Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Sci-Fi a la raza. Ultima the Opera. 11th Best Poem of 2016

Review: Matthew David Goodwin, ed. Latina/o Rising. An Anthology of Latin Science Fiction & Fantasy. San Antonio: Wings Press. 2017.  ISBN 978-1-60940-524-3

Michael Sedano

In a skillfully organized anthology, Latina/o Rising eases gently into the reader’s interest with short, softly imaginative stuff like Kathleen Alcalá’s time displacement fantasy, “The Road To Nyer,” and Pedro Zagitt’s pair of one-page fantasies. The collection races through a handful of dystopic and cybernetic futures, then reaches a climactic middle with “Caridad” about a Miami Cubanita forced to become the hive mind of her extended family.

To this point, fantasy and harmless dystopia are the stuff of smiles and reverie. There’s even a foto-novela of sorts. Editor Matthew David Goodwin then changes pace offering a couple of personal, hard-edged pieces that make for considerable discomfort owing to their intrusive failure to be escapist. But this subsides and the collection again finds its sweet spot to wrap with stories from José Older, poetry from Carl Marcum, and a story about Mexicans losing cultura and identity in a distant-future New York.

Some of these stories feel like they’re breaking the rules of fantasy and speculation. Stories can be thought-provoking, morally pointed, but a lot of fun. In Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult At Parties” a woman descends into insanity via eye-glazing hard core pornography. Giannina Braschi offers a pair of deeply disturbing pieces, one, a speculative essay centered around the collapse of the World Trade Center, the other an abstract playscript. Carlos Hernandez’ story about a soldier’s cheating wife, his missing legs, and their miracle baby, pierces one’s heart for hitting so close to current events. Reality and the hard facts of life are supposed to be over there, just beyond the margins of the page, outside the first word and the final period. Instead these stories impose not dystopia but ugly reality that sits there, big as life and twice as ugly in the middle of the paragraph, pounding a fist into that space between the eyes, hard. They’re not fun.

The reader takes a deep breath and turns the page to find ever more rewarding experiences. Alejandra Sanchez taps into one’s fear of something lurking in the drainpipes. “The Drain” will get the horror juices flowing with some masterfully crafted asco-inducing descriptions of warm, slimy matter enveloping a woman taking a shower. But “The Drain” is far more than a scary story. Sanchez weaves in elements of a woman’s perception of her beauty and how she presents herself in everyday life, and then domestic violence and the just desserts wrought upon an asshole woman-beater. It’s an unsettling yet satisfying story.

Wrapping up the collection are Daniel José Older’s wonderful futurist New York where the living, the dead, and the half-living compete to maintain order between their dimensions. There’s some thrilling emotion when long-dead African slaves emerge out of an entrada from the underworld. “I feel the wind of hundreds of years of pent up rage and frustration release across my face. Riley’s screaming as loud as he can beside me and we’re both laughing hysterically and crying at the same time.” So will readers.

So what makes sci-fi “latina” “latino”? The final story offers a blatant answer. A XicanaYork woman wants to explore history but by creating electronic games. Her hundred-fifty-years old abuela is worried about the future of Mexican cultura in the city, and frustrated the live-in machine exhibits more interest in carrying on grandma’s curanderisma than la nieta. In this world, identity and cultura feel the threat of technology and institutional power while a succeeding generation seeks its own way through those pressures, using cultura while adapting to what’s coming.

There’s a decidedly east coast and Caribbean lurch to the settings and characters, but for the most part decidedly raza. Gente will see themselves in these stories. Characters have brown skin, speak some Spanish or as in Junot Diaz’ story, get a hard time from friends for not speaking good Spanish, engage in word-play mixing languages. They have names like Mictan (not Mictlán but close), Jesús, Gordo (two of them, one in Ana Castillo’s New Mexico-set story and Older’s), and Paco.

