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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Alabanza for Martin Espada

There are poetry readings, and then there is a Martin Espada poetry reading. From the moment he took the podium (he started off with a joke about being cited for jaywalking in downtown Seattle), he had me.

He introduced himself as a guy who grew up in the projects of East Brooklyn. He told us about his father, a soldier turned civil rights activist, a photographer, a revolutionary.

He read a poem about Tito Puente, the Puerto Rican musician who brought mambo to the general public.

He shared his idea for a cockroach coffee table book ("a Republican National Convention of Roaches! An Indianapolis 500 of roaches!").

He read a hilarious poem titled "Thanksgiving" about the first time he met his cannon-possessing, culturally clueless, Yankee in-laws in Connecticut.

He talked about Chile and Pinochet's evil regime ("If you want to know how torture worked, all you have to do is look to Chile . . .")

He read a poem about returning to his childhood projects building in E. Brooklyn, and true to Frost's dictum about surprises, it ends up being an anti-war poem.

"Poetry makes nothing happen? That only applies to poets whose work makes nothing happen."

"The poets I respect most are the poet spies, the ones who bear witness. Neruda was a poet spy, and so was Whitman. They bear witness and testify."

His swan song to Neruda during the Q&A was worth the price of admission.

And in his signature booming barotone, he belted out "Alabanza," his opus about the "army of shadows" who worked atop the World Trade Center at The Windows on the World Restaurant.

I went home energized and found a short interview of him on YouTube. Watching and listening, tears streamed down my face as I learned about Victor Jaba, Chile's version of our Woody Guthrie, tortured and gunned down by militants during the 1973 American-backed coup.

We need to know about the stuff Martin is writing about. We all need to share a little more about where we come from, who our ancestors are (or who they might have been). We need to share what has hurt us and what has made us stronger, with particulars, with language that leaps, that explodes from the page. Not rhetoric and abstractions, but with images and music. With passion.

Obama, you put one on the Supreme Court; why not make a Puerto Rican the United States Poet Laureate? If anyone qualifies for that position--a true poet of the people--it's Martin Espada.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Switched ON!

Co-editors Roberta Feins & Linda Malnack bring us another issue of Switched-on Gutenberg. University of Washington professor Jana Harris's brain child, the aptly named Switched-on reigns in its 14th year of publication with Issue 15: Gains & Losses.

These poems speak to and about the Great Crash of 2009, or don't speak of it, as in the case of Barbara Crooker's "The Stock Market Loses Fluidity," where what's liquid is "this sunlight pouring down / from the west, from the great glass jar of the sky," and where "the bear's fat layer is its IRA."

Each poet interprets the theme in her/his own way, as in Kristin Roedell's "Fifteen and Fifty," where the "unending rooms" of adolescence dwindle down to "the last room, this one" as middle-age looms, and Nick Lantz's humorously ruthless parody of a Rumsfeld press conference:

I look out and I see too many
people and too few, which is a different
way of saying
the same thing, which is a way
of saying I’m tired
of saying the same thing, which is a way
of saying I find no evidence
of change, which is a way
of saying that even
decline can be a kind of steadiness.

It's a wonderful time in our history to pick up a book of poems, but if you want to join in the effort to cut back on clear cutting, as well as reduce your own consumption, let us go then, you and I, to the logical outcome of Gutenberg's wildest dreams.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Way, The World, The Wendell Weeds

Mom sends me an email: Got a new doctor his name is Wendell Weed. Great name to put in a poem, yes? I'm sitting at my desk at work, having just leafed through a course notebook to double check an assignment, one of my poems on the back ("Ten Days in Arkansas") because, in my care for the planet's limited resources, I always run paper through my printer twice.

I write her back. Actually, mom, I've already written a poem with Wendell Weed in it. I found his name on a gravestone in that cemetery on Mission. I've got the poem right here. Maybe you should ask Dr. Weed if he's a descendent?

I get home from work to this email from my mom: So here's how it went with Dr. Weed: Dr. Wendell Weed, your name is one that should be in a poem. He says, I've often wished that someone would put me in a poem; actually my middle name also begins with a W--WEELER. Me, WOW! so it's all those w's! I must tell my daughter in Seattle.

And she did tell me. He is Wendell Weed the 3rd, and he lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Wendell Weed on the gravestone is his father.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Valparaiso Poetry Review: 10th Anniversary Issue

I am thrilled beyond measure to have a poem in the most gorgeous online magazine out there. Who needs to cut down trees!? Edward Byrne has it going ON! I DO judge a magazine by its cover, and this cover rocks my world. So do poems by Diane Lockward, Daisy Fried, David Kirby, Patricia Fargnoli, Margot Schilpp, Alison Joseph, and Floyd Skloot, to name a few. I love how easy it is to navigate from poem to poem, savoring all the delectables. O c'mon, you're not that busy. Take a few minutes and see what I'm talking about.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thinking About Assemblage

Joseph Cornell
Robert Rauschenberg
This is called "Assemblage #1" and it's by Bruce Gray. Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell: I've loved their work since I was a teenager. I went to a Cornell retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art when I was 18. I brought a friend from college to share with her some of my favorite boxes (I loved the ones with birds the best). She had trouble getting what the point was, but my sister, the art student, had luckily clued me in, so I didn't have to ask questions like "but is this art?"

Sometimes I love nothing more than assembling random objects in my poems. I hadn't made this connection before--I mean, I knew I sometimes liked to make poems where I worked hard to not have images "match" or feed off each other--but I hadn't made the connection between my love of Cornell and Rauschenberg, and the kind of poems I write.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

P.S. Pony Pike

I forgot to mention!! Minutes after I returned home from my NYC trip, the Pony Bike landed (unassembled) on our front porch. I bravely opened the box and began gathering up the tools to try to put it together, but within two minutes I was completely flummoxed by the directions (why are assemblage directions always so difficult to decipher?). Luckily, Love of My Life was in the wings, ready to grab the wrench out of my hand. He had it assembled in less time than even the unlikely customer-review estimation of 30 minutes, including the backpack and the training wheels.

And so . . . the girl, at long last, has a bike.