía. "Something would strike me," she says, "and I'd write it down. This is how I started doing these little scripts, writing pieces of poems." Nobody ever told Verónica to do this. It was necessity and instinct, hunger and teenage angst, an ill mother and barrio jota-haters that filled Reyes with words, images, emotional triggers. She needed a creative outlet; pen and paper became lifelines. 

As a tomboy, I ran and ran around the blue house in my super duper tennies from Zody's
From the side of the casa grew rosas, I'd rub soft tierra like ceniza on my brown chubby piernas
And I'd come running to my mamá; she'd be lavando ropa in the cuartito and I plopped myself
Like the roadrunner I announced, "I'm here, Mamá! Ya llegué from trabajo." And I beamed cariño
And inside the cuartito's opened-mouthed puerta, she shook her head, smiled Válgame

Although Reyes has been writing since her teenage years, it took her a long time to actually view herself as a writer. In college, a Chicano Literature professor once asked her if she was taking any creative writing course. "I didn't even know what that was," she says, "But, shortly afterwards, I read Viramontes' The Moths and Other Stories. I was wowed by it, wowed by stories such as 'Growing' and by the author's use of words like baboso." In her first creative writing class, Reyes had that poetic-unnameable-sense that something magical and deep lurked beneath her words. "I just felt there was something there. I kept thinking, I have something here." So despite the fact that she struggled with English, she kept writing. 

In the kitchen, I studied literature, wrote poetry, typed poesia on my Smith-Corona
And manteca stains spread greasy marks on my textbooks, notes like a forbidden traveler
Once I took my poems to the Vincent Price Gallery, in a trembled voice I asked a writer
            "Can you read them?" Brown eyes blinking in awe; my god, I was so young

Reyes shares that aside from Viramontes, other Chicana writers also enlightened and empowered--Cisneros, Anzaldúa, Moraga, to name just a few. They all fed Reyes in profound ways, but something was still missing. "Who doesn't love Esperanza?" Asks Reyes, referencing Cisnero's child narrator from The House on Mango Street. "But Esperanza wasn't completely me. As a kid, I was popping tires and trying to figure out what I could steal from the neighborhood stores while people played video games. When I was first reading Chicana literature, I wanted to see something from what I knew and what I lived, a hardcore macha, a homegirl who could pass as a homeboy, and the literature wasn't giving me this, so I knew that through my writing I could present another image, one that exists, but isn't often seen." 

She strutted down Whittier Boulevard
checking out the rucas on the calle
A bien suave Xicana butch dyke
hair slicked back with Tres Flores
glistening against her earth tone skin
Cut off Khakis right at the knees
smooth crease down the pant legs
Starched-white camisa over an undershirt
           "Fruit of the Looms"
A true homeboy's brand bought at J.C. Penny

Reyes went on to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso. She recalls, "I was adamant about needing an MFA. As a Chicana dyke writer, I wanted my stories and the stories of others like me to be heard and recorded and taken seriously. This is a country that values the written word over the spoken, so it's about putting these stories down."

The front nopal's sprouting over 100 tunas, sweet prickly pears nesting, in all its glory
A señora at El Superior on Rowan gave him the plantita in a tin can, smiled a gold diente
             "Este nopalito va a dar miles de tunas. Vas a ver."
And in the back jardín, desert cacti grow as if they have found Tenochtitlan in East L.A. 

When I asked Reyes if she has a regular writing schedule, she answered bluntly, "Someone who has a regular writing schedule has money. I don't have money. I have to be creative. When I lived and worked in Toronto, teaching on a semester system, for example, I would look at my schedule and say, okay, I can spend the first 6 weeks pulling some time from here to write. After those six weeks, I knew I was going to lose that time and that I would be grading, grading, grading. I also use winter or spring breaks as time to write, but for me, poetry doesn't really have a schedule. Poetry is always happening. It's happening in my head when I'm walking. Everything I see is a potential poem. But you have to be in tune to notice that that was a poem that just walked by. Some people look at it more intellectually, but for me there's something else there. There's a spiritual element."

ronnie steps outside in the backyard
sits on the big red lawn chair
faces the skirt of the white house
dreams of names floating in spanish
the peach tree blossoms in pink
and the apple tree hovers behind her
Socorro   the name flies away in the air
as if a chuparrosa carries it back home
into the depths of the thick blue sky
somewhere in the heart of el valle
the valparaíso of her mamá's name

