Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Weekend With the Word: Poets, Punks, Veteranos, Bukowski

Michael Sedano

Some weeks bring art gallery openings, some bring poetry readings, others bring reunions and activism. Some weeks nothing, others, like the one recently completed, come with a plethora of fun, the emphasis on the U in fun.

Happy Birthday to an Old Cultural Warrior

Rosalio Muñoz and Mita Cuaron at Muñoz' birthday celebration. Muñoz and Cuaron were in the
leadership that organized the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970, along with other events.
July’s second week surpassed many other weeks for words, arte, and activism. There were poets in Altadena, chicana punk rock originators, a birthday meeting for movimiento veterano Rosalio Muñoz, and an homage to quintessential LA poet and writer Charles Bukowski.

These were big, wonderful events. But for me, the best part of the weekend occurred in a quiet moment with a trio of former classmates that brought me a rare gift.

I was bidding my despedidas to the hosts of Rosalio’s pachanga, Terry and David Trujillo, when a man told me “you were my teacher at Cal State.” Sadly I didn’t remember Ruben Vasquez exactly. For several memorable years in the 1980s, Terry and David and I were members of Teatro a la Brava. David wrote actos. Terry was a leading actor. I was the director.

“We had an argument about downtown LA,” Ruben remembered. I liked the central city area around Broadway and 7th and urged students visit for intercultural immersion. I celebrated the place, Ruben wanted me to focus on the deprivations. “There are a lot of problems down there,” he insists and I agree. Then the highlight of an old speech coaches life.

I met Terry as a member of a public speaking class, a GE requirement. Terry told her nieces at the registration table, "this was my teacher," then complimented me that I taught her to be comfortable in public speaking, even when she’s nervous.

Back in the 1980s when Terry was a freshman, professor me would have run through his standard communication-apprehension theory and coaching session. Even today the c-a lessons emerges as a reflex.

“Nervousness is a good thing,” I start the rote respose and Terry makes my day, echoing the lesson she heard back in the 80s, “because if you’re not nervous it means you don’t care.” I give Terry a big hug while silently exulting to myself "it worked!"

top, David Trujillo, Terry Trujillo, Ruben Vasquez
The beauties of such moments belong only to those who have taught. What an affirming event, a former student remembering and attesting to the usefulness of long-ago lessons. A teacher's career is puro delayed gratification. Rarely does one get to know of the benefits students gained. The fulfillment of that magic moment fills me with joy.

With Terry’s words echoing in my heart I make my way to Avenue 50 Studio, getting there early to ensure parking in the lot.

Bluebird reading presents : Homage to Bukowski

Michael Sedano

The same sensibility that informs hard-boiled fiction inheres in Charles Bukowski’s work, except the wino poet replaces a sucker punch to the gut with a knee to the emotions and a sharp stick to the funny bone. In poetry and prose, that was the point in Bluebird Reading Series’ Homage To Bukowski, concluded Sunday at Highland Park’s Avenue 50 Studio.

Kym Ghee, John Martinez, Jim Marquez, Felicia Gomez Verdin, Tomas Benitez

Bukowski was honored more in the breach than the observance, as most performers honored the late artist with their own writing under the influence, along with a nice set by Felicia Gomez Verdin featuring Bukowski’s work, and host-emcee Jessica Ceballos’ inaugural recitation of “Bluebird,” Ceballos’ inspiration in founding the readings series.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do

For the writers on the program, they do their weeping onto their manuscripts. Their tears come off the page as personal narratives, the words with sharp edges that hurt so hard one has to laugh, grin and bear it. That was Tomas Benítez’ QED to open the readings.

Tomas Benitez

Benitez led off the afternoon with a set of beautifully crafted expressions that balance a satyr’s conscience against abruptly changing situations. In one, the poet has lost his woman, his six-figure job, and he’s broke. Wistfully, a poet recalls the shape and allure of his former wife’s leg, the perfection of it, then comes a heel stomp on the funny bone, “too bad it was yours.” The SRO audience let Benitez, who produced the event, continue well past his allotted time. He dug it, we dug it.

Felicia Gomez Verdin
Felicia Gomez Verdin sat at the table to read a few short Bukowski classics, including the classic valedictory every writer needs to hear annually, “So You Want To Be A Writer.” Verdin makes a beautiful change of pace from Benitez for the audience. He stood. She sits. He was loud and exuberant. She is cool, controlled, understated.

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

John Martinez tells the house he forgot about it for a number of years, but complying to his late brother Victor Martinez’ wish that John pursue writing again, he has.

