Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Poetry: A Six-letter word for Community

La Bloga-Tuesday celebrates community-making as the natural outcome of writing, performing, and reading poems. A poetry reading represents community in numerous dimensions, from organizers to seasoned readers to debut readers to involved listeners to venue hosts. Beyond the immediacy of a reading, in the background, a community of publishers and broadcaster-streamer technicians work to make the event memorable.

It's the nature of community that people have and share things in common. In a poetry community, what all have and share in common is a motivation to express and, as listeners, to be moved by expressions of ideas and a language of experiences held in common with friends and strangers. Here are two examples of community formation through poetry and expression.

Our first feature illustrates a community of poets who come together in the pages of a major anthology of United States poetry, Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 (link). The book, edited by Peter J. Harris, arrives in reader's hands via Amazon and in-person at 5deMayo weekend's upcoming Litfest in the Dena. See Daniel Olivas' La Bloga-Monday column for los datos. (link)

Our second feature welcomes Guest Columnist, poet, humanitarian, activist, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, who reports how a micro-community of poets formed in the face of a literary festival and small audience. Most people attending the New Orleans Poetry Festival thus denied themselves opportunity to join the community, and peor, they missed some wonderfully insightful poems. La Bloga-Tuesday feels joyous to be able to share six gems from that reading in an Online Floricanto of poems read in NOLA.

Poetry&Cookies 2024 Foto Album: Altadena Poets Laureate Hail and Farewell
Michael Sedano

First there were twelve.

Twenty years ago, Pauli Dutton, librarian serving the public in Altadena, California, invited a group of twelve poets to share poetry and cookies and read their work together. Saturday, April 27, forty-five poets drew a full house, hasta standing room only, to the Altadena Library Community Room for a three-hour pleasure faire of poets called Poetry & Cookies, reading their poem published in Golden Foothills Press' Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024.

From Dutton's first conclave to now, a poetry community has grown and prospered under guidance of a Poet Laureate program of Dutton's initiation. Saturday's Poetry & Cookies reading marks the conclusion of the two-year service of Co-Poets Laureate Carla Rachel Sameth and Peter J. Harris. Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024, published by Golden Foothills Press, is the highlight of Altadena laureates' tenure, which features dozens of public readings and workshops, climaxed with the poetry & cookies reading, which has become a highly anticipated gathering of poets and their gente.

Sameth and Harris pass the laurel wreath to Sebha Sarwar and Lester Graves Lennon. 
Peter J. Harris attended via Zoom from his Florida home. Altadena library streams many events, including this edition of Poetry & Cookies, to include a broader community than only the day's SRO audience.
Diversity, inclusion, open doors are hallmarks of community. As the foto gallery illustrates, the poetry community published in the anthology exactly reflects those values. Reading the hundred-plus poets in the book illustrates a beautiful stylistic diversity reflecting the broad range of contemporary United States poetry.

Who are these people? For now, I must allow the fotos to be the story as I don't have all the names yet. In the third panel, upper right hand portrait, meet Laureate-designate Sebha Sarwar. Her Co-designate, Lester Graves Lennon, was unable to attend and read his published poem. In the middle panel, upper right hand portrait is Pauli Dutton, founder of the Laureate program in Altadena.

Next week, La Bloga-Tuesday features a review of the anthology. 

Special Feature: Guest Columnist Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo and On-line Floricanto 

Latinas de las Americas Sharing Poetry and Sisterhood in New Orleans
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Five Latina poets, Maya Chinchilla, Luivette Resto, Anatalia Vallez, Viktoria Valenzuela, and myself, traveled to New Orleans from across the county to present at the New Orleans Poetry Festival. Once there, we gathered with the sixth poet of our collective, Roxy Eve, who lives in the city and works in hospitality. 
Only there for a short time, Chinchilla shared, “Initially, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of frustration knowing that my first visit to New Orleans would span a mere three days. However, thanks to the guidance of two members of our group who had previously explored the city, we were able to immerse ourselves in a survey of the city's cultural vibes.” 

Chinchilla was right, most of our collective only had about two full days to both explore the city and attend the festival, but we made the most of it. Local highlights included pecan candied bacon from Elizabeth’s in Bywater, shopping for trinkets at the French Market, and being treated to a hometown crawfish boil and neighborhood ghost hunt thanks to Valenzuela’s high school friends, Paul, Molly, and their middle schooler, Magnus. 

The next day, the whole family came to our panel, and it was a special joy of mine to perform my poem, “Interview with a Ghost Solider in the Peach Orchard,” for our ghost tour guide, Magnus. 
Morning of our presentation, we made a writing date for 9am. Our Airbnb had the perfect round table, which we dubbed the séance table, where we could sit together and work. “Luivette Resto brought out her bruja literary deck of tarot cards, and we shared some time writing,” recalled Valenzuela. “To be writing new poems as medicine las Latinas” wasn’t something she expected, but that one hour of oracle cards, sharing, and writing felt like a bit of magic. 

Vallez, who stayed with a friend and missed our morning writing session, was surprised at how little writing she did. “I barely opened my laptop or emails. Instead, I spent a lot of time at ease, taking in the sounds, smells and tastes. I was present and in my body. I really needed that reset.” 
By noon Saturday, we all convened at the festival to sell and sign books with the FlowerSong Press table, thanks to the generosity of publisher, Edward Vidaurre. 

As the organizer of this trip, I was worried that just one, 50-minute reading wouldn’t be enough of a reason to travel across the country. I wanted to make the journey worth it, so I asked Vidaurre if he might share his table with us for an hour, and he kindly agreed. 

Resto, my collaborator and comadre, also worked on finding a location in the city for a second reading. Ultimately, that second reading didn’t work out this time, but that’s how things go. 

Even our final line up lost two poets along the way due to life occurrences and commitments, which is why I chose to set up a gofundme for the trip. Crowdfunding isn’t something I typically use for my writing travels. Don’t get me wrong, I ask for support from my community in many ways to meet travel demands and costs. In the fall I created a DIY west coast book tour for my book, Incantation: Love Poems for Battle Sites (Mouthfeel Press), and I relied heavily on friends opening up their homes or inviting me into their classrooms. 

