Monday, October 06, 2014

“Dark Matter”: Video Poems, la Poesía de Ruben Quesada y más

Por Xánath Caraza
Ruben Quesada (Photo by Sam Logan)
Poetry matters!  Today on La Bloga, we celebrate la poesía del lunes with Ruben Quesada.  His work includes video poems as well as conventionally written poetry.  His themes are multifaceted, postmodern and artistic, involving life-issues such as death and race. Themes of the Midwest and LGBT empowerment have been importantly part of his work.  Continuing with the theme of celebrating poetry, for today’s La Bloga article, in addition, I’ll share some upcoming presentaciones en el mes de octubre para Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind.
Ruben Quesada, Con Tinta Advisor
Ruben Quesada is the author of Next Extinct Mammal and Luis Cernuda: Exiled from the Throne of Night. His writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, The Rumpus, Superstition Review, Guernica, Ostrich Review, The California Journal of Poetics, Miramar, Boat, Third Coast, Rattle, Palabra Magazine, Packing House Review, Pilgrimage, THEthepoetry, Poetryseen, Quiddity, and Solo Nova. Quesada, Con Tinta Advisor, writes about postmodern poetry that, "within each poetic tradition there comes a time when the reliability of the speaker comes into question and someone new arrives to present their authority on the matter of the human experience." His work is here to do just that. Through his poems he explores art, death, love, race, and sexuality in a way that elevates the everyday to the mythic. However, the work never loses sight of the here and now and how the way we interact with the world, with each other shapes our lives. It is important to him that poetry, the composition and the evolution of diction, syntax, and content be arranged with purpose in order for each component of craft (line, sentence, stanza, text) to be worthy of recognition. Chaos is not a sign of beauty and chaos, which lacks organization is not beautiful. For him, a poem's content must reflect the human experience to produce feelings of exaltation that affect the mind and the senses.
Ruben Quesada in Palabra Pura, Chicago, IL
As a writer and reader, Quesada has struggled to find visionary ideas, values, and models that reflect who he is as a gay Latino in the Midwest. He wonders who is urging readers to resist or question social conventions? He discovered after speaking to numerous gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered writers and editors that their experience is not much different. Whether an LGBTQ person was in a metropolis or a college town, their experience in public never felt welcomed. As he points out, many social and political revolutions have been born through art because it has the power to make us question right and wrong. He does this in his poems and in the poetry he chooses to publish as an editor. He is Poetry Editor for Luna Luna Magazine, Cobalt Review, Codex Journal and The Cossack ReviewThrough these magazines he is helping to bring the voices of a new generation of poets to readers. He wants to be sure to give space to voices that might be otherwise underrepresented. Too often the voices of people of color or queer voices who are not able to be heard. Quesada is working to give them their space, so their experiences can be shared, discussed, and understood. He achieves this by also being the co-founder and creative consultant for the reading series, Stories and Queer, which creates performance space in local communities for queer and POC with simultaneous live broadcast and digital archive. Too often, underrepresented individuals in small communities are expected to move to the “big city” to feel safe or to find community, but this may not be a feasible option, especially in an economically depressed society. The social, political, and economic marginality of people of queer people and people of color and what sustains them is essential in understanding and redefining what it means to be a queer person or a person of color in America.
Storytelling is a central component to all of Quesada’s literary and academic pursuits. He is extending the opportunities for storytelling beyond the page and live performance through the creation of video poems. This can be seen in his video poems for “Dark Matter” and “Mechanics of Men.” “Dark Matter” is a video translation of his own poem, while “Mechanics of Men” is a translation of a David Tomas Martinez poem. These video poems show the dynamic nature of poetry that it can extend beyond the page into a filmic medium. These translations allow the poet to shape the poem with image and sound to highlight aspects of the work that might be the main focus of the poem on the page. This challenges both the poet and the reader to engage with the poem in new and unexpected ways.
Challenging expected lines of thought is something he also brings to his teaching at Eastern Illinois University where he teaches English and creative writing for the performing arts at Eastern Illinois University, including courses on composition, queer theory, graduate and undergraduate poetry, dramatic writing, including playwriting and screenwriting with a focus on horror, as well as a graduate course on digital storytelling.
In his teaching, he stresses the importance of knowing where a poet or thinker sits in the larger tradition of their field. Quesada mentions how Wallace Stevens described the poet’s role as on which to attempts to reconcile the “pressure of reality,” in other words, the sense of being in the world; the purpose is to understand one’s own place in relation to history. Postmodern poetry as a tradition requires an examination of what came before it in order to evolve. If a poet or student does not do this, the work will not be able to push in new directions because they will be unaware of what is innovative and what is not. Being innovative is key. It is through innovation that change can occur. Quesada asks his students to think in terms of the bigger picture and beyond their own community to have a greater understanding of the world around them. This is true of his poetry students as well as students in the other genres he teaches. In all his classes he is equipping them to not only craft their writing well in terms of technique, but to tell their story as well as examine their relation to the world around them. The poet/student must turn toward Eliot’s “impersonality of poetry” and present the world through a personal, direct, and often fragmented experience resounding of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. He wants his students to be active members of their community.