John Martinez
In counterpoint to Benitez’ exuberant horniness, Martinez’ longings and lusts come from a dark place somewhere in memory, sometimes out of hunger, often an ineluctable regret. The Fresno native’s work is more unlike Bukowski than similar. Martinez belongs here for their correspondences, and no Bukowsky pastiche, he’s writing like no one else.

With Bukowski, Martinez shares a lust for talking about reality as he sees and lives it. Except where Bukowski lays bare a mind at the edge of incipient violence—will it be the bluebird or the mean drunk?--Martinez is likely to damn his consequences while baring unsalved wounds for which the balm is the poem.

Kym Ghee
Kym Ghee goes into harm’s way as an ingenuous literary journalist learning one of life’s hardest lessons: your dreams don’t matter to anyone but yourself.

Ghee discovers one of those unknown novelists found in a thrift store or a hoarder’s attic. She travels an hour north to visit her imagined genius. She meets up with an agoraphobic hypochondriac uninterested in the past. Worse, the man’s vengeful landlady makes her mission in life to tear the sweet young thing a new asshole right between the eyes for being all dreamy-eyed about the great author. Mean for the sake of being mean.

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.

Jim Marquez makes eye contact 3 out of 4 frames
Bukowski didn’t know Jim Marquez but the viejo wrote the opening lines of “So You Want to Be a Writer” about Jim Marquez. The author of 14 books in the recent 8 years, Marquez reads from his upcoming 15th title, "A Moveable Beast." It’s not about cooking nor Hemingway, it’s puro Marquez.

A high energy reader, Marquez’ writing explodes with drama and aggression. And, à la Bukowski, a lot of fucking sexual tension. A wino tío introduced me to Bukowski’s world so I would know to avoid it. From what I hear of Marquez’ Los Angeles, I’m glad I’m from over here, a homebody. It’s hard out there. Or it’s hard being the fictional Jim Marquez.

When the “filthy speech movement” arose parallel with Berkeley’s free speech movement in the 60s, poet Lenore Kandel proclaimed that the beauties of fucking makes the word inappropriate as interjection, intensifier, or curse. “May you not be fucked,” Kandel said, was among the worst things you could wish upon a person.

Kandel’s ethic had its five minutes’ fame and conscientious gente went ahead tossing out the standard seven-letter gay repartee without a hiccup. Still, I recommend Kandel’s sensibility to Jim Marquez.

Until Marquez took the Bluebird seat I hadn’t heard so many gratuitous “fucks” since the Army, though a pair of skateboarders came close one day on the bus. I wonder if Marquez goes home for thanksgiving dinner and, like the apochryphal soldier, “Mom, would you please pass the fucking mashed potatoes?”

Felicia Gomez Verdin makes eye contact 
Notes On Reading Your Stuff Aloud

Last week I shared news that USC’s Digital Library now archives the video recorded performances of the poets and other writers who accepted an invitation to 2010’s Festival de Flor Y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow. Like the 1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto that launched the floricanto movement, those were important readings and it was unthinkable not to have the record that now stands alongside the videos from 1973.

Jesus Treviño, creator of Latinopia, directed the documentation for the reunion floricanto. Latinopia will be a place to view snippets of performances with fast-loading convenience. Treviño limits each video segment to three minutes. USC’s Digital Library together with Latinopia’s ever-growing library—Treviño updates weekly--will be a visual index to writers of chicano literature reading in their own voice.

The Bluebird Homage to Charles Bukowski is an important literary event, too. It was recorded. When that recording becomes public, La Bloga will make sure to provide a link. Viewers will see how tough it is to read and communicate at the same time. Writers who do do it, owe their work, and the audience an effective reading, the best reading the writer’s ever performed. An early goal is ongoing improvement of eye contact.

Although this set illustrates Jim Marquez denying his audience eye contact, portraits for each
reader would show the same. Eye contact is a universal opportunity for improvement.
Eye contact challenges anyone working with text. Memorization works for prodigious writers, but manuscripts are de rigueur for most readers. Here’s a tactic for readers who are so text-bound they rarely look up from the page: sell everyone a book, have them turn to a page to read silently along with you, hearing you bring alive your prose, capturing every word in the poem.

Beside selling more books, this is an eye contact work-around. Writer’s eyes on the page, audience’s eyes on the page: eye contact irrelevant. Maybe every now and then you’ll look up together, make eye contact, and recognize what you people are doing here.