I’m extremely thankful for those who stepped up in several ways to make my tour a reality. As poets, we want to share our poetry with the world. For me, it’s a vocation, and kind of like a missionary, it’s an endeavor that will almost always cost more than you earn. And, since I was asking 5-6 Latina poets to join me, knowing they have their own families, jobs, homes, and more to think of, I wanted to do something to make the journey a little easier. 

35 people ended up donating, and all our poets got a little bit of help with travel costs. Even Eve, who didn’t travel for the event, received a small honorarium for her time, her poetry, and saying yes to performing alongside us. No poet was to be left out. 

Eve said of the experience, “I was beyond honored to be considered for this reading as I am newly immersing myself into this writing journey. The whole squad, or as I affectionately refer to them ‘La Tribú de Titis Poetas’ took me under their wing immediately and committed to helping guide me in my new path of poetry.”

Hearing Eve’s poetry and seeing her shine was a highlight for many of us. “The way we all saw ourselves in Roxy, who is new in seeing herself as a writer, the way we all rallied around her and supported her, this is what this trip is about,” Resto shared. 

Resto was the one to connect us to Eve. The two had little more than a friendly IG friendship based on a love of good wine, good food, and travel tips. Resto asked Eve over IG if she knew any local poets we could invite to read with us, and Eve shared that she wrote. 

The connection between the two was just as powerful for Eve. “Luivette, my guide into this collective, ignited a fire with her voice and the piece she shared. It was the first time in a long time I felt seen in a piece of writing. This experience definitely will be influencing my commitment to honoring my voice as one that is valid to be heard.”

Together the six of us read 2-3 poems each and then chatted with a small but loving audience of about 15 people. I was excited to connect with a Colombian poet and an Argentinian poet in the room. 
Resto and I had talked about this before leaving for our trip, that our author bios and presentations make us visible to those who are looking for community. 

For Valenzuela, she took the small audience as fuel, “I am blessed to live in the barrios of San Antonio, TX where all of my neighbors and even company owners are Mexican-American and Indigenous ancestry. In New Orleans, it was glaring that we Latinas were marginalized when the audience that sat in on our panel were either close friends or Latino heritage people looking to hear some hint of community.” 
It’s true we felt small among the bustle of the festival and the city, but finding other Latinx folks throughout our short stay became a highlight. 

Chinchilla noted “the influx of migrants post-Hurricane Katrina.” “I offered my translation skills to a Cuban restaurant worker who was trying to buy ice from the Arab convenience store worker,” recalled Chinchilla. “And my friends found out that the workers behind the food counter were Salvadoran and Native American. The last morning, we even got to eat at a Honduran brunch spot eating the fanciest and tastiest baleadas of all time.” 
“I was so moved by the other writers,” Resto said. “We are all so different as writers and where we are with our writing and lives. Even with the variety, I felt strongly connected with everyone and their stories. These women gave me permission to be vulnerable without judgment. That was moving and beautiful to me.” 

Vallez said, “-- we were vibrant in our different personalities and we took care of each other and held each other like we've known one another our whole lives. I know we have something special and I can't wait for what's in store for us next.”

We ended our reading with a round of celebratory Tequila shots offered as a gift by Eve. In pure sommelier style, she hand-picked a bottle of Mijenta, a Latina owned company. From Mijenta’s mission: “Derived from ‘Mi Gente,’ which means ‘My People,’ Mijenta refers to a community of like-minded people who come together to celebrate life.” 

Sharing a brindis with these hermanas was a perfect way to close our presentation. And after we left the festival, Chinchilla gushed at how “we had the privilege of breaking bread and swapping writerly tales with Kundiman poets Jane Wong, Sally Wen Mao, Tiana Nobile, and Cathy Linh Che.” 
And so we continued to gather, be present with one another, and most importantly, laugh throughout our weekend. It’s what we now carry with us into our homes and jobs, with our families and students, and onto the page.  

The selection of poems come from those we read at the New Orleans Poetry Festival on April 20, 2024. They are in the order in which we performed. 

Overwhelming by Luivette Resto

“Personality affects the way a color is perceived on you. If you look best in strong colors and you have a very strong personality, the combination may be too much in some instances. Other people may find you overwhelming.” Conservative Chic: the 5-step program for dressing with style
overwhelming strong: the perfect name for the Macy’s fragrant section
overwhelming strong: the surprising amount of heavy things I can carry
overwhelming strong: what not to write in the cover letter
overwhelming strong: the resolve of mothers and caretakers
overwhelming strong: what I learned to survive because Audre Lorde was right
overwhelming: the amount of black outfits in my closet
from LBD’s to sweater turtlenecks my children affectionately call my poetry outfit
overwhelming: what teaching was like in 2020
overwhelming: the increasing number of children cradled then buried in Gaza
strong: what my therapist reminds me of every other Saturday 
strong: what I am tired of being called every other Saturday 
when all I want is to come apart like paper mache in the rain

Oh Say Can You See by Viktoria Valenzuela

By the dawn's early light, I think of skin; I think of how
Light can shine through my eyelids no matter how hard I close them.
I question, do they see
a lampshade at a neo-Nazi party?
When I think of eyelids
I pet mine with flower petals soaking.
We soak up the sun's rays to make chlorophyll.
Am I a daisy pushed up after someone has died?
When I think of flower petals
I think of honey bees hovering over the sex organs of flowers
and tongues
of black bears. Am I a black bear starving in the forest for lack of bees?
When I think of black bears
I think of polar bears who have white fur but black skin.
Am I a polar bear starving in the Arctic for lack of ice
and seal prey? When I think of I.C.E. I think of brown
skin, that looks just like mine, trying to make it in America.
Am I American if neo-Nazis are running America?
When I think of America, my body aches
for something more protective than skin. Skin is only skin deep.
Skin is only skin
Deep. Black-Red-Yellow-Brown as brown can be.

