There's a story being told that I can't repeat here, involving a cruise up the Hudson, a gun, and every jazz musician you never met but probably should. The boys in the band tell jokes and rib each other all night. There is poetry and music, bass, guitar, and drums. And in the corners of the place: poets, all friends of mine, and a couple of legends chillin on stage and in the cut. To boot: the place is filled.
Deep in my jazz geek soul, I've dreamed about a night like this. On Tuesday night at Acentos, I got my dream on a silver platter. I have to hand it to Americo Casiano, the man puts on a good show. It helps that he has some serious backup: Andy Gonzalez (one of my all-time favorites) on bass, Phoenix Rivera on drums, and the great Edgardo Miranda on guitar. Wendy Rossi-Fernandez and Jacqueline Flowers were fantastic on vocals. The meat of the evening was the poetry, and Americo served up some gems. And of course, dropping Tato Laviera in the midst of a Latin jazz conjunto is like dropping the last quarter in the washing machine. You know the shit is gonna move.
It's always a wonderful thing to see musicians and poets move in time to each other. I loved that about synonymUS, still love it, wish I could wrap my hands around it. But I think the reason that Americo's NuyoRican School does so well is that these guys all know each other, some practically all their lives, and they breathe rhythm in and out like oxygen. I miss that sometimes. In my somewhat-imposed hermitdom, I've missed the energy of having friends and fellow artists to feed from and bounce off. I get that at Acentos still, and I'm grateful for it. But my inner bohemian misses waking up in a strange apartment, watching how the light plays off the building next door. The living of it.
Ah, living for it. That's the measure of the artist. How much do you live for it? Certainly, one does not have to live the bohemian lifestyle. (Truthfully, it does get old.) But it's really easy, and sometimes necessary, to concentrate on the outside factors surrounding one's art. Paying rent is a bitch, and you can't write poems without paying the light bill. The artist must always ask why. Why take the teaching job? Why go to school? Why do fifty gigs a month? Life, we hope, is about....something. We could choose to live in caves, but we don't. We create things. We fight. We argue about beauty, culture, politics, mathematics, line, structure. Why? Because someone has to. The world isn't simply about war and peace, and thank God for that. We live for art, and that's a beautiful thing. I don't want to forget that.
Nights like last Tuesday serve to remind me that I prefer my artist life to cave dwelling. Besides, even the ones who lived in caves spent most of their days painting in them.
2. Poesia...con DIENTES!
I spend a lot of time talking about Acentos, and that's okay, because I think we're doing good things with the series. It does not happen without effort. That is, the host and the organizers actively making a venue pop, building community, that sort of thing. But then, it happens that once in a while, all we have to do is be there, and let the something that comes in the door simply be something wonderful.
Such is the case with the next date on the calendar. On June 12th, Acentos will throw a book release party for Teeth, the new collection by Aracelis Girmay. I just had the pleasure of speaking with her about it, and she has planned herself such an amazing event that all I really have to do is tell people to show up.
Guest readers include Ellen Hagen, Ross Gay, Patrick Rosal, Samantha Thornhill, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, John Murillo, Dante Micheaux, Marcus Jackson, a handful of her amazing students, and I'm reading one as well. And to top it off, she will be introduced by the poet who wrote her foreword, Martín Espada.
I can't imagine plotting a better night if I'd sat and agonized over the lineup for weeks. Ara did it just by asking some of her favorite people to read. Gee, what a novel concept. I am so psyched about this night, I could just burst.
Oh yeah. You should come, and you should come buy the book. Yes, you.
3. Mr. Murillo's Neighborhood
Shouts of joy, praise, hallelujah, hosanna, and hells yeah son for homeboy, poet, and all-around good human being John Murillo. Big news in the life: Aside from the fresh "Alabanza" tatt down his forearm, he recently graduated from NYU with his MFA in poetry. Not only that, but he beat out some stiff competition for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. So now, he's legit. (If you look closely, you can see the sarcasm dripping off the end of that line.)
Is Provincetown ready for THIS?
Methinks, not anymore than they were ready for the two Puerto Ricans in Western Massachusetts.
Which is to say, paraphrasing Cornelius Eady, mad love to the clubhouse, y'all.
4. Updates on the Rich
Projects. Let's see. I am working on a piece for Lisa Alvarado which may raise some temperatures, which is always good. I am FINALLY working on putting a manuscript of my own together. Still making preparations for the MFA (read: I'm reading the two books Mr. Nurkse suggested). Waiting patiently for the return of the lady. I've been writing my ass off in Patricia Smith's Cave Canem workshop. And...that's actually about it for now.
Well, okay, actually, I have a reading or two:
This Sunday, May 27th, I have a guest appearance with the incomparable guitarist Eliane at the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. I'll be a reading a poem called "Reflections of Corcovado" along with the band. It starts at 8pm, $10 cover, and her band is all kinds of fly. 2 sets. Brazilian jazz flavor, you know you love it!
Thursday, June 7th. The aforementioned Cave Canem workshop, a persona poem workshop led by Patricia Smith, has a final reading at Poets House. 72 Spring Street. 7pm. Free shit is good shit.
I also have a reading in December, but I'll tell you about that one later.
That's it, kids. Paz, amor, cariño, and pernil...