Kym Ghee can read at a glance but her facing audience can't see her
Eye contact creates opportunities where more is more. More direct, more convincing, more expressive, more personal, more satisfying minutes with each other here. Ditto the internet where that one reading is your unravished bride moment.

Jim Marquez presentation style is as energetic and edgy as his fiction. He’s comfortable in the narration, using voice and gesture to imbue key words and passages with power. What Marquez doesn’t do as well is establish a bond with the listener through more frequent moments away from the text.
John Martinez makes eye contact, establishes a bond with audience.
He’d be more comfortable and the goodwill engendered would encourage people to sit still during lulls in the energy, like elongated narratives to set up something or flesh out an irony. When Marquez hits a sizzling paragraph, he leans into the screen to capture the line; he sizzles along with it. Power flows out of the words into coiled arms, thrusting fists, whimsical appeals to the ceiling.

I would love seeing that energy he directs at that computer screen turned to the expectant house. Mejor for the writer, a break from the text to the seats is feedback, both to performer and page: what’s working? what do they want more of? Do they get it? Should I skip to the end?

“Old men love to give good advice. It consoles them for the fact they no longer can set a bad example.” Except for eye contact. It’s an expectation that doesn’t get old and the benefits so dramatic writers put a “kick me” sign on their back for a week after discovering the job satisfaction that comes with an eye contact personal performance best. So, if you want to read your stuff to other people, and you can’t find ways to make more eye contact, don’t do it.

Avenue 50 Studio • 131 N. Avenue 50 • Highland Park CA 90042 • 323-258-1435

The Bluebird Reading series is a component of Avenue 50 Studio's literary arts programming. Avenue 50 Studio is supported in part by the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and the California Community Foundation.

Altadena Poetry Summer Series at Coffee Gallery Backstage

Toti O'Brien and half the audience
Listeners enjoy the air-conditioned backstage galley and intimate interaction with the readers
There’s a great performance space just across the border from Pasadena. It’s the converted back room of a coffeehouse that advertises itself as the last place for coffee in Altadena on Lake Avenue, The Coffee Gallery. La Bloga friend and guest columnist Thelma Reyna, who is Poet Laureate of Altadena, secured the Coffee Gallery Backstage, for a series of readings featuring poets published in the laureate’s anthology, Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2015. (ISBN-10: 069239978X ISBN-13: 978-0692399781)

The day’s lineup included two poets I’d photographed at other venues—Ricky Luv and Toti O’Brien, along with three seasoned writers new to my ear and lens-- Gloriana Casey, Mina Kirby, and Mary Monroe. The highlight of the day was the way Gloriana Casey addresses manuscript conundrum readers face with each trip to the lectern.

Mina Kirby

Ricardo Lira Acuña, Ricky Luv
Casey explains she chose stiff carboard sheets to keep the pages upright, and writes in big letters. Holding the card at table top level, Casey catches the phrases with peripheral vision or a quick downward glance and in this way holds eye contact more than she doesn’t.

Gloriana Casey
Gloriana Casey prepares her readings for eye contact and legibility
Writers electing letter-size paper or a laptop screen will want to use 18- or larger point fonts and lots of white space between lines and stanzas or paragraphs. Such a tactic avoids situations when the speaker holds a manuscript up to the face providing an excellent view of the text while blocking one’s sight and muffling the voice.

The backstage gallery provides excellent amplification. Microphone stands lure readers into planting themselves at the mic where they hold onto home base like their shoes were nailed to the floor. Speakers may swivel their neck or pivot at the waist to see and address the whole audience, but are as likely to ignore one side of the house.

Mary Monroe makes contact with both sides of the center aisle
The backstage space offers a tight and confined enough room that readers could easily project their voice across the twelve feet from lectern to back row, and, freed from a mic could use the ample stage riser to move about and encompass the entire house.

The next event at the Coffee Gallery Backstage is Saturday, July 18, featuring poets laureate from Altadena, North Hollywood, and Sunland-Tujunga.

Avenue 50 Studio Rocks Punks

Photographer Louis Jacinto likes his 4tych of Alice Bags
 What with the Bluebird Reading Series homage to Bukowski and the Saturday evening opening of several gallery shows, Avenue 50 Studio was LA’s happening spot closing July's second week.

In the main gallery, Roberto Gutíerrez paid homage to the up-for-demolition Sixth Street Bridge spanning the cement channeled LA River. Gutierrez’ work in the background of the Bluebird readers add just the right shades of color and design to the portraits.