Tres Pasos by Maya Chinchilla
From Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poética
Read with improvisations at the New Orleans Poetry Festival 2024

1. Maya Mexica
On first beat hit the body remembers
chest lifts up to sky
tentative beginnings 
ask permission 
feet talk to earth north west south east 
kids elders women men more spirits than names
drum boom bada boom bada boom boom boom
blood pulse heart time rhythm
the dance is the conversation 
in your body out of your head
ba boom ba boom bada boom
boom boom boom
ba boom ba boom bada boom
boom boom boom 
a Chapina among Mexica

2. Chapín Jaliscience 
Folkoric gendered conversations 
colonial separations haughty hybrids
rhythmic violins
feet pound heel toe heel toe 
the zapateado step I never forgot
she pounded these moves into my head every day after school 
down grocery store aisles
between burger and fries king taco 
in parking lots 
at the fabric store at the movies 
don't look at your feet stand up straight 
imagine nails echo sound from heels of shoes 
ribbon thread thru your spine hold up your head
we danced for fun then to build 
after riots fired anger at convenience stores 
took streets locked doors behind tv screens 
nineties early spring
adult admin looked to fresh faces 
for multi-culti bandaids 
cause kids know what’s up
know more about your kids than you do
we took scraps student assembled 
tejiendo culture baile flor y canto 
danced numbers 
Azteca to Sinaloa to Rumba 
to Caifanes Timberiche y Chayanne 
dance the story
back to Porfirio Diaz dictated hyper Mexicaness 
She was grace
victorian posture and ruffles
waist up Guadalajara tall
arms move skirt swirling half circles
slice air into waves
filling space with ribboned hems
no one remembers the names 
of the men that danced around her.

3. West Coast Boricua
Bomba puerto invitation rico
repite: en la punta del pie
marca el paso
Yubá Sicá Cuembé Calindá Hoyo Mula Holandés
women on the drum disrupting a previous beat

shaking out the flesh feeling new parts of the body
bay area communing together in the batey/circle
the call and the response

the smile on her face when she says
Me encanta la bomba. Me cura. 
both dreamy and assured 

muscle memory spirits come through
te invitan or you jump in
grounded thru the hips chest high arms elbow tip of foot
tirando piquetes
throwing the conversation back to the drum
bámbula is to remember
respeto release an africanborinquen survival story

4. On first beat hit the body remembers
the way a bordered people travel forced 
no tan islada
movement passes culture
stand up tall lift chest to sky 
defy forced downward gaze 
bending over now for flexibility and strategy 
with lessons from a humble earth 
rhythm is your voice. Let her speak. 
Feet document story. Let them speak. 
Base boom. Let you speak.
In the circle calling. Habla Habla. Let us speak.
The body remembers

If La Llorona Had a Hashtag by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

If la llorona were 
always very quiet 
no one would call her 
an evil woman 
        - Gina Valdés, Bridges and Borders
If she had been very quiet
no one would know her. 
The story would be no story,
just as there is no name. 

If La Llorona had a hashtag 
it might be #mishijos,
or #remembermishijos,
or #somosamoreterno. 

Then maybe citizens 
might question 
how her children drowned
and by whose hands. 

Because if I know anything, 
it wasn’t by her own. 
History teaches me
the guilty like their laws

so the guilty can sleep well
and the guilty feel just
in their beds, in their homes, 
in their city lines, and maps. 

But the guilty don’t cry,
even as they say, “Thoughts
& Prayers,” for our babies
born open water. 

Intensa, Tensa, Propensa. by Roxy Eve

Intense, Tense, Prone.

Algunas veces las palabras se me traban, se me traban por tensa, soy propensa a errar, 
            especialmente cuando hay emociones intensas.

The words tense in my tongue. 

Any language, mi lengua madre or the tongue I’ve grown to stumble through. I stumble through 
            the words because sometimes neither tongue feels my own. 

Intensa, Tensa, Propensa.

Intense, Tense. 

Emociones tan intensas. I cannot capture them in either language. Te amo is so much more than 
            an I love you and I love you requires so much effort.

Propensa. Prone.

I’m prone to sadness. Is it that my Spanish tongue holds so much more pain? Mine but not mine.

All these tongues of the people who beat my people but few words of the ones who are my 

Find me the Taino or Incan words for I love you and I’m sure they could capture the full meaning 
            of how hard my heart beats, how hard I love. 

Intensa, Tensa, Propensa.

Intense, Tense, Prone.

From The Most Spectacular Mistake by Anatalia Vallez

As a fetus my mother inhaled love
it lingered in her vocal chords 
then traveled to her stomach 
through her umbilical cord 
and into me 
it now lives between my stomach and diaphragm
perhaps that’s why I exist 
to exhale what was trapped in my mother’s throat

Meet the Poets

Luivette Resto is an award-winning poet, a mother of 3 revolutionary humans, and a middle school English teacher. She was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico but proudly raised in the Bronx. She is a CantoMundo and Macondo Fellow and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her two books of poetry Unfinished Portrait and Ascension have been published by Tía Chucha Press. Her third poetry collection Living on Islands Not Found on Maps was published by FlowerSong Press in 2022. Her work has been mentioned in the LA Times, Ms. Magazine, and North American Review. She sits on the board for Women Who Submit, and she was recently appointed associate editor for Tía Chucha Press.

Viktoria Valenzuela holds a master of arts degree in English literature. She is the executive director/associate editor at Voices de la Luna Magazine, an inaugural Zoeglossia fellow, and a Macondista and has served as the San Antonio chapter co-lead of Women Who Submit as well as the organizer for 100 Thousand Poets for Change: San Antonio. Valenzuela's poetry and essays have appeared in Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century Anthology (published by Cutthroat, a Journal of the Arts, 2020); We Are Not Your Metaphor: A Disability Poetry Anthology (Squares & Rebels, 2019); Raising Mothers; Mutha Magazine; and CONTRA: Texas Poets Speak Out (FlowerSong Press, 2020). Valenzuela and her husband, poet Vincent Cooper, share six children and live in San Antonio, Texas.

