Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Culminating Catharsis. La Familia, the Poem. Finding Cuba. Losing Voices. Hot Glass

Michael Sedano

It was the kind of invitation that piques my interest. A group of writers would workshop over a four week period then present a public reading of work that emerged from the workshop series. Some would be debut writers, I inferred, from the event description that noted

The purpose of project is to provide a new opportunity for those in the community, to tell their stories. It's through the process of these new opportunities that we hope to encourage the members of the community to gain a newfound sense of self, leading to empowerment.

With my ongoing project to photograph poets and writers reading their stuff aloud in quest of The Pefect Public Speaker Foto, the reading, dubbed Culminating Catharsis, would present writers at the front end of careers as readers of their own work. I would have the opportunity to photograph them here in their debut, then follow them through open mics, then their first feature at a Bluebird or La Palabra reading, then their book launch signing.

Jessica Ceballos

Highland Park’s Avenue 50 Studio hosted the workshops organized by Ebony Williams and facilitated by Avenue 50 Studio’s indefatigable arts liaison, Jessica Ceballos.

The workshops offered a therapeutic element, with such workshops as Gloria Enedina Alvarez’ Taller Espejo Voz, Embodied Narratives conducted with Zoë Etkin, A Conversation in Letters, with Our Emotional Pain with Jessica Ceballos, and What's Your Toy Story? led by series organizer Ebony Williams. The series garnered a grant from Poets & Writers Magazine through the James Irvine Foundation, and had added support from the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council.

Click here for details of the project.

Ebony Williams 

The reading space at Avenue 50 presented a wondrous challenge to the photographer who eschews flash. A searingly hot day, the main gallery would be heated by the west-facing storefront glass. The north-facing back gallery borders the Gold Line tracks with a drive-in portal that allows refreshing breezes but plays havoc with exposure.

To their credit every reader presented themselves fully, no microphone, no lectern, just them and their manuscript in front of the seated audience and a roving photographer. That’s a major hurdle, presenting yourself like this, no armor or barricade to hold onto. It’s all uphill for them from here.

Wyatt Underwood

I hope each reader took the time afterward to ask themselves three questions: what did I like about my reading? What will I do more of next time? What will I do less of next time?

Going into a reading with a plan gives the reader something specific to like, or change. For instance, the readers in “Culminating Catharsis” will want to develop three elements next time they take three minutes out of an audience’s life: Project, Personalize, Relax.


Project means talking louder but it doesn’t mean shout. Projection means channeling the energy of a phrase into its expression, speaking so the person in the back row can understand the words. Readers should remind themselves that their first objective is to be heard.

Personalize means eye contact more than anything, at first. Readers whose eyes remain on the device or typescript are only pronouncing words. A considered reading is a way to make and share something in common with the audience, looking people in the face is the first step in forming community.
Rossana Perez

Relax means movement and gesture, first, then play. Public readers grow tense, their muscles seize up, their eyes bore in on the page. Channel that energy into a gesture, a step or two forward and to the side. Enjoy what’s happening. Honor the labor put into the words and deliver those emotions and intuitions with clarity and the voice that speaks from the page.

Jacklin Romine

Note: One of the best ways a reader can develop vocal resources is reading to kids. No kid or group of kids will tolerate a dull reading. They will demand noises and voices and wide-eyed description from a completely engaged reader. Take that sense of relaxation with you to the next reading you do for adults.

DW Jacobs

Marta Mora


I hope Dani and Carol see this foto essay and send in their names. La Bloga-Tuesday apologizes for the omissions.

Late-breaking news
U.S. Poet Laureate "La Familia" Project to Launch

La Bloga friend, sci-fi writer Sabrina Vourvoulias, who edits Philadelphia's Al Día News broke the news:

La Bloga will share details of the submission process as those become available. Per Al Día, Herrera will personally select the monthly inclusions.

Literary Havana For the Año Nuevo

La Bloga friend Tom Miller, who authored Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba, will lead a tour into Havana's literary life. Food, lectures, Hemingway, murals, cultura, free time fill the itinerary.

Per the tour's website, 
Meet the people of Cuba and enjoy the music and culture of the island. Your trip to Cuba will expose you to the island’s literary qualities as they have developed from pre-independence to the life of writers today. This visit allows Americans to understand the Cuban people and experience the country through the eyes of its writers with the expert guidance of a seasoned Cuban observer, Tom Miller.

For details on the itinerary, registration, business details, visit Miller's tour site, link here.

Floricanto in Memory of Lost Words

When words die. (for Manuela Ochoa)
By Arnoldo García

My grandmother suffers a stroke
and the natural world receives a mortal blow.
The healer, la curandera, dies.
With her,
the plants that spoke through her hands
the plants that allowed us to ingest them
the plants that healed stomachs, bee stings,
fevers, rashes, upset emotions, made
conversations flow deep into the evenings
preceded by prayers and riddled
with laughter, healthy gossip, insights
the plants that illuminated stars and nights
died with her.
In the season that was to be winter for
my skin and autumn for my eyes.

