Monday, February 11, 2008


What? Were we at a conference last week?

Fish and I gettin' professional.

Well, yes, but I think it was more profound than simply saying I went to AWP! and got to hobnob with people. Truthfully, I didn't get to see a lot of it, certainly not as much as I did last year in Atlanta. But here I am, a full week after the fact, and I am still reeling from the experience.

A rundown.


Not an official conference day. Who cares? Javier Huerta read with Marina Garcia-Vasquez up at Acentos. I am able to catch the tail end of the show, break bread with new friends from Achiote Press (Craig Perez and Jennifer Reimer), and enjoy some friends and nachos. Fish, my partner in crime, is holding court as usual. John is doing his usual bang-up hosting job. Maria is keeping the score and the meter. Afterwards, John tells me it was fun. I'm feeling good so far. Fish and I are nervous but excited about the rest of the week.


Saw almost none of the conference itself, but got to see Francisco Aragon, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and Elena Minor holding it down at the bookfair. Ran into a million people, many of whom I was glad to see. And that was pretty much it, except that I was struck by the size and placement of the Poetry Foundation booth. The experience was: You walk into a resplendent Hilton off 6th Avenue, get directed to the escalator by uniformed security, go up the escalator, read a million signs that say "AWP," and "sold out," pick up your badge from your designated desk, and then march straight into the arms of Ruth Lilly. Que cosa.

That night, we honored Tato Laviera and Sandra Maria Esteves at Con Tinta's annual AWP dinner and get-together. I'd heard tell of these parties before, heard and seen some of their honorees, but actually getting to see one up close, I understood in a very personal way just what kind of potential Acentos has. We are, at our heart, a group of friends that runs a reading series. Anyone can do that. But the buzz in the room on Thursday was that of a true community, a familia of poets of different ethnicities and cultural niches, but all of whom share a common language—many languages, actually. And we share them within barrios and histories that carry over into rich and highly varied poetic experiences. We hear poems, we write poems, we sing them out and break them on the page. This is a familia that stretches across the country, one that should be nurtured, praised, and added to. I have to thank Con Tinta for helping us see what is possible.

Humbling moment #1: Listening to Sandra Maria Esteves describe Acentos in detail to a roomful of our compatriotas, telling us of our responsibilities in recognizing our literature as valid, and not waiting for the dominant culture to do it. That we were well on our way, that our future was bright. The next day, she gave us a copy of the speech on a piece of parchment paper. Frameable. Indeed. The first of many bouts of weeping ensues.

What a party. What a prelude...


At ten a.m., I am struck with a case of the nervous nellies the likes of which I don't think I'll feel again for a long time. It is a panel presentation on Acentos: our impact, our history, and our plans for the future. I mean, it's one thing to think it, to conceptualize. Another thing entirely to stand up and speak it. Which we do.

When I say "we" in reference to Acentos, I'm referring to an amazing group of poets who have contributed mightily to the series during the last five years, whether as curators, organizers, friends, or co-conspirators behind the scenes in the last year or so as we've contemplated some new projects. The reading series has blossomed into an entity called the Acentos Foundation...small, to be sure, but plucky as hell.

The people pictured above with Fish and I are three of the people we've entrusted to help us out: John Rodriguez, a poet and teacher from the Bronx; Aracelis Girmay, Cali poet and teacher and the author of this year's Teeth; and Raina Leon, poet and teacher orginally from Philly. Not pictured, but part of the team: Maria Nieves, John Murillo, Urayoan Noel, Eliel Lucero, and Ray Medina.

Humbling Moment #2: John says during our panel, "...if your land is stolen, if your language is lost, if your history is denied, if your name is swallowed, if your family is ejected, if your god is banned, if your father leaves, you learn that nothing is as important as what is gone...Acentos honors this sense/absence of literary family and evolves the urge to write and speak ourselves into existence/continuance."


Here are the initiatives we talked about. Some of you should take note.