Maya Chinchilla is a Guatemalan, Bay Area-based writer, video artist, educator and author of “The Cha Cha Files: A Chapina Poética.” Maya received her MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College and her undergraduate degree from University of California, Santa Cruz, where she also founded and co-edited the annual publication, La Revista. Maya writes and performs poetry that explores themes of historical memory, heartbreak, tenderness, sexuality, and alternative futures. Her work —sassy, witty, performative, and self-aware— draws on a tradition of truth-telling and poking fun at the wounds we carry.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications) and Incantation: Love Poems for Battle Sites (Mouthfeel Press). A former Steinbeck Fellow and Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner, she’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Jentel, Yefe Nof, and National Parks Arts Foundation in partnership with Gettysburg National Military Park and Poetry Foundation. She teaches poetry and creative writing with Antioch University, MFA and UCLA Extension. Bermejo is the director of Women Who Submit. Inspired by her Chicana identity, she works to cultivate love and comfort in chaotic times.

Roxy Eve (she/they) is a Boricua poet based in New Orleans whose love of poetry began at a young age. As an adult, her writing focuses on themes of lived experience as a Boricua of the diaspora, thriving as a queer femme, and being an eldest daughter of immigrants. Roxy Eve’s poetry is a conversation through the Spanglish lens, always teetering between both Spanish & English but never fully occupying either. She is inspired by the works of Yesika Salgado and Elizabet Velasquez. When she isn’t weaving impassioned words, Roxy Eve makes spirits bright as a wine & hospitality professional.

Anatalia Vallez is a writer, actor and creative alchemist from Orange County, California with roots in Guerrero Mexico. Her work centers around self love, ancestral connections and social justice. She is the author of a poetry collection: The Most Spectacular Mistake (FlowerSong Press, 2020) featured in the LA Times, LibroMobile and KPFK Radio’s Nuestra Voz. Anatalia has also had some of her plays produced including Las Sirenas, a story about student activism and Chicana mermaids. She has a BA in Sociology from UC Berkeley and an MFA in TV Film and Theatre from Cal State LA.

Photos by Fernanda Meier at FernandaMeier.com
In addition to being a photographer, Fernanda Meier is a world traveler, social media maven, culture & content curator, and education evangelist with experience copywriting, DEI & staff development, and digital marketing strategy. Born in Accra, Ghana, Fernanda has lived in New York, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico and now New Orleans, since moving to the United States. She thrives while working remotely as a digital nomad, and creatively incorporates her global adventures into her work while leveraging her diverse experiences and knowledge to best serve her clients' needs.
Fernanda is passionate about social justice, decolonization, environmental conservation, and making the world a better place for future generations.

Monday, April 29, 2024

LitFest in the Dena on May 4 and 5: BOOKS THAT MADE THE NEIGHBORHOOD


Neighborhoods, whether real or fictitious, conventional or boundless, changing for better or worse, bestow an identity; give us a way of seeing things – a way of seeing the world. It’s more than a collection of houses on a network of streets. A neighborhood could be defined as a collection of people with unique experiences, conditions and desires, who together form something bigger and deeply affecting. People who engender powerful stories together.

Join us for two days of FREE author panels and readings at this year’s LitFest in the Dena, Mt. View Mausoleum, 2300 N. Marengo Ave, Altadena, CA 91001. I am delighted to be moderating a panel on Saturday, May 4, and serving as a guest author for the closing panel on Sunday, May 5. Check out the whole schedule of authors here.


LitFest in the Dena takes place at the historic and monumental setting of Mountain View Mausoleum, located at 2300 N. Marengo Avenue in Altadena, CA. Please note: Google this address, as sometimes the cemetery will come up, which is at a different address. Make sure you are going to the Marengo location! There are multiple spots within the Mausoleum for our panels, workshops and readings. Authors and visitors to the festival will be directed by ushers to their specific locations.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Home-Grown Gems: Santa Barbara Poets

 Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate

Flowers for Poets

*An earlier version of this column was published in the Santa Barbara Independent 

National Poetry Month ends with a city college poetry workshop and a reading at the Arlington with National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. However, Santa Barbara poets, myself included, will continue to poet during the coming months. Santa Barbara will host at least four poetry events in May. We are blessed with a vibrant poetry community. At my writing workshop at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, every seat was filled. I was thrilled to see how many people came to spend a couple of hours writing ekphrastic poetry, poetry in response to art. An unlikely couple who attended was Santa Barbara Middle School student, Ellery Green and her mom. Ellery inspired everyone with her poetry and sketching skills. During the workshop, she had time to compose three poems. The future of poetry is safe. 


Another young, local poet, Takunda Chikowero, took to the stage on Saturday at our Poetry in the Parks event. He read his award-winning Earth Day poem. Takunda is in the fourth grade at Isla Vista Elementary and the winner of the 2024 MLKSB Poetry Award. The young student is in the process of writing his first poetry book. What I didn’t mention when I introduced him was that he is the younger brother of Kundai Chikowero, Santa Barbara’s Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador. For six consecutive years, Kundai won the poetry competition at the Martin Luther King Santa Barbara Essay and Poetry Awards program, from 7th through 12th grade. She was mentored by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle. I’ve also worked with her over the years to present her poetry at the MLKSB awards celebration. She was always a natural and needed little coaching. Every year, Takunda would watch his older sister prepare for her award-winning poem at the Arlington Theatre. Now, he is following in her footsteps. It’s a joy to see his progress as a young poet.   


Santa Barbara County is currently searching for its next Youth Poet Laureate. The program was established in 2022 with Madeline Miller serving as the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate and Kundai Chikowero as Youth Poet Ambassador. Applications are due May 20th by midnight PST. Contact yplsbc@gmail.com for more information. 


