Saturday, November 22, 2014



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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Hangover, 2014 Edition. Or: Gerrymandering and You. Or: Why My Non-Voting Friends Are Smarter Than Me.

I'm gonna tell you a story, then I'm gonna tell you how I voted. 

After this is done, I'm going to need everyone to stop badgering people for NOT voting. It'll be long, but it'll be worth it.

Have you ever wondered why the House of Representatives has 435 members? It's not a magic number. It was a number arrived at via legislation. The Constitution requires Congress to apportion Representatives according to each state's population (counted every 10 years in the census), and they did precisely that until 1913, when the number was fixed at 435. That number was made permanent in 1929.

I don't need to tell you (or maybe I do?) that when it comes to counting bodies in this nation, we have had...well, a hard time. Chief among the reasons for the 1929 law was the concern that states with cities in them (i.e. large urban populations) would out-proportion and out-balance states that were rural. 

Do I need to tell you who inhabited the cities in increasing numbers in 1929? Do I need to remind you what kind of atmosphere this nation presented for our citizens of color in 1929? 

The Constitution provided little guidance as to how to proportion Representatives, except for two major provisions: 1) that the number could not exceed one Representative for every 30,000 citizens, AND, 2) we could only count 3/5 of the slave population of a given state. We've given up on even approaching 30,000 citizens per Representative. The 14th Amendment (1865) now requires us to count every citizen equally in the census. But, if you think we've quit thinking about race as we apportion legislators, I heartily welcome you to Fantasyland.

In New York State, where I live, the process of gerrymandering is alive and well. Every 10 years, the states are subject to a mathematical formula to determine how many House seats they receive out of the available, set-by-law, 435 seats. Gerrymandering is the process by which a party in power draws the district boundaries to consolidate their party's power. In a two-party system, it's a pretty effective way to guarantee that a desirable Representative stays in his seat for a long time. In practice, district lines have been drawn in a way to maintain separate constituencies based on race, class, ethnicity...and socioeconomic status, of course. Rich people don't mix with the brokeasses, and such.

I need for you all to understand exactly where you are living. I need for you all to realize that we have literally been reduced to a situation in which people select colors (red and blue), and listen to well-paid and corporate-funded experts, to tell us--NOT what to vote for, but how the people in this system EXPECT YOU TO VOTE. And I need you to understand that the system you're voting into is largely rigged. And it's been that way since the founding of the Republic. 

If you watched CNN last night (I did), you received a treatise on political strategy. Not actual politics, mind you. Every person on the network panels has bought into the mentality that created the current, permanent condition of the House of Representatives, and the local legislatures, and the White House. The anger on "the issues" could only be discussed in context with who and why is holding power. The voices of people like you and me, who are drowning in bills and suffering the hangover of a nation built on separating people, are lost. 

Obamacare sucks not because the idea is bad, but because an industry, and the money it pours into this beast, could not, at any cost, be inconvenienced in its implementation. So, in order to express its discontent, an electorate was forced by habit into choosing the Other. That's not democracy. That's robotics. And if you think it doesn't work the other way around, consider that in order to vote out a warmongering party, liberals were forced to vote in another warmongering party, twice.

As for New York's gerrymandering habit, Governor Cuomo has come out hard against it. He's outraged, and he put a measure on the ballot to change things, in the only place he felt he could: within his own state. Legislators can't be trusted to redraw their own districts every ten years. So he proposes a solution.

Instead of state legislators choosing districts, an independent committee will draw them. That committee will be chosen by—state legislators. Half from the Red Party, and half from the Blue Party.


Despite the logical sense it made for me NOT to participate in this farce, I actually voted yesterday. I voted Green. Another unfortunate color choice, but at least this is the unrepentant socialist color choice. I was one of 1000 people in my county who did this. And I'll do it again.

But, for those of you who did not vote, you will receive no judgment from me. I get your frustration. The only thing I'll say is, you should learn to articulate your frustrations. Get educated. Get pissed. Understand where you live, and shake some shit up with your precisely worded dissent.

The rest of you, who are currently badgering the non-voters and shouting down the Republican Party, I'm really gonna need you to shut up. Because, really, who did you show up for? Do you really feel GOOD about who you voted for? Do you actually think any of these candidates are willing to shake this system to its core? If you believe they will, call into CNN and let the panel know, since they now speak for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Buy the book!

To the right, you will find a link to purchase my first book, COMPREHENDING FOREVER...while the supplies in my possession last...

$20 gets you a personalized signed copy shipped and delivered to your door. Get at me!



In the spirit of Neruda, Comprehending Forever becomes that initial kiss we never forget accompanied by an aubade underneath a full moon. From collected raindrops off the skin, to the smells of Bustelo percolating at dawn, and bay of Luquillo, Villar reminds and redefines the essential beauty of why and how we need love.

~Luivette Resto, author of Unfinished Portrait and Ascension

Reading this book is like listening to those last few notes of an Al Green slow jam. Known widely for his ferocious and incisive political poems, here Villar turns his gaze toward the politics and pains of romantic love. In this debut collection, the battle rhymer turns soul singer. And damn if he doesn't work it out!

~John Murillo, author of Up Jump the Boogie

Rich Villar’s first book is a lyrical collection of love poems, and a great deal more. There are echoes here of Lorca and early Neruda, surreal, ecstatic, sensual, electrically charged. The poet not only praises his beloved; he celebrates the world around him, from Bustelo to the bossa nova, from the Triborough Bridge to Luquillo beach. The title poem is a tour de force, as Villar transcends a history of brutality and grief to find redemption and healing in the embrace of another human being. In the words of Whitman: This indeed is music!