--Acentos will be starting an online literary review for Latino/a writers and artists. We are accepting poetry, fiction, book reviews, interviews, and photography. Guidelines can be found right here. The review period starts up on February 15th. Inquiries:

--We will be accepting submissions for a new anthology of teaching Latino poetry. Details and guidelines forthcoming.

--We will start up a series of workshops at the grassroots level to support young writers of Latino/a descent in our home borough of the Bronx. Aiming to start in the Fall.

--Lastly, we are working toward the creation of a yearly workshop and retreat for poets of Latino/a descent, in the mold of Cave Canem and Kundiman. Target date: Summer of 2009.

We do well at the panel. We answer questions, we make friends, we weep a little more. Martin Espada shows up to support us, which is huge and humbling and a little unreal. And the day wasn't done yet.

We'd been planning for this reading up at Hunter College for quite a while. But there's always the dread of disaster, of no one showing up, of a big idea gone bust. We had no idea this awaited us:

Better than 200 people, maybe more, came by to celebrate with each other, laugh, cry, and generally enjoy the most amazing group of Latino and Latina poets to come together in a long time. For the curious: yes, it was recorded; yes, there are many many pictures; yes, it will be archived at the blog and in other places. Keep your eyes peeled.

Personal highlights:

-- Raina Leon's moving poem about her brother, who was beaten on a football field at age 10 for being Black and Latino.

-- Jose Gonzales' "brown" poem.

-- Rodrigo Toscano, who baffled some and thrilled others. Avant-garde? Si se puede!

-- Eliel Lucero, dropping something brand new and rather good, after a long drought in his writing.

--Brenda Cardenas and Suzanne Frischkorn, and images that can turn a line like nobody's business.

-- Trying to follow Sandra Garcia Rivera's "That Kiss."

-- Willie Perdomo's line: "What the fuck is a vosotros?"

-- Humbling Moment #3: Hearing the warm and sincere applause at the end, in recognition of an amazing shared moment, a time that will stand out in my mind forever. To that end, I must offer my sincerest thanks to the following people, some of whom I met for the first time:

From L-R: Louis Reyes Rivera, Raquel Rivera, Emily Perez, Urayoan Noel, Elena Minor, Sheryl Luna, Roberto Tejada, Xochiquetzal Candelaria, Blas Falconer, Diana Marie Delgado, Rodrigo Toscano, Sandra Garcia Rivera, Suzanne Frischkorn, Rosa Alcala, Francisco Aragon, Javier Huerta, Eduardo Corral, Fishie, Peter Ramos, Sandra Maria Esteves, Mundo Rivera, Raina Leon, Maria Nieves, Eliel Lucero, Rafael Campo, Martin Espada, Jose Gonzales, Brenda Cardenas, Willie Perdomo, and Aracelis Girmay. (not pictured: Edwin Torres)

I surely hope I didn't forget anyone, but let me know if I did.

Bueno. This was my AWP. I wasn't lucky(?) enough to sit in on any panels on post-avant-garde poetics, nor did I get to fight people from the audience about alternative careers within the MFA world. But I did get to sit for most of the day on Friday at Con Tinta's table, break bread with Latin@ brethren and sistren from across the country, and put a cap on something amazing that got its start five years ago, that is breathing brand new things five years later. I'm looking forward to what's next.

If you were with us last week: thank you, thank you, thank you.


Oh, by the way. Here's what's next:

Tuesday, February 12th @ 7pm
Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase
Uptown's Best Open Mic and Featured Poet
Marie Elizabeth Mali

Marie-Elizabeth Mali was born in New York City of Venezuelan-American and Swedish parents and grew up tri-lingual. A licensed acupuncturist formerly in private practice in New York, she is an MFA candidate in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently translating poetry by the Venezuelan writer Yolanda Pantin. Her work has appeared in the online journals 2River View and Spindle and is forthcoming in Calyx.

The Bruckner Bar and Grill
One Bruckner Blvd. (corner of Third Ave. and Bruckner Blvd.)
6 Train to 138th Street Station
Hosted by John Rodriguez
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