Monday, December 22, 2014

Rediscovering Sueño. La Palabra Wraps for 14. GF Chicano.

Review: Martin Limón. The Iron Sickle. NY: Soho Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781616953911

Guided serendipity led me to find a Martin Limón novel on the new books shelf of the library and in a flash I realized I hadn't seen a Sueño and Bascom novel in a while. Turns out I've missed two since enjoying 2009's G.I. Bones. Finding The Iron Sickle went ahead and made my day.

Reading a Sueño and Bascom crime novel comes with everything, and more, readers find in the best cop novels: Intriguing setting, local color, irrepressible heroes, insurmountable odds, ingenious plotting. The add-ons include an outcast Chicano detective, Korea, and the U.S. Army in the 1970s.

Martin Limón weaves all the elements together in The Iron Sickle, latest novel in the long-lived cop series. One needn’t have read other titles to enjoy everything The Iron Sickle offers, but Limón consistently alludes to events happening in earlier novels, head-turning, momentous stuff, dropped into a paragraph in passing. Limón gives a reader plenty of motivation to seek other titles in the series.

The Korea and Army setting will be completely foreign to all but a tiny fraction of U.S. readers. This makes the author responsible for a lot of explaining about language, culture, and attitudes, both Korean and Army. Limón uses that as a way to enrich the novels with fascinating local color and military slang.

George Sueño is the only Chicano in the novels, so his East LA background is noted only spottily in the series—he has no contemporaries at work, no one to talk to, so it doesn’t come up. Such is the life of being “the only one.” Plus, he’s a cop. But Limón isn’t glorifying cops shooting U.S. civilians. The cops in The Iron Sickle battle the Army as much as criminals.

In the novel, it’s been twenty years that events spun out of control on a remote mountainside during war, launching a murder spree for revenge and ruining lives. Sickled necks and a butchered rat lead the CID agents to a remote commo site in the middle of nowhere to discover a morally ambiguous criminality.

Bilingualism singles out the agent for going against the Army’s monolingual grain. In series novels, he speaks a little Spanish, but that’s not the issue. Sueño is the only CID agent in country who speaks and reads Hangul. Knowing the language inevitably leads to cracking the case while providing interesting insights into local language and culture. It’s also a signal that Sueño not only is a lifer, he’s addicted to Korea. Sueño’s so alienated from The World, as overseas GIs call the US, he’s never coming home.

Military culture puts obstacles in the investigation’s path. Hardheaded Officers and Senior NCOs follow the Army way which is uniformity and chain of command. Sueño and Bascom hold that in contempt and are the opposite of STRAC troopers expected of high headquarters minions.

Their results make them immune to all but spite, no matter how wild and impetuously the detectives act. Limón gives them lots of ways to act up; Bascom, a ville rat and short-fused jerk, Sueño, the oddball who thinks too much and hooks up with the wrong woman. When Sueño’s thinking too much he misses clues or gets his ass kicked.

When the boss or some general gets a case of the ass, the pair catch their ration of shit details, like arresting housewives for buying too many toothpastes. What really irks the chain of command is having the Koreans request Sueño and Bascom work a case.

Limón tirelessly exposes mindless military rivalry between US forces and local authority. These cops are righting wrongs despite established power, not to further the military’s goals. Solving crime often gives a well-deserved black eye to military politics. Higher ups prefer to keep matters quiet and tidy. Sueño and Bascom are loud and unruly, and that’s only half the fun of reading a Sueño and Bascom mystery.

The Iron Sickle treads on forbidden territory, cannibalism. While fiction can take readers into the most perverse territory, it won’t stop them from getting queasy at the horror of the crime, the imperative of revenge, and the unasked question, “how many wrongs make a right?”

The Iron Sickle is a great companion for a winter read. Curling up next to a fire and whiling away the hours until 2015 might be just the ticket for mystery readers with a hankering for off-the-wall travel writing.

Korean farmer at DMZ 1970. foto:msedano

La Palabra Has Last Word

Gente crowd into the main gallery at Northeast Los Angeles' Avenue 50 Studio. Here for the final La Palabra reading of 2014, the prospect of hearing three of the city's most distinctive poetic voices draws them in well after the Open Mic is underway. Late-arrivers line up against the wall between the art or step gingerly into the space between the circled chairs to sit on the floor. SRO means "sitting room only" for Poet Laureate Luis J Rodriguez and friends Peter J Harris and Hector Flores.

Today's reading culminates the first year of emcee Karineh Mahdessian's service organizing the monthly series. La Palabra at Avenue 50 Studio has enjoyed a thirteen-year run showcasing high calibre art and engaging an Open Mic poetry community nurtured by the social churn of working class eastside L.A.
Karineh Mahdessian
Mahdessian's high spirits spark the already energized crowd as she gets the Open Mic started. The day offers wonderful examples of the "community" in "poetry community." Visitors today include people from Arizona and the U.S. midwest. One reader is making her debut in front of an audience today. People exchange abrazos and introduce new friends.

The first speaker doesn't read. He's a social scientist with a book and rambles for awkward minutes before audience members interrupt him with applause. He's reluctant to finish but the relieved Mahdessian steps in and the fellow fills his chair. The presentation offers one of the awful moments in an emcee's role, how to use the hook.