He incorporates technology components into each of his classes, so that students are best prepared for an increasingly digital world. This is accomplished by making assignments and text available online and through incorporating the creation of digital stories whenever possible. Digital stories, similar to the video poems he creates, allow students a new way of approaching and constructing a persuasive argument, a poem or even an informative project. He asks them to consider how to convey their points only through image and sound. A digital story, a video, may also broaden the reach of a poem or an argument for those you may have access to YouTube, but not necessarily to books or written material.
Through his queer theory classes, he is able to educate students about LGBTQ history and have them consider how LGBTQ people are represented in the media and entertainment. By increasing this awareness it allows students to see the historical and current societal factors that leads to prejudice and oppression of LGBTQ people. Film is an important and accessible storytelling medium, which is why he has taught screenwriting classes. It has also led him to pioneer the study of Queer Horror, which examines films that may not be traditionally thought of as horror films. It looks at films that construct a primarily heteronormative filmic world can create a horrific world for a queer character, a character that is seen as unnatural in the presented world. Examining these films in a different way, students can examine the world in a different way, which expands their critical skills and tasks the student to be daring and unexpected.
La Poesía de Ruben Quesada
Ruben Quesada
(from Next Extinct Mammal)
                        City of Bell
Every morning, I discovered the artichoke colored walls
that had been painted and repainted, again and again,
to conceal the names of Tortilla Flats or Grape Street
gangs. Inside, a toothsome smell—dust and incense—
as if ashes of locos and homies had been put to rest
on countertops and floors. As if nobody dared pass
through the glass double doors, not for a gallon of milk,
nor a suitcase of Coors. All year round above the register
hung a Kung Hei Fat Choy sign and at the end of every aisle
sat a golden Buddha, an altar with incense haunting us
through the night. And for twenty years or more
it stood like a waning Godzilla with a sign on the door
in creamy vanilla that read: Yes, we cash checks!
(Previously appeared at THEthepoetry)
            After Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii
And there once was a time on earth when giants and gods prevailed. But here
decisions about life are made by men who die for the sake of valor.
O, mortals, you women who hold back your gleaming hearts from cliffs’ imminent with grief  
curb your cries and instead boldly speak; take the oath and follow into war!
Guard your men against death’s wretched spell; unravel a shadow of black silk—
your body, a shadow fixed to sky, against him forged to die, arms outstretched
like curtains of thick lead to protect against blades. Atomic love, embrace
and conquer death’s sharp edge with your voice; lay your curved silken skin onto his.  
Beloved, filled with light and twisted with torment, your spinning body cries
like a god out of time: Be brief, love! Jagged fiend, cut yourself out of me!
(Previously appeared at The Rumpus)
Antelucent, we lie—your body moons against mine. Earlier,
I stoked sweat on your neck in the humming of this light.
In the dark I listen, now resigned you mumble
about the arms of a pinyon pine, say it points to a falling star
against the bruised pool of sky. We hear the grackles crackle
above a church lot. Then headlights shine on your face
splitting your face, listless lips, half-open eyes—staring out
you wait for the occult wreckage of night to vanish from this world
holding out until its final moment, until you fall asleep
and get lost. Your body light like tulle carried off
by a strong current—taken from me—as I helix in the light.
(Previously appeared at Cimarron Review)
In this blood that haunts my skin,
in the folds of my brain are burrowed
the harrowed words to describe you.
And when the universe was young,
smooth and featureless, it possessed
the means to give you breath, to deliver
your body to me: an exchange of quantum
particles whose covalent bonds
were broken one cloudy afternoon
in your darkened room where the laughter
of the neighbor’s dog forced you awake,
back to life from the ghost of heroin.
What more could the periodic table offer?
Already you were Nitrogen, Sulfur, even Gold.
(Previously appear in Pilgrimage Magazine)
Lord, you who
have never left me
like the fading shadows
that ascend at days
end. You settle
like a silent stone
in the sweet arteries
of my hand: golden
crocus forming
your forgotten body.
How it must feel
to let go of the light,
to submit to the fright
of being set free.
In praise of you
let me sing this once,
a glimmer
of your dying light,
a crown of fire
in the night.
In Other News

Here is my reading schedule for the month of October in addition to a book review by Héctor Luis Álamo of Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind  (Mammoth Publications, 2014).  Viva la poesía!
Poem on amate paper, "Luz de octubre/October Light" by Xanath Caraza
University of North Georgia: “Exploring Linguistic Diversity among Latinas”, October 7 – 8
Emporia State University, Keynote Speaker for Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration Banquet 2014, October 15
Homegrown Reads at South Branch Library, Local Author Fair, Kansas City, Kansas, October 25 


Amelia ML Montes said...

Wow! So many wonderful events coming up. Gracias for this rich posting, Xanath!

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Wonderful poems! I loved reading Ruben's pieces. Deseandole un bonito vuelo a tus sílabas en el viento.