These are “latina/o” stories as a result of character, setting, language, and writer. One thing the collection is not is an insider’s fiction. It’s highly accessible while providing intimate insights about the way these writers, and writers like these, see the world. For the most part, Latina/o Rising will keep any reader interested just because these are worthwhile, good stories.

I’m not a fan of the arroba as a gender marker. Does one pronounce the key title word “Latinat” or “Latinarroba”, or "Latinao," or just give up and ingloriously drop the diacritic and say “Latin”? Perhaps when Wings Press brings the book in a second edition to market they’ll yield to the insurgent use of el equis and make things even more problematic with “Latinx”. A ver.

See if you can read Latina/o Rising in one or two sittings to gain the full benefit of its stomach-churning ride that here and there gives you a fist to the face but more so wide-eyed gasps, some laughs, some primal fear, and a montón of fun.

Order Latin@ Rising from your local independent bookseller, or publisher-direct here: http://www.wingspress.com/book.cfm?book_ID=220

Bless Me, Ultima, the Opera

Rudolfo Anaya’s timeless novel, Bless Me, Ultima has entertained millions of readers and hundreds of film-goers. Today, there’s an opera in the works. Thankfully, the production will be more Giuseppe Verdi than Philip Glass. That’s the impression I have from a conversation with Héctor Armienta, who is writing the music and libretto for the 2018 debut.

Armienta is Artistic Director and General Director of San Jose California’s Opera Cultura. Opera Cultura, working with Albuquerque’s Opera Southwest and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, will premier the work as early as next January in Anaya’s hometown, Alburquerque. In addition to the opera performances, the NHCC plans an art exhibition of artworks inspired by Bless Me, Ultima, and created by New Mexico artists. The 2018 production moves in May, or in the Fall, to California.

Contemporary U.S. opera often yields musicality to favor spectacle. I’m thinking of the LA Opera’s “Akhnaten” whose singers performed in English, Ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew and Akkadian in a visually stunning production that put me to sleep. To my unbridled relief, Héctor Armienta describes himself heavily influenced by late Verdi.

Armienta grew up in Los Angeles, near MacArthur Park. He completed his undergradudate work at California Institute of the Arts before moving to San Francisco to complete a Master’s at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

When I spoke to him via telephone he was in the final stages of the piano vocal score. This means the opera is nearly completed. The composer follows the piano vocal score with an orchestration draft. From here, the company brings in a Stage Director and musicians to workshop the piece. Composer and Stage Director consider issues as does it work dramatically, on stage with characters, musically, does it create “that important moment?”

Casting is all-important. Armienta has a strong sense of who will sing Ultima. Less certain is the young Tony. With three boys choirs in San Francisco there’s ample talent pool. Alburquerque may prove a bit more challenging in finding a Tony, though Armienta doesn’t say that.

Rudolfo Anaya and Héctor Armienta
The opera has been in development since 2013 when Armienta and Rudy Anaya met to develop the synopsis. Armienta focuses on three themes, good/evil, destiny, the natural world versus our physical world. The boy, Tony, and Ultima lead the cast, with Tenorio, Narciso, and Tony’s familia supporting.

The story contains all the essential elements in the novel: the question of Tony’s destiny, Ultima’s journey to her death, the imbalance in the order of things because of a curse. As with any book adaptation, characters and scenes will be omitted, and instead of a third person narrator, dialog will carry the story into action.

Bless Me, Ultima’s music will be neo-romantic with a modicum of modern dissonance. Musically it’s not New Mexico per se, although Armienta researched a trove of New Mexico traditional music and at least two corridos will reflect historically authentic regional song.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center, along with Opera Southwest, commissioned the opera. Multiple sources and donors are contributing as well.

Rebecca L. Avitia, Executive Director of NHCC says “We are incredibly excited about the project and its potential to bring the magic of Anaya's writings and this incredible novel into an unexpected, but important genre.”

Héctor Armienta adds, “These are our stories. We need our stories told in our community. How better to do it than with the magic of opera?”

