Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Return of the Backyard Floricanto: Richard Vargas, Thelma Reyna, and Melinda Palacio

A Perfect Backyard for a Backyard Floricanto

Michael Sedano

It's a pleasure welcoming La Bloga-Tuesday's Guest Reviewer today, Dr. Thelma T. Reyna. It's a double pleasure, in fact, with Thelma Reyna one of the featured artists reading at the quondam Casa Sedano Backyard Floricanto, convened with wondrous welcome in Thelma's backyard. That makes it a triple pleasure, que no?

Back in Memory, a living room floricanto or a backyard floricanto brought gente together to share a reading and good platica, along with a few tacos. The GOPlague put the kibosh to that. Now that the worst appears to be a bad memory, gathering and sharing food buffet style returns to possibility.

Reyna's yard hosts numerous poetry events during any given year. It offers an ideal setting for book-touring Richard Vargas and friends to kick back, do some reading, eat tacos and munchies, and be alive and in the moment. If there's a raison d'etre for a backyard floricanto, there it is: be alive and in the moment.

Three Spotlight Poets included Richard Vargas, Thelma T. Reyna, and Melinda Palacio. Joining the spotlighted writers are Open Mic readers, including Carla Sameth, Gregory Foster, Toti O'Brien, Hazel Clayton, Monteque Pope Le Beau, John Martinez, and a special song from artist Margaret Garcia.

Jesus Treviño brought Latinopia's (link) video camera to the reading. As soon as Latinopia's documentaries come to light, La Bloga will share links.

During the time Michael Sedano was moving into a new home and planning to welcome Richard Vargas' book tour to the new Casa Sedano, Dr. Reyna was writing her review of Vargas' Leaving a Tip at the Blue Moon Motel (link to publisher). The best of all possible worlds harmonized when Richard invited Melinda and Thelma to share the spotlight at the backyard floricanto that eventually found its locus at Casa Reyna.

Richard Vargas:

Poet of the Working Class…and More



Casa Urraca Press, 2023


by Thelma T. Reyna

Richard Vargas describes his fifth poetry collection, Leaving a Tip at the Blue Moon Motel, as his intent to “give voice to the working class, the people whose sweat provides the grease that makes the wheels of the economy turn.”* As a self-described rooter for the underdog, Vargas is a natural champion of this broad swath of humanity. That he fulfills his goal convincingly is therefore no surprise. 

In the first quarter of his book, Vargas presents stalwarts we have known all our lives:  the people who birthed and raised us, who kept America on its feet during the pandemic, who keep America moving, keep it safe and clean. 
We peer into the thoughts or days of the fast food artist, burnt-out nurses, motel housekeepers, UPS drivers, store clerks, and the mass of underpaid, undervalued employees battered by crushing demands of the moneyed elite and corporate greed. It is fitting that Vargas’ last piece in this book, “Pay Dazed,” (p. 63) is a lengthy, factual narrative of his years as a call center temp worker, where extant elements of  corporate hubris and inhumanity coalesced to cement Vargas’ vision of this shameful sphere.
But the prime beauty of Vargas’ book is its transcendence of this weighty issue. From this micro view of how we humans treat the most economically disadvantaged of our brethren, Vargas swings his focus to how we navigate what he terms “the broken glass/ a shattered world drops/ around our bare feet.” (“Current Affair,” p. 30) Ultimately, it’s this larger view of our world that elicits Vargas’ best writing, imagery that soars in poignancy and hard truths.
Focused basically on compassion, Vargas follows his worker poems with six pandemic-themed works that spotlight the isolation of “the great dying / and our painful rebirth.” (“Time Out,” p. 29) He writes in his opening poem: “i can do this/ the trick is to not let/ being alone turn into lonely.” (“Isolation,” p. 22) 
Vargas calmly captures the horror of the Covid death toll in “60,000 dead” (p. 27), in which he likens the body count to the audience “at the L.A. Coliseum/ cheering for our team/ giving high fives all around” (p. 27), “going into the stadium/ with a raucous and lively crowd/ none of us walking out alive.” (p. 28) He ends a series of probing questions with: “did you lament a fate/ empty and dark?” (p. 29)

The next 17 poems showcase Vargas’ lighter side and extend erotic aspects of his poetry, flashes of which were evident in his opening poems (pages 1, 2, 11, 17, 22). Vargas includes two humorous poems about a married couple at the movies, dates which had unforeseen intimacy effects back home. (pp. 34, 37). 