Rudy Calderón
Rudy Calderón works from memory, in Spanish and in rhyme. The packed house and floor eliminate the lectern and lets speakers choose reading in situ or using the constricted bit of open space.

Calderón stands and projects with excellent resonance. There's so much energy in his body aching to break loose if allowed a stage. He controls it well and redirects much of that energy into the reading.

C.E. Jordan
C. E. Jordan is the fourth poet after Calderón. Jordan stands in place to share a holiday piece that makes an appreciated change-of-pace. That microphone is ironic because Jordan projects sonorously with crystal clear enunciation that serves her words well. One reader uses the mic and it doesn't go over well. No reader uses the mic again.

Juan Carlos Valadez
Juan Carlos Valadez follows Jordan in one of those change-of-pace presentations that keep audiences coming back to La Palabra.

Mahdessian announces the next reader. From his chair, Valadez introduces his wife and daughter. He walks into the open space, and asks the teenager's permission to read a poem letter he wrote her from prison.

Rosalio Muñoz
Rosalio Muñoz is the final Open Mic reader. He selects a few paragraphs from the Laguna Park section of Stella Pope Duarte's movimiento novel, Let Their Spirits Dance. Muñoz is sitting next to me so I point and shoot hoping for a good moment. This is approximately the perspective the crowd had of Rosalio up on the podium that day in Laguna Park.

Muñoz is the final name signed to the Open Mic. A number of poets have asked for a slot so Mahdessian announces a second Open Mic after the three featured readers.

The featured poets have conferred and adapted to the setting and audience. Rather than do three stand-ups, Hector Flores, Peter J. Harris, and Luis J. Rodriguez will do a round-robin. Harris goes first.

Peter J. Harris

Peter J. Harris
The round-robin is a wonderful way to treat an audience. People universally appreciate variety, whether within a single poem or a set. The three featured writers each performs with unique voice and distinctive style. Harris and Flores read so deeply moved by their own emotions that their words come out as heartfelt music.

Hector Flores
Hector Flores
Luis J. Rodriguez greets his audience today as a proud father, local poet, and Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. The Laureate vows to infuse LA with poetry during his tenure, though the exact program remains in development. Today's reading signals an important development.

It's not that Luis forgot his stuff back at the house and will read old stuff. Rodriguez' good stuff is timeless and he keeps working on them, if not in the craft in the performance.

Rodriguez has rarely read these poems with the kind of sustained energy he displays in the packed space today.

He's loud, he's angry, he's emotional, ya se cansó. Thoughts and emotions in words come out in his arms, eyes, brow, posture. He fills the space allowed. He reads today focused on content over form, breaking at thoughts instead of lines.

Media aren't the Laureate's friend today. One poem comes from an orange quarter-fold booklet, another from a telephone screen, two from a book. He needs his anteojos, plus he's getting off the floor every third reader.

Rodriguez, like Harris, works to personalize the reading through eye contact. Reliant upon their text, it's sparse and momentary. Their work has enough power that audiences don't miss what they're not getting. But because these poets could do these poems from memory without the prop, there's a lost opportunity to magnify their audience's enjoyment of the work.

Luis J. Rodriguez

Luis J. Rodriguez

Luis J. Rodriguez

The Gluten-free Chicano
Good Mexican Girl Hits the Spot

Earlier in December, The Gluten-free Chicano sat around feeling sorry for himself that gluten-free analogs are crummy and he needed a snack. The Gluten-free Chicano, in a fit of antoja, wrote about a gluten-free bakery that sounded like it would hit the spot, the Good Mexican Girl's cookies.

The Good Mexican Girl herself took the column as a challenge, to get some of her cookies to The Gluten-free Chicano. She did it. And he's glad.

GMG gluten-free Mexican Wedding Cookies aren't quite the powdery puro butter and wheat flour nuggets of yesteryear, but GMG Mexican Wedding Cookies are number hana, as they say in Korea, number one.

They hit the spot.

GMG discovered the secret to a velvety texture on the tongue. Other GF treats have a raspy grit to them like 440 sandpaper on the tongue. Yuck. Bite into the crumbly texture of a GMG Mexican Wedding Cookie and all the flavor and a pleasing tooth greet one. Savor it and allow the crumbs to work their magic. Smooth all the way down. Next: GMG chocolate chip cookies.

¡Ajua! Good Mexican Girl. Te aventastes.

Late-breaking News!

Click link to get your tickets.

Floricanto for Michele Serros
Sunday, January 4, 2015at 6:00pm
Alumni House, UC Berkeley
1 Alumni House, Berkeley, California 94720

La Bloga encourages readers to purchase tickets to support Michele Serros' challenges during her health crisis. Gente in the Bay area will want to appear in-person for this important event. Here is the latest organizer report.

Joseph Rios- friend of Michele and poet
Jennie Luna- friend and Cal State Professor of Xican@ studies at Cal State Channel Islands

Readers/Friends of Michele: 
Melinda Palacio- author and friend
Joe Loya- author and friend
Cindy Cruz- close friend of Michele and professor of education at UCSC
Alberto Ledesma- friend, UC Berkeley professor and DREAM artivista

Silent Auction at the event with works by: 
Malaquias Montoya
Maceo Montoya
Melanie Cervantes
Mitsy Avila Ovalles
Santos Shelton
Lalo Alcaraz
Ester Hernandez
Jessica Sabogal

Signed vinyl records from the band, Chicano Batman 

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