Roberto Delgado is happy to take a foto with a young artist and his brother.
In the confined space of a side gallery, Louis Jacinto greeted visitors to his “PUNK MEETS ART” exhibition of photographs from the seminal Los Angeles Punk Rock Music Scene.

The wall of Alice Bag portraits held interest for anyone passing through from the refreshments table to the main gallery. La Bloga friend The Good Mexican Girl paused for a snap of herself with Alice Bag. Reina Alejandra Prado joined 2010's reunion floricanto; her Santa Perversa reading is here.

Reina Alejandra Prado with Alice Bags by Louis Jacinto
Followers of the music scene will enjoy a reading at Avenue 50 on Sunday July 19. Bag reads from her recent book, Pipe Bomb for the Soul, based on Bag’s 1986 Nicaraguan diaries. Publicity for the reading and performance observes the book offers a “post-punk look at life in a post-revolutionary socialist society, Pipe Bomb for the Soul explodes consumerist, capitalist, racial and gender assumptions and proposes a new model for growth from witnessing an alternate version of reality.” Link here:

Bits and News
Casa de Colores Call for Ideas: Poet Laureate

US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera has a call out for ways the laureate can build a magnificent Casa de Colores for the entire nation. Here's Juan Felipe's announcement:

Hey peoples -- Can you send me suggestions for rolling out projects under the banner of CASA DE COLORES, our National Laureate project starting September.

I definitely want a lot of participation with Library of Congress, with each other, across all communities, a lot of voices, languages and abilities, as well as translations of work into all languages, spoken word choruses -- just to give you an idea... then I'll see if I can incorporate your ideas into CASA DE COLORES, our HOUSE OF COLORS -- let's jam a little, brain storm...thanks mucho!

Contract Herrera with your ideas via his Facebook page, or via La Bloga.

Bits and News
Adult Stepchildren's Help Sought

La Bloga friend Dawn O. Braithwaite of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln writes:

So many focus on the negatives in stepfamilies, rather than the positives. My name is Dawn O. Braithwaite from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We are studying turning points and communication in the relationships of adult stepchildren who have an overall positive relationship with their stepparent.

Please help us find adult stepchildren to take part in an interview with us. We are looking for adult stepchildren age 25 or older with an overall positive relationship with their stepparent. We are looking for stepfamilies that started no less than four years ago and at an age stepchildren would remember the start of the family. The parent and stepparent are currently living together or are married.

Those willing to participate should contact Jordan Allen jordan.allen75@huskers.unl.edu or me dbraithwaite@unl.edu and we will send you more information.  Thank you!

Please let the researchers know you heard about the opportunity via La Bloga.

Mariposa Poetry Workshop Applications Now

La Bloga friend Maritza Rivera, a woman recently retired from the world of work, opens registration for the fourth annual poetry workshop she sponsors in Pennsylvania's Catoctin Mountains. Rivera writes:

The 4th Mariposa Poetry Retreat builds community among poets and writers and provides them the time and space to focus on their work in a serene and beautiful setting away from the pressures of daily life.

The retreat promotes a safe and instructive environment that addresses the creative challenges faced by writers of all genres. The 2015 weekend retreat will take place at the Capital Retreat Center in Waynesboro, PA from Friday, October 2nd to Sunday, October 4th and is open to writers 18 years of age and older.

Email Maritza Rivera or visit www.MariposaPoetry.org for registration forms and details.

Thank you for visiting La Bloga. Please share your comments and observations by clicking the Comments link below. Be sure to click the "email follow-ups" link when you comment.

Barrio Writers Finds You Can Go Home Again

La Bloga friend (and 2010 floricanto reader) Sarah Rafael Garcia has created an impressive legacy in the Barrio Writers organization. Expanding into Texas when Garcia attended graduate school in the state, the founding term in California's Orange County grew moribund. No more.

Click here to read about this important development:


  1. These events look and sound great. I really need to look for stuff like this in the Bay Area. There's lots of it, I just need to get out of the house and make the drive over the bridge.

  2. Michael, what a delightful, mind-expanding smorgasbord of poets, artists, performers, and other creative folks we all need to get to know! Thanks so much for all your supportiveness, along with nifty photos, of our "Coffee Gallery Backstage Altadena Poetry Summer Series." As you saw and heard, its events spotlight talented, energetic poets who have a lot of wisdom, insights, good humor, and passion to share with audiences. Very glad you captured that in your blog. Mil gracias, amigo! I appreciate you!


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