Another fun poetry connection is with Joshua Alan Richardson (pronouns they/them) who attended my Día de los Muertos Poetry Reading at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art last November. At the time I didn’t know they wrote poetry. Later, when we met again at the Alhecama theatre, where Joshua was the event attendant, they mentioned being a poet. It’s nice to see the various poetry connections around town. When Joshua asked me for advice on how they might get published, I suggested the online submittable site, where you can send in poems to various journals, publishing houses, and contests.They shared some poems with me. This week’s poem and its translation in English comes from Joshua Alan Richardson, who publishes under the pseudonym Criollo. 



Joshua A. Richardson aka Criollo 


Naufragar en el amor

By Criollo


Te sigo buscando

en la playa, la arena

entre cada ola

y en la marea.


Esperaba que ya soñando

en mi mente te hallaría

tal vez en mis fantasías

o despierto por la mañana.


Aún sigo pensando

que en la luz del día

vinieras y me dirías

las palabras que tanto quería

oír de ti la última vez.


Pero ya al no encontrarte

fuera de las ganas

que yo tengo de amarte

en mis mareos

me hundo por mi estupidez.






To Drown in Love

By Criollo


I keep looking for you

on the beach, the sand

between each wave,

and in the tide.


I was hoping that once dreaming

in my mind I would find you

perhaps in my fantasies

or awake in the morning.


I still think

that in the light of day

you would come and tell me

the words that I had wanted so much

to hear from you last time.


But now that I can’t find you

out of the desire

that I have to love you

in my dizziness

I sink for my stupidity.




Criollo is a California-born Salvadoreño. They recently graduated from UCSB with a Bachelor's in Anthropology and a minor in Spanish. Their previous works have been published by UCSF Mission Bay Hospital. They are currently working on a collection of poetry and looking to create comfortable and accessible spaces for Chicanx/Latinx art and literature in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

The Finished Product, in Ritchie Valens' Shadow



Faces of experience, full of surprises

      Life isn’t so cut and dry, black and white, or as clean as we think. Like history, life gets messy, disorganized, not at all as orderly as the books, newspapers, and movies teach us, no matter how much we’d like to believe it, the way I was reminded this past Saturday.

     My friend, Samuel (think of it in Spanish), called a few weeks ago. I hadn’t spoken to him in a long time, years, in fact. We’d been neighbors growing up, he and his brothers. We spent hours together, after school and in summer, often strumming our guitars, learning the newest songs, Sam, the perfectionist, leading the way.

     Sam said he’d talked to another friend, Vic Diaz, now pushing his eighth decade of life, a musician, and musical role model. Sam told me Victor wanted to get together. So, this past Saturday, Sam, his brother George, a close childhood friend, Thom, and I met Victor and his two adult sons at a popular restaurant, La Talpa, I think the oldest on L.A.’s Westside, still cooking up homemade meals, albeit, at 2024 prices.  

     Sawtelle, our hometown, nestled between Santa Monica and Westwood, its eastern edge bordering the now defunct Southern Pacific Railroad, along Sepulveda boulevard, housed Mexicans, Japanese, and refugees from Oklahoma, who worked the fields and developed the land into what would become L.A.’s powerful “Westside.” Today, Sawtelle and neighboring Santa Monica and Culver City are home to major tech and entertainment companies, like Google, Universal, and Sony.

     As kids, we were old enough to see the last farms and vacant lots disappear, our grandparents, and, in Thom’s case, ancestors who go back to the 1780s, provided much of the labor. One thing we all had in common was music. We picked up our first guitars in the 1950s. Victor, Thom, and I had spent a lot of time in bars and nightclubs in the early ‘70’s, playing in bands around town. Victor had been at it even longer, starting out in the late ‘50s, at sixteen, a hopeful follow-up to Ritchie Valens, after the Pacoima’s singer’s tragic death.

     I last saw Victor about fifteen years ago, when I visited him at his home in the San Fernando Valley, where he moved to more fertile ground, and a bigger house, come to think of it, where most of our friends moved after abandoning the “pricy” Westside, except for the few sojourners who headed out to the hinterlands of Santa Clarita, to the north, and Rubidoux, to the south, where the senior citizens homes are adjacent to golf courses.

     George, Thom, and I are still hanging on to the old hunting ground, staking our small claims of land, the 405 having replaced the Southern Pacific back in the 50s. Much in town is still the same, the geography, street names, neighborhoods, and some older structures, but much more has changed, the new modernist architecture, mega-homes and businesses, the people, and, most importantly, the culture, the feeling of smalltown America gone, not unlike Lalo Guerrero’s song “Barrio Viejo,” on the Ry Cooder-produced album, Chavez Ravine.

     Yet, truth be told, our community was never a barrio, not in the strictest sense of the word, just a homey suburb, our friends from different ethnic groups. Oh well, at least the weather is a constant 75 degrees much of the year.

     I have a vague recollection of Sam and I visiting Victor at his parents’ home in our early teens. I think I was barely twelve, after Ritchie Valens death. That was how we measured time. “When did Ritchie die?”

     At sixteen, Victor had signed a record contract with Del-Fi Records, Ritchie’s label. To us, that was a big deal. Ritchie had been like a god. We knew about Del-Fi Records and Bob Keene, its founder, Ritchie’s manager, agent, producer, and mentor. I mean, we were addicted to music.

     There were no record stores in those days anywhere close to home. Department stores had record sections. So, Sam, Thom, and I would jump on the bus and go to Desmond’s, in Westwood, Henchey’s, in Santa Monica, or when we were really adventurous, Wallach’s Music City on Sunset and Vine, in Hollywood, ogling the records and musical instruments, barely having enough money to buy one 45, or an album.

     Of course, we all had Ritchie’s first album, distributed January 1959, and we devoured the liner notes on the back, memorizing every word, especially the magic words, “Ritchie…singing and playing,” repeated a number of times, the words drilled into our young heads. A month later, in February, he was gone. We were crushed. You know when people ask, “Where were you when you learned so-and-so died?”

     With Ritchie, I was outside fetching the morning newspaper for my dad. There it was splattered across the front page, accompanied by photos of the grisly plane crash. My life changed that day, or as Don McClean would say it poetically, "The day the music died."