La Bloga will report additional details as the opera of Bless Me, Ultima advances through its production phases. You can read more about the production and listen to a workshop aria here. Make reservations to attend a June 17, 2017 Bless Me, Ultima Workshop in San Jose CA by clicking here.

Tejer la Tarde is Eleventh “Best Poem of 2016”

Owing to a clerical oversight, last week’s collection of Best Poems of La Bloga On-line Floricanto 2016 shared only ten of the eleven nominated poems.

It’s a pleasure for La Bloga to join the Moderators of the Facebook poetry community Poets Responding to SB 1070: Poetry of Resistance in celebrating the work of Oralia Rodriguez and her poem, “Tejer la tarde.”

Tejer la tarde
Por Oralia Rodríguez

Montar la cadena,
de los primeros días
pespuntes a las paredes,
encontrarme en la risa
en la incertidumbre
de hilos rojizos
para bordar la tarde,
un derecho, un revés.

Buscar lo que no soy,
historias remendadas,
voces en la sangre,
una vuelta,
sobrehilar los pasos
de pájaros ciegos,
cuando la metáfora
es pecado
y el dolor es sólo
un derecho o un revés.

Los demonios deshilan
punto tras punto los miedos,
recodifican la identidad,
punzan el subconsciente,
me anudan a la soledad,
y no encontrar
la geometría de un cuerpo,
un derecho, un revés.

Inocencia de palabras,
un punto al aire,
palabras que danzan silentes,
un derecho, un revés.

Adolecer apegos,
noches fragmentadas
que alfileres no sostienen,
códigos y puntos
para remachar
los días sin esquina
y remendar la casa de la infancia,
volver a ser niña
y no ser nombrada,
un derecho, un revés.

Fronteras trazadas al vuelo,
fragmentos de intimidad,
mariposas de caleidoscopio.
Anillar los instantes de tu sexo
al naufragio de tus muslos,
florecer en lluvia roja,
un derecho, un revés.

Trozos de tarde
para anudarlos
a la mirada,
volver, recorrer los rincones,
atar lo que me fue negado,
menguar y
gritar lo que no soy,
las palabras, los días,
el abandono.

Punto, tras punto,
un derecho,
un revés,
un derecho,
un revés,

Oralia Rodríguez. Originaria de Jerez Zacatecas, radica en Tijuana B.C. Estudió la Licenciatura en Informática en el Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana, y la Licenciatura en educación Primaria en la Normal Fronteriza Tijuana. La maestría en Cultura Escrita en el Centro de Posgrado y Estudios Sor Juana, cursó el Diplomados Creación Literaria certificado por el INBA.

Se desempeña como docente. Ha participado en diferentes antologías de México y Argentina. Publicó dos cuentos infantiles ¨Lobo, Lobito¨ y ¨Murmullos en el bosque¨. El poemario ¨Habitada de nostalgia¨ para el 5º Encuentro Latinoamericano de escritores Hidalgo 2013. Y el poemario Trozos de tarde para no ser olvido de Nódulo Ediciones 2016.

Here is the full complement of 2016's Best Poems (click for link):
Canto for Francisco X. Alarcón By Juan Felipe Herrera
To the Man Sitting across from Us at the Hospital in Harlingen, Texas By César L. De León
The Pulse of a Rainbow By Kai Coggin
Geographic Dreaming or what it means to be Chicana By Odilia Galván Rodríguez
Remembering Fukushima, Nagasaki and Hiroshima By Sharon Elliott
We speak of mighty things By Jolaoso PrettyThunder
Notes on the Holy Ghost and Her Atheist Daughter By Sonia Gutiérrez
Mni Wiconi By Iris De Anda
Leaving the Candle On Overnight By Edward Vidaurre
Nochixtlán Por Guadalupe González Pérez
Tejer la Tarde Por Oralia Rodríguez

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