And although writing regularly is important, Reyes stresses that as writers we can't always force the birth of a poem. "For years I wanted to write this piece called 'Alamo Motel,' based on a hotel in El Paso," she shares. "I only had the title and the first line and I knew I really wanted to write it, but every time I sat down, I couldn't. That poem took a decade. One day, I just sat down and I started to hear a voice telling me a story. I'm a firm believer that sometimes you're not going to be ready for certain pieces. These pieces will know when you're ready and they'll tell you. Of course, there's other times when you really have to force yourself to write because that's who you are. You're a writer and you can't exist without writing. Even if you get a rejection letter one day. The next day, you move on, you have to do something, you keep writing because the writing--that desire--is in you now. It is a part of you."

And in the Alamo Motel, Modesta waits in the plastered lobby. On the carpet, paint flecks like
sprinkled sea salt absorbs the air. It reeks of American Spirits from gaudy tourists who layover
for the night:
            Sometimes they get stuck from Austin heading to Tuscon, sleep the night
            Sometimes virgins come to lose themselves in the motel and be free
            Sometimes newcomers from el otro lado stay to hide from la migra
And Modesta in her bleached apron cleans their messes, learns their lives.

When I asked Reyes who she is currently reading, she laughed and didn't want to divulge. Of course, I probed until she gave in, "Okay, okay, I'm reading Mark Twain. For a long time I wouldn't read certain things. I refused. If White writers don't read us, why should we read them? You know what I mean? But I'm somewhere else now and I'm going back and reading some of these classics. And yeah, Mark Twain's pretty good."

He ties a cuchillo to an old pole, reaches up
            and saws at the new cacti tendrils. They fall
            on pebbled ground, hang on lower ramas. He
            stabs them. Pulls them in like the viejito
            and the sea, estilo Zacatecano; he brings in
            his fresh catch: nopal.

Like many of us, Reyes has her own classic authors that she reads and re-reads. Among them are Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Audre Lorde, Ivan E. Coyote. During our interview, Reyes mentioned another East L.A. poet who has been riding buses in Los Angeles and performing her poesia for decades, Marisela Norte. "It's amazing how Marisela Norte can carry a 17 minute poem when she reads. Her poems are like symphonic poems where she goes from one thing to another, to another, to another, and you're not lost. She takes you somewhere and then brings you right back and you're like wow, I just went on this amazing journey with her."

Despite all the years that have passed since that first notebook, Reyes still prefers old-school writing tools--a pen and a journal where she can sketch out her poems. "There's been a couple of pieces I've written entirely on the computer, but that's rare." Although not a big fan of social media, she confesses that she has been using Facebook a lot more these days to share news related to her book and readings. I asked her if she had anything she would like to share with any aspiring writers out there. She spoke a lot during our interview of the need for us as Chicanas and writers of color to get informed about grants, writing residencies, conferences, etc. "When I got out of grad school, I didn't know anything about submitting to presses or how to go about applying for literary opportunities. That's something I think we need to really access and it's information we need to share with one another so that it's not a mystery or a secret. I also think we need to recognize that our stories matter. To get our work out there we don't necessarily need major presses, although it is always good to have the support of a press, but there are other options these days, like self-publishing. Most importantly have faith in your words and work on your craft."

Gracias Verónica for your poetry and your writing insights. Best of luck with your book and with all your upcoming events.

List of upcoming events where Verónica Reyes will be reading her poetry:

February 27th & 28th: Book signing at AWP in Seattle, WA. Red Hen Press (booths 1802, 1804, 1806)

Sunday March 9th from 2-4 PM at Beyond Baroque

March 16th from 2-4 PM at Espacio 1839: Reading with Myriam Gurba and Olga Garcia Echeverria

April 5th at 5 PM at Book Soup

April 6th from 2-6 PM at The Last Bookstore

To purchase Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives

To read a previous bloga on this book by Daniel Olivas:

To read more about Verónica Reyes:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Latino Sci-Fi Society? Keystone XL Pipeline.

Latino Sci-Fi Society? Charla 1

The La Bloga list of book authors in speculative lit is in the process of updating. Here's the latest, with more to come. We've gotten suggestions from many people and groups, including members of the Carl Brandon Society, a group of black spec authors. Eventually, the influx of more published books in these genres will bring up a question, even possibly this year at latino lit conferences:

Should latinos form their own Spec lit group, like black authors have with the Carl Brandon Society or The Black Science Fiction Society?