     I have no idea how I knew Victor, one of the older guys, my cousin’s age, but I did. Maybe it was because I played baseball at the park with his younger brother Tino, or that we’d all gone to the same local schools. I recall Victor had a back room in his parents’ home. He welcomed us with his big smile, a deep dimple on each cheek, and a magnetic personality.

     He sat playing his guitar. On his bed were photos and records, mostly 45s. He showed us his demo record, “For Eternity” and "Your Momma said No," the ones he’d played for Bob Keene. Victor kind of looked like Ritchie, light skin, bright eyes, pompadour haircut, and wide charming smile. So desperate was Keene for another Ritchie, he saddled Vic's first 45 with the name "Vickie" Diaz, a death knell for any serious rocker.

     We’d never lost touch over the years, not completely. I’d ask someone, “You heard from Vic Diaz?” After a few calls, someone would, inevitably have his phone number.

     When I walked in through the front door of La Talpa restaurant, Victor and his sons were coming in through the back. Pushing a walker, as support from an accident and less from old age, Vic had let his hair and beard grow long and white, years ago, so he hadn’t changed much. Under his white Panama hat, he smiled, the familiar dimples brightening his face, turning him, once again, into a sixteen-year-old, the girls, of all ages, hot on his trail.

      When his solo career stalled at the launching pad, Victor, along with two high school friends, Tony Minichello and Manuel Sanchez, in the mid-1960s, formed, first, the Matadors then the Sinners, where they appeared on television each Saturday night as the house band on the dance program Hollywood A-Go-Go.


The Sinners, Manuel Sanchez, Tony Minichello, and Vic Diaz (top)

     The trio settled into playing at various nightclubs in Hollywood, like PJ’s, Ciro’s, Gazzarri’s, and the Rainbow Room, following the Johnny Rivers, Trini Lopez, Pat and Loly Vegas (later AKA Redbone) circuit, but the Sinners never had the one “hit” to crack into the big time. Then, it was over. The Beatles, Eric Clapton, the Doors, and the Buffalo Springfield entered the scene and changed the world of rock.

     With old friends, it takes only minutes before you’re in that time zone where the world melts away, everything that was important an hour ago, now, makes no difference, only the present matters, and if that means moving into the past, for fun or for clarification, so be it. After a quick catch-up chat, we started asking Victor about recording with Bob Keene, Ritchie’s manager, a lot having slipped our minds over the years. His memory as sharp as if it was all yesterday, Vic said when Keene first played his demo, he liked it and wanted to sign him, but Keene needed to talk to Vic’s mom and get her permission. At sixteen, Vic was a minor, and he said he learned quickly, the "industry" was as much about the quick buck as the music.

     We got into discussing the process, the recording. Did Vic have a band when he recorded with Keene? No. He used studio musicians, the same ones Ritchie used, Carol Kaye on bass and guitar, Earl Palmer on drums, and Rene Hall, lead guitarist and arranger. It turns out, self admittedly, Vic wasn’t that great a guitar player. He only knew a handful of chords, but like with Ritchie, Keene was looking for a “character” to promote and not just a musician. Hell, Kaye, Palmer, and Hall, who would later become the Wrecking Crew, master musicians, would back up the Monkeys, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Righteous Brothers, and a host of others. They were the real professionals.

     Victor said, “Rene Hall played lead on a lot of Ritchie’s songs, like “Come on, Let’s Go.” He went on to say that Ritchie was good, better than most guitarists his age, but he was just a kid. In the studio, the professionals made all the musical decisions. The management made all the business decisions. Victor laughed when he saw the lost expression on my face. I asked, dumbfounded, “Ritchie didn’t play lead?”

     I looked over at Thom, a sound musician in his own right, an artist who drew the Lion King for Disney, as well as other characters, nodded, and smiled. “Is that true,” I asked him?

     Thom confirmed it. Rumor has it, Keene and Rene Hall were the brains behind Ritchie’s music. Apparently, when a company is putting up thousands of dollars to record and promote an artist, it doesn’t give artists a lot of leeway, especially a sixteen-year-old. Oh, Ritchie wrote many of his songs, and it was his musical vision the musicians were capturing, but ultimately, it was a collaborative effort. I thought, but what about each time I read in the cover notes on the back of Ritchie's albums, “Ritchie Valens…singing and playing”?

     Vic told us none of it was cut and dry. Recording was often an amalgamation of talent, like with Jan Berry and Dean Torrance (Jan and Dean), who attended Emerson Junior High and University High School with Manuel and Tony. They were in the school club, the Sirs. Vic was the youngest. “Jan paid us $50.00 a session to sing backup on their songs, like Surf City, Dead Man’s Curve, Little Old Lady from Pasadena. Fifty bucks was a lot of money back then.” Turns out there were a lot of takes and other backup singers.

     Vic remembered a piano player out of Oklahoma playing on those early tracks. The name slipped his mind. He described the guy, who made it big in the 70s. Turned out it was a young Leon Russell. Brian Wilson even wrote some of Jan and Dean’s early songs, sometimes arguing who would record what, Wilson wanting to save the best for the Beach Boys. As Vic told it, Jan knew music, was a good arranger, but didn’t have all that great a voice, and often lip-synched when they performed. I guess my mouth dropped again. Vic laughed. “That’s how it worked.”

     When I got back home, I pulled out my old Ritchie Valens albums and turned to the back cover, to see the names of the musicians on the recording. Surprise! No musicians’ names, only Ritchie’s, as if he had done it all. No wonder for all these years I believed, something like, Ritchie went into a studio “played and sang,” which he did, but, to me, my younger self, that meant playing all those really “cool” lead guitar riffs, those I knew in my head, note for note, the ones that inspired Los Lobos David Hidalgo’s guitar leads in the movie, “La Bamba.”