There’s also a long-running love affair (p. 30), a Trumpster girlfriend (p. 31), a baggie of poop from the Pope (p. 39), a discussion with Vargas’  editor/publisher about a graphically sexual poem (p. 40), and—the gem in this section!—a touchingly beautiful poem about the menudo Vargas ate with his father: “i never cared for the oregano/ but a squeeze of lemon/ a spoonful of chopped onion/ and a warm tortilla rolled up/ in my small fist…./ planted the seed/ for this poem to bloom.” (“Menudo,” p. 42).

An experienced poet, Vargas ended his book on an extra-powerful note. His last three poems are showcases of his lyricism, imagery, and nuance juxtaposed with painful truths. Coming on the heels of the poems cited above, the contrast in anguish and depth of emotional investment stands stark. In “the time traveler’s advice” (p. 53), Vargas “visits” himself at different earlier ages, beginning with 60, then continuing to 50, 40, 30, 21, and 10, all key periods in his life, which he describes calmly sometimes, heart-wrenchingly at others. For example, at age 30, he lies weeping on the floor, on his birthday, devastated that he has outlived his father by a year now: “i always thought/  I’d know why my father OD’d at age twenty-nine…./ the answer was supposed/ to be there waiting for me.” (p. 55) The sorrow in these poems comes from regrets and unresolved hurt.

In his penultimate poem, “three words” (p. 57), Vargas tackles the age-old quandary lovers often face: when to say “I love you” and when to believe it’s true. The poet’s response is achingly clear, spoken with a conviction born of deprivation. He states: “I want to tell her about/ growing up in a home/ where these words were/ rarely uttered…./ I want to tell her of/
hunger and how the/ human spirit withers/ like dried unpicked fruit/ for the lack of the sound/ of these three words.” (p. 57) The poet’s argument is mighty.

Finally, “13 Angels Rising” (p. 60) is a true account of 13 missing women’s remains discovered in New Mexico in 2009. This mystical poem is fittingly the last poem in Vargas’ book, bestowing upon his work a finishing stroke of power. Vargas imagines these dead women rising and walking again, “where dreams of violence fade away/ the way a bruise heals when/ kissed by a seraph’s lips/ families, babies, and friends rejoice/ embrace their return from/ the eternal night/ the cruel night….” The resuscitated women with “once-battered/ shoulder blades/ healed and whole” will “walk unafraid/ among the demons we/ all have within/ and show us/ how like a pebble dropped in water/ …our inhumanity/ ripples outward/ touching one/ and all.” (p. 61) Indeed, this view of human interconnectedness, for ill or good, reverberates more than once in Vargas’ book and engenders some of his best writing.

Overall, Richard Vargas’ long career as poet, editor, publisher, faculty member, and eclectic member of the working class, has enabled Leaving a Tip at the Blue Moon Motel—enabled its creation, positive reception, and, very likely, its literary success. All well-earned.

Spotlight Poet: Thelma T. Reyna.
Poet Laureate Emerita of Altadena

Spotlight Poet: Melinda Palacio.
Poet Laureate of the City of Santa Barbara, 2023-2025

Open Mic Artists 

 Margaret Garcia, Painter, Muralist, Fused Glass Artist, sings "Gracias a la Vida"

Carla Sameth, Co-Poet Laureate of Altadena, California 2022-2024

G.T. Foster 

John Martinez

Monteque Pope Le Beau

Toti O'Brien

Hazel Clayton

1 comment:

artedecardenas said...

Thank you for posting this, out sounds like it was a magical event.