Should latino authors follow the pattern from the 60s, when Black Student Alliances and UMAS and MECHA student groups multiplied on campuses to join forces and advance and advocate their "special" interests? 
My initial reaction is, "Maybe not." Por qué no? What's the matter con me, some might ask.

Latino spec authors as young as Amy Tintera and Matt de la Peña may not know, but viejos like Rudy Anaya and Armando Rendón haven't forgotten how the Chicano Movimiento developed. I won't go into it much, but it's worth studying. To remember the past so we're not condemned to repeat it, as Spanish-American George Santayana advised.

[Mi aviso: these thoughts are mine alone, though I've learned from other authors. They are not set in stone; I could be turned other directions. Nor are they THE best ideas. Those can only come out of a charla, a straightforward, modest conversation. Something that Chicano history teaches us is not necessarily fácil to achieve. And the collective dynamic of latino authorship, however well guided, can't be controlled. A hundred flowers might blossom, with some wilting into weeds.]

First questions first. Should Latinos join SFWA?
There are natural societal pressures on latin spec authors. Those wanting to become successful in U.S. markets could join the very influential Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). SFWA, largely white-male dominated from its inception, repeatedly goes through convulsions of privilege, attempting to recruit, absorb and appeal to women and non-Anglos into a more equitable, multicultural organization. That continues today. I can't speak to how well they appeal or respond to latinos. Based on Internet chatter and info, I await the time when they have a better understanding of themselves. At the bottom are some links describing recent turmoil in SFWA.

Should Latinos join CBS? - Latino spec authors have joined the Carl Brandon Society. Its mission is "to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction." From what I could discern, their awards and recommendations for published books do not seem to include any latinos; their Hispanic Heritage reading list might only list one U.S. latino. All of which may reflect low latino membership, or that few latinos have been nominated. Despite this, latinos could/might still join CBS. As an author, I'm in contact with them. There may other groups worth investigating.

Raza Movement lessons not worth repeating
The Chicano student and community organizations springing up in the 60s & 70s spread across the Southwest like prairie wildfires ignited by a lightning storm of nationalist self-identity and pure piss-offedness. Ya basta! Somos Chicanos! Viva Che y Zapata! It was exhilarating, dismal, chingón, scary and incredibly successful. La Revolución didn't arrive, but not all embers were tempered. What I describe happened with others, the mexicanos, the puertoriqueños, and similar lessons may apply from there. I use the Chicano Movement in this article, since I know most about it. Those movements had weaknesses, some cultural, some fatal.

Caudillismo is a dish best served green
An English alternative to caudillismo would be bossism, where one or a handful of leaders made decisions for their followers, with democratic input and voting, at times, severely absent. Our version had/has its cultural roots in feudal Spain, with an added indigenous spice of picante. Leaders competed for press, followers, money and reputation. Bodyguards, "muscle," beatings, shootings and other macho misbehavior sometimes followed. May our respect for revered latino authors never fall into that. Those aspiring to caudillo roles in latino lit are easily recognizable. Qué no? So, maybe this lesson has been learned.

Equal rights and leadership of latinAs
If you don't know the stories, read Chicano History, assuming your state hasn't outlawed it and banned the texts. Few Chicano Movement groups genuinely allowed women's democratic participation and fewer deliberately developed women as leaders. I'm proud that the UMAS I belonged to trained and elected two female to be presidents of the group. This lesson seems to have been better learned, though more is needed.

What is undetermined is the portrayal of women in latino spec. From Reyes Cardenas's book cover to Junot Díaz's macho characters, I guess this will long remain the most contentious and possibly divisive questions. On one side is verisimilitude, free speech and poetic license and men's genetic flaw of being attracted by--well, you know. On the other, is the desexualizing, demystifying and respecting women as people first; plus there's more. As you can read below, the decades-old SFWA hasn't solved this among its membership. For a latino sci-fi society to not die at its inception, un chigón/chingona of a path about equality would need to be laid.

Nationalism may not be far-reaching and long lasting
Chicanismo, latinismo as an identity is correct within its own definition. What you describe yourselves, you are. Cultural nationalism when practiced by a group can also be great, however short and limited its lifespan. If a Chicano sci-fi society begins tomorrow, bet that its name alone will not appeal to the puertoriqueños. And what about the mexicanos, U.S. citizens and residents though they may be? Latino may not be the ultimate term, but one in that vein would work better if the group aimed beyond national identities.