     Since no musicians were listed on the album, I googled the names who played on Ritchie’s albums, never considering there was anyone but Ritchie. Sure enough, just like Victor and Thom said, it was the early version of the Wrecking Crew, much credit given to Rene Hall, but not always. Some Google contributors said, for his age, 17, Ritchie was a good guitar player and most likely played lead on La Bamba; though, some insist it was Carol Kaye's guitar licks on La Bamba. In other words, much is lost, and no one knows for sure who played on what record, except, “Come on let’s go,” definitely, Rene Hall.

     So, what do we know for sure? What’s true in music and in life? I streamed Ritchie playing, “Come on let’s go,” “La Bamba,” and “Ooh, my head.” Man, such good music, real rock 'n roll, before Phil Spector's cellos and violins, and Ritchie’s voice ringing true, the same in all his songs, with passion, teenage angst, and duende (soul). That’s all that matters, I guess, the finished product.    

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Espejos y Ventanas: Reflecting Light & Spirit

By Dr. Kathleen Contreras

Hero.  Super hero.  Living Legend.  Role model.  Humble.  He had all these attributes. 

Why weren’t books written about him?

Children need both mirrors and windows to reflect their own cultural background and allow them to see the light of others.

That was my motivation to research one of L.A. Dodger’s living legends and cultural icons… Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela.  Few adult books talk about Fernando; but yet, no books for children on one of baseball’s most talented and popular ball players could be found.

Why not? 

He was someone who grew up in a humble, yet cozy family home of 12 siblings, himself the youngest. Someone who became a professional athlete in his native Mexico when he was just 16 years young. Someone, who was scouted by the MLB Dodger organization when he was barely 19 years young.  

Someone, who ignited Fernandomania, with his rockstar presence in every ballpark across the country increasing the Latino fan base wherever he pitched.  Someone who won the coveted Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger at the same time. Someone who was part of the winning World Series team. 

That someone, who became a U.S. citizen, a media broadcaster for Dodgers, owner of a Mexican baseball team, and a proud father and abuelo for his familia, deserved a place of honor in the children’s literature archives.

Researching sports articles and documentaries, especially the LA Times docu series titled: “Fernandomnia@ 40”, and speaking to baseball fans, living legends like Spanish broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, and a brief interview with Fernando (he rarely gives interviews); I was ready to write the first biography for children on one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

Fernando, “El Toro” and Fernandomania ignited not only fans, but also lit a fire under other Latin and Asian players to play on America’s baseball fields.  Like the Statue of Liberty, Fernando’s success welcomed everyone to America’s favorite game. Players from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Venezuela, Japan, and Korea all come to play on America’s baseball fields, widening the borders of Major League Baseball.  Now, every team in both National and American leagues has players from around the globe, speaking their native languages and the language of baseball; reflecting the global and multicultural society where we live and love.

Like so many who cross borders, Fernando success straddles both the U.S & Mexico comfortably embodying the American dream.  His story, like our story, deserves a place of honor, for our children.

Tommy Lasorda, legendary Dodger manager, echoes that sentiment: “Fernando’s great for the Dodgers, great for baseball, great for the country—both of them [U.S. & Mexico].  No matter how hard life seems; kids can look up at him and say:  He made it. So can I.”

Someone named Fernando mirrors and reflects the best of America’s favorite sport.

Whatever you call it, béisbol or baseball, Fernando Valenzuela was born to play the game.

There are two editions in English and Spanish: Born to Play Béisbol: The Magical Career of Fernando Valenzuela and Nacido para Jugar Béisbol: La Mágica Carrera de Fernando Valenzuela.  Written by Kathleen Contreras and illustrated by Christian Paniagua. Published on April, 2024. 

Visit me at https://kathleencontreras.com

You can click on this Eventbrite link to order free tickets to this coming book event! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/born-to-play-beisbol-the-magical-career-of-fernando-valenzuela-tickets-884424987947?utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=ebdsshcopyurl

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Summertime is Soup Weather: Climate Change Considerations

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Zuppa al Polpette, Lee's Green Soup

Tipos who say it's too hot to eat soup in summer have not yet learned that a hot soup on a hot day not only hits the spot, hunger-wise, feed a body hot soup on a hot day and the body goes into a cool-down adjustment. I've believed this my entire conscious life, gente, and now, the Google will back me up!

But ni modo on all that. Delicious soup with all those nutrients is exactly what a body needs on a hot summer day. More so on a cold Spring day like we've had lately here in sunny Southern California. So it's always soup weather. And, if you're under the weather, remember folk remedies dictate hot soup for what ails you. 

My grandmother's and mother's people believe caldo de pollo cures everything and what it doesn't fix, it prevents, especially when diners add lots of hot chile.

Memories of Caldo de Pollo

When the Gluten-free Chicano makes the raza panacea--caldo de pollo--he follows his people's simple procedure: boil a chicken, add rice and a few vegetables, serve with lemon and crushed chile piquín. When the occasion calls for fancier fare, The Gluten-free Chicano's thoughts run to Lee's Green Soup, or as his fading memory recalls Lee's name for it, Zuppa al polpette.

Lee Stroud moved next door to my junior high years' Casa Sedano when her husband, the Colonel, transferred to Norton AFB. Lee and mom hit it off. They exchanged recipes, Mexican food for a world-traveler's eclectic recipes. One day I disclosed that I'd recently eaten "pizza pie" for the first time at the drive-in theatre. That was when Lee told us she was Italian from Philadelphia, and what I'd eaten wasn't pizza. Lee made us pizza, from scratch and gave me and Mom a cooking lesson.

Lee's secret rationale: Real pizza takes a lot of work making yeast-rising bread. Not only work, she emphasized, but cheese and meats are expensive. Lee taught us this absolutely delicious caldo that will engage diners into seconds. Guest fill up with soup and when the pizza comes to table, folks eat a single square (because that's all you made) and they're totally satisfied.

It's a winning strategy when soup comes to the table beautifully garnished with a sprinkle of parmesan, aromatic and dimpled with meatballs.

Lee's Green Soup is wonderfully easy to make. Here's the fundamental process.

Make a rich broth.