Abuelita's nature, la naturaleza humana,
the crowbar of her tongue
prying open the language of leaves, roots, seeds
germinating words that rub, soothe, relax

Dirt under her fingernails
her palms smooth as her face
where leaves, roots, seeds rest
before ingestion,
before toasting them
on a griddle the size of her lungs,
her heart a molcajete firme

What lies behind my eyes?

Fields, horizons, hands,
humans rocking gently back and forth,
silhouettes harvesting the future

My grandmother kneeling between
two rows of green beans
then suffering a heart attack

Behind my eyes
the sing of a frog
the whirlwind
a Yakama ancestor in our migrant camp
the broken horse of loneliness
who eats grass from my hand

I spend nights
ironing towels
until they are untouchably hot
and press them up against
my grandmother's breasts
her angina has flared up
and the heated towels ease the pain
and this is her final remedy
before getting up to make tortillas
and beans for tacos that we'll eat in eight hours for lunch
which she'll wrap in wax-paper

Everyone is at work
the harvest season
spares no time
spares no one

She is in pain (because she told me)
She cringes and leans left as if someone
has just punched her breast
and screeches out a syllable of hurt.
She leans up against the table
where there is a stack of testales
ready to be unrolled into tortillas
She momentarily rubs her left arm
and under her breast
with the right hand she quickly
pulls and flips the three tortillas
that are cooking on the comal...

She will die working in the fields.
We bury her as the harvest season is close to ending
Her casket is rained upon.
We celebrate, eat food, make music, laughter, families.
Tomorrow we return to work without her.


With her left: mint, chile verde, pipian, enchiladas, jardines, rosas, lirios, unknown plants, their leaves and seeds, aceite de víbora de cascabel, her hands that coerced fevers and pain out of our bodies with gentle massages, her daily rituals, foodmaking, working in her gardens after work, loving her grandchildren, speaking with her sons and daughters every day and night. Her prayers and praying, her daily visits with neighbors, her footprints in the fields, her hands on the vegetables.

12-Year Old Kids Can Learn Glass-blowing: Worthwhile Fund Raiser for L.A. Eastside Kids

La Bloga friend and extraordinary glass sculptor Jaime Guerrero is in the final days of a fund-raiser to build a glass-working studio in Boyle Heights. Jaime's skill and experience are free. The money goes to buy the special ovens and hardware used to create art in glass.

Please read Jaime's letter then give what money you can so kids can learn this rare skill with the capacity to create uniquely beauteous arte.

We have about a week to reach our goal and we are dead in the water. If you were thinking of helping but were waiting to see how far we got; this is the time to make a contribution...we are so close. If you already donated but now are in a place to contribute a little more, please do so. The last 4 days have not been very productive. So we are asking you to please help us get over the top. Ideally we are trying to reach a $20k goal. This will ensure that we stay open and give us enough resources to give employment to some of my former students. With their help I can teach more classes and reach more local youth as well as give much needed employment to some of my former students.

Friends, I have never asked anyone for money before; it's not something I am particularly good at or feel comfortable doing. But many of you have been witness to the work I have done and the lives this work has impacted. The age to reach youth before they get socialized in the streets is 12 years old. My free workshops will target this age group. Starting at the age of 12, I will be offering completely 100% free ongoing classes. I have taught in Watts for 4 years and have had huge success getting youth from this age group to respond positively to the art of glassblowing. Like a good friend recently posted, "These programs give the next generation the outlets and opportunities they need to succeed. Every piece made is an individual challenge followed by a great sense of accomplishment!" One thing I have noticed with a lot of these youth that find themselves in the crossroads is that due to their environment they have extremely low self-esteem. Glass blowing gives youth the confidence to tackle life challenges so they are more productive and better equipped to confront tough situations in a positive way. Many youth in underserved communities lack communication skills and the ability to work well with others. Glassblowing is a team effort so it forces them to interact and articulate their ideas to each other, which ultimately gives them the tools to communicate and work better with others outside of glassblowing.

I work hard to give my students every opportunity available to them. I have taken them to two glass conferences, have facilitated a collaboration that ended up in a museum exhibition, have prepared them to produce items to sell so they can generate income from their craft in several different market opportunities, and most recently I have taken students to NY on a scholarship awarded to them by the Corning Museum of Glass. I made sure their work was ready and photographed, wrote recommendation letters for them, and put their packets together. Then I sent in their packets so they could be considered for that opportunity. A lot of time and extra effort was put forth gladly without any sort of compensation to me, in many occasions made possible with my own resources. Why do I do this? I do it because I was once given a rare opportunity that made all the difference in the world to me. It's a small effort that can truly change someone's life. My only way to show my gratitude is to do the same for others. Below are a few photos of some of the things my students have participated in due to my efforts with the glass program in Watts. PLEASE HELP ME CONTINUE THIS WORK!

Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1443933664/a-chance-at-glass-a-resource-for-underserved-youth


Jose Carrillo said...

Thanks, Em for an interesting post of excellent photographs, performance tips, news, and more. Most poets as readers haven't the training in the art of oral interpretation; in contrast, most youth slams are appealing when the poets who memorize their lines look you in the eye and almost shout their passions in your face. For me, connection is the essential happening.

msedano said...

Thank you, Jose Carillo. Look for news soon about a workshop I'm doing on reading your stuff aloud.