Empowering younger writers and the children
The fact that Amy Tintera and Matt de la Peña have an agent and grossly better sales than some old latinos, doesn't mean los ancianos have no obligation to those younger. Envidia has no place in a flowering of literature, anymore than it did in the Chicano Movimiento's political wildfires, and leads to stagnation that serves no writer.

To some extent, the Chicano youth and college movements were suffocated by the older generations. The young rivaled the power of the caudillos. Threats, shootings, beatings, political maneuverings--these and more secured the old-people status quo. Bits of that dynamic may be what periodically erupts in SFWA.

In a sense, some of the raza youth were forced out, driven to seek guidance elsewhere--in the writings of Mao and Che, for instance. Eventually the young latinos mellowed, partly from the frustration of fewer successes and declining memberships.

Many established latino writers mentor younger writers, individually or through various writers' workshops. A latino spec society would need to expand on that work.

Expand it also into the public schools where our future Mario Acevedos and are dying to be discovered, guided, nurtured and applauded. Teachers go it alone every day in public schools, and any new lit society should buttress that work with its expertise. You would not believe how many teachers--latinos and otherwise--are crying to know how to teach fiction to little brown kids.

How far should a latino literary spec society reach?
Such a group has no limits. It is a new mutant species that has never existed before. Assuming we avoid the major weakness of the Chicano, Puerto Rican, mexicanos, dominicano movements of the 60s-70s, we can make as many mistakes as needed. As alien as the gaseous creatures of Cortez on Jupiter, as innocent as freshman Chicano, latinos entering college in the late 60s.

Obviously, latinos of any label should be encouraged to join or participate in any manner they want and can. (Latinos who don't "advertise" their ethnicity nor write latino characters might prefer "observer" status.) Just as obviously, non-latino authors who support the aims and "atmosphere" of the group should be recruited, not simply allowed to participate. How else to build a strong base, if not with the participation of people-of-letters like Ilan Stavans?

Bottom line, this suggests a latino-initiated organization that from the onset actively intends to eventually fill a vacancy. That of a multinational, necessarily progressively oriented (anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-bullying of any nature) group. Why not? We are not required to go back to 1968-Go and only create a nationalist-rooted group.

Sherman Alexie
Could latino authors benefit from working non-latinos who have experience, agents, connections and anthologies they're producing? Could non-latinos' art benefit from professional contact with latinos and become more inclusive to reflect U.S. society's peoples, increasing their audience? Could I learn anything from Sherman Alexie? Would you enjoying mentorship from a progressive Hugo, Nebula or Bram Stoker award winner? Even if they weren't latino.

If not now, when?
These are a few questions relating to the eventual establishment of some type of latino spec group. Mine are not the only possible answers, however much thought I've given to this and related matters.

Author Guadalupe Garcia-McCall
Nor are they a proposal to be presented at a conference. As the title states, they may be useful in helping to begin a discussion, in many places. Una charla.

Do leave comments here, but more, take the topics and begin the discussion with others.

[Samplings of the SFWA "debates" are here and here and here. And here's Silvia Moreno-Garcia's excellent take on criticisms one woman received about her attire, if you can believe!]

Your/our last chance to tell Obama NO on Keystone XL Pipeline

From 350.og comes this; This pipeline can be stopped. One of the very last steps before President Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, and the final opportunity to give your input (in an official way). Numbers really count, and a flood of comments would show the President that there’s a huge risk, politically and scientifically, to approving the pipeline.

The last time the State Department was accepting comments, we submitted over 1 million as a movement. To top that, click here to submit your comment against the pipeline.

Building an 830,000 barrel-per-day pipeline of the world’s dirtiest oil will have an impact on the climate. The President said he would reject the pipeline if it has a significant impact on the climate, and the evidence is in: it does.

Any effort to build the pipeline would be deeply compromised by big oil’s corruption of the process.

We can either have Keystone XL, or a safe and livable climate -- ‘all of the above’ is not an option. We are past the point of building fossil fuel infrastructure and hoping for the best -- Keystone XL isn’t compatible with even the President’s weak climate goals. After 6 years of supporting more fossil fuel projects while saying he’s committed to climate science, President Obama needs to decide if he wants to be a climate champion, or be remembered as the pipeline president.

Sending a strong message in this forum is critical to showing the President that the science is serious.

Es suficiente, hoy,

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