Earlier in the week, The Gluten-free Chicano roasted a chicken for dinner. He boiled down the carcass with a bouquet of carrots, onions, garlic, celery, and a bay leaf. Removing the particulates left a rich broth of concentrated flavor. With that, start the broth to boil lightly.

Add water sufficient to your need.

Chop vegetables

Add to the boiling broth. The veggies--celery, onion, bell pepper, carrot, garlic--cook crisply fork tender.

Make meatballs

I use a Cusineart to process the carnes. Chop a few dientes of ajo, a medium onion, some parsley. Mix half and half ground beef with pork. Add an egg, a few pinches of grated dried parmesan cheese, a handful of gluten-free bread crumbs (or a couple Tbs of rice), coarsely ground black pepper, salt.

Wash hands well, leave them wet to make forming the meatballs easier. Hand-form meatballs. I make 2" albondigas that diners cut with their spoon. Lee's cost-sensible strategy featured 1" meatballs that fit a spoon. Plan on two or three meatballs per bowl.

Plop the meat into the water and increase the flame.

Add spinach

Break apart a package of chopped spinach as you stir it into the water. Boil. When all the meatballs float to the surface, they're probably done. The soup can simmer a long time if it's the fourth quarter and Plunkett is driving to a winning touchdown.

When the meatballs, and you, are ready to serve, stir in gluten-free rice noodles and call gente to table. The noodles won't require more than five minutes or so, to become al dente.

Prepare rice noodles

Lee Stroud served narrow egg noodles. The Gluten-free Chicano uses rice noodles from the Asian/Thai section at well-stocked supermarkets. "Pad Thai" noodles come in a box and need not be cut or further processed.

Rice noodles come in tightly-wrapped coils of hard, long strips of noodle. I find the noodles easier to cook and eat if I open one end of the cellophane package and use scissors to cut the bundled noodles along the fold.

Pull the noodles out of the wrapping above the boiling pot and let them float onto the surface. Stir them into the broth. Continue boiling until all the noodles are in the bottom and have grown elastic and translucently al dente.

Garnish with hot chile flakes

If the noodles absorbed too much broth, stir in some water. This chicken soup has a rich parmesan flavor that you can enhance with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese across the surface and a helping of crushed chile. A squeeze of limon helps but is not at all necessary.

Serve the soup all by itself. If you have a gluten-free breadlike substance, butter it up, load it with chunks of chopped garlic, dust with parmesan and paprika, broil until deep brown.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Comentario al libro _Corazón de agua, Heart of Water_ por Carlos Cumpián

Comentario al libro _Corazón de agua, Heart of Water_ por Carlos Cumpián


Corazón de agua / Heart of Water de Xánath Caraza

(Somos en Escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2024)

Traducido al inglés por Sandra Kingery

ISBN: 979-8-9902068-2-3


Multilingual poet professor Xánath Caraza’s new English and Spanish bilingual collection Corazón de Agua, Heart of Water provides readers with her intimate sensorial observations in crisp elemental language expressed in mainly free-verse. She captures cataloging almost-haiku like topographical cycles of nature parallel to our human hearts’ emotional fields of contraction and expansion. Close readers will also discover there’s a bold face type contrapuntal poem interwoven in each poem.


There are undercurrent references of what has become our modern plague’s “lockdown” appearing interwoven with strong seasonal biological and ecological cycles as in her poem The “Origin of My Blood”, “…furrows are formed on my skin as black tears slide down. Distance is more painful with this unexpected pandemic” doing so while cognizant of our society’s interdependence on people doing their jobs which Caraza celebrates and has concern for as in the poem Raven, “I think of those who travel on the metro every day, without masks, without distance between them, without knowing what they will become.”


I found Caraza’s new poems reminiscent of ecological-minded poets like Diana de Prima’s early work on the natural world as well as Gary Snyder’s mindfulness love of Nature rooted in Zen practice which she suggests in lines like in her title poem, “I stir a memory to let it go. When invoked, it vanishes. I add the sighs provoked by the mares that gallop on the prairies. I imbibe the bright green, brilliant daybreak, heart of water.”


Corazón de agua / Heart of Water de Xánath Caraza

(Somos en Escrito Literary Foundation Press, 2024)

Traducido al inglés por Sandra Kingery

ISBN: 979-8-9902068-2-3


El poemario más reciente de Xánath Caraza, una colección bilingüe en español e inglés, Corazón de agua, Heart of Water, brinda al lector observaciones sensoriales íntimas con un lenguaje nítido expresado principalmente en verso libre que la poeta captura al catalogar, casi a manera de haiku, ciclos topográficos de la naturaleza similares a la contracción y extensión emocional del corazón humano. Los lectores atentos también descubrirán que hay un poema en negritas, a contrapunto, entretejido en cada uno de los poemas.


Hay referencias subyacentes, a lo que se ha convertido el “Confinamiento” de nuestra plaga moderna, vinculadas a fuertes ciclos biológicos y ecológicos, como en su poema “El origen de mi sangre”, “…se forman surcos en la piel / al deslizarse lágrimas negras. / Duele más la distancia / con esta inesperada pandemia”, mientras, es consciente de la interdependencia de la sociedad con el trabajo que la gente hace, lo que Caraza celebra y le preocupa como en el poema “Cuervo”, “…pienso en los que viajan en los metros / cada día, sin máscaras, sin distancia / entre ellos sin saber en lo que / se transformarán”.


Descubro reminiscencias de eco poesía en el nuevo poemario de Caraza, como en los primeros trabajos de Diana de Prima sobre el mundo natural; así mismo encuentro el amor intencional a la naturaleza originado en la práctica Zen, de Gary Snyder, que la poeta sugiere en los versos de su poema “Elíxir”, “…Revuelvo un recuerdo / para dejarlo ir. / Al invocarlo se esfuma. / Agrego los suspiros / provocados por las yeguas / que galopan en las praderas. / Bebo el verde esmeralda, / brillante amanecer, / corazón de agua”.


Carlos Cumpián

Autor de Human Cicada (Prickly Pear Publishing)