~Martín Espada, author of The Republic of Poetry

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fall Workshop Schedule: La Sopa NYC, Capicu Culture/Boricua College


This Fall, I'll be at Boricua College teaching a workshop for La Sopa NYC, Capicu Culture's School of Poetic Arts, alongside Keith Roach (performance).

The workshops run from October 4th through November 8th.

$100 for one workshop or $150 for two. You can view course descriptions and sign up for a workshop by going to the link below:


The Sacred Word: Poetry, Clarity, and Spellcasting in a World of Sound
with Rich Villar

La SoPA NYC cites certain progressive movements as the basis for its mission: namely, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat Poets, the Black Arts Movement, and the Nuyorican Movement. In this workshop, we will look at the writers, poets, and literature of these historical moments, as well as their origins; where these movements intersect; and how they have played into the development of contemporary poetry. With this history as our framework, we will generate new poems with concrete intention and clarity, and look at our present poems in a historical context—both as writers and as citizens of an increasingly complex world.  We will explore how sound and lineation interact on the page and in your performances. We will look at ways to edit and prepare your work for presentation in multiple venues (theatrical, literary, and in between). We will discuss our identities as poets in the wider literary world, and what these identities imply. And we will discuss the "absurd" notion that we bees actual, real-life wizards—capable of poetry, spellcasting, destruction, and creation.

(The title of this workshop is taken from the poem "Ka'Ba," by Amiri Baraka.)

Where's My Dramaturgy?
with Keith Roach

Performance in many considerations, from how a poem is presented on the page to the act of reading, or reciting the poem to an audience. A look at the history of slam or performance poetry in NYC and the US of A with the aim of exposing students to the possibilities inherent in their own work and approach to presenting their work. The aim of the class is to have participants prepared to present their poetry in feature readings as well as and/or presentation on the page. Reading off the paper & Reading from memory. What is easy and not so easy regarding each format. The joys and perils of editing, both the writing and the reciting. Recording performances and critiquing them as a group activity. Finally, “where's my dramaturgy?” How to prepare for a feature reading/ performance.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Immense Suggestion, June 15-August 3.

The Immense Suggestion: Claiming Poet as Your Master Status
An Eight-Week Poetry Workshop at La Casa Azul Bookstore

June 15-August 3, 2014

Creole wasn't trying any longer to get Sonny in the water. He was wishing him Godspeed. Then he stepped back, very slowly, filling the air with the immense suggestion that Sonny speak for himself.

-James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues

The term "master status" is defined in sociology as the primary character identity of a given individual, an identity that pervades and influences all other characteristics. It's the capital letter at the beginning of words like Mother, Father, Philosopher, Historian, Teacher, Laborer; to name a few. Most of us learn, eventually, that we must possess several master statuses at once, if we are to survive in this time.

For eight weeks at La Casa Azul, we will cultivate the master status of Poet. We will discuss the various ways in which the title Poet has changed (and not changed) over the centuries, the development of the different genres of writing (and how they relate), and the different ways in which we claim the title Poet today. We will analyze how home, place, influence, education, and other factors affect the way we claim our poetic selves, in relation to our other selves. We will also look at the unique activist/truthtelling role of the Poet in society at large.

You will develop the language you need to describe your individual voice. You will use the poetic forms you already possess (even if you think you didn't) to stretch that voice. And you will write toward the beginnings of a manuscript: ten new pages (at least) of well-crafted poems. We'll meet every Sunday from June 15th-August 3rd, and each participant will have a one-on-one session with me.

We'll also look at the ways we distribute our work, and how to present our poems in professionally performed or published forms.

At the end of the eight weeks, you will have the opportunity to share what you've written with an audience at La Casa Azul Bookstore. And you will go forward knowing what a Poet's mission is, knowing a new way of seeing the world. With the immense suggestion, of course, that you speak--both for yourself and for the world you want to see.

(Plus, if you know me: there may be just a little tomfoolery during the workshop. :-) It can't be ALL serious, can it?)

To sign up for the workshop, please send five to ten (5-10) pages of poems (10 poems maximum), along with two paragraphs on 1) how you came to poetry, and 2) what expect to glean from your time with the group. Send these asap to

Seating will be limited, so don't wait!

$300 for 8 sessions.

The PayPal link at the right of this page can be used to pay. If you need a payment plan, email me.

EMAIL ALL SUBMISSIONS AND QUESTIONS with the subject line "Immense Suggestion" to

Rich Villar is the author of Comprehending Forever (Willow Books, 2014). He has been quoted on Latino literature and culture by both The New York Times and the Daily News, and his poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Renaissance Noire, Hanging Loose, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sou'wester. He is a co-founder of Acentos, a grassroots project fostering audiences for Latino/a literature.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Comprehending Forever Book Tour Dates


I'm going out on tour in support of my new (and first!) book, Comprehending Forever. I would love to see any and all of you there!

The tour has a really simple and compact title:


April 4th--Wildwood Writers' Festival, Harrisburg, PA

April 5th--Big Blue Marble Books, Philadelphia, PA (with Edward Garcia, F. Omar Telan, Yolanda Wisher, Patrick Rosal, Shane Book, and Raina Leon)

April 6th--Hoboken Art Museum, Hoboken, NJ. SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW (JERSEY): A Tribute to New Jersey Poets (with Danny Shot, Mary Rizzo, Reg E. Gaines, Joan Cusack Handler, Vivian Demuth, Eliot Katz, Herschel Silverman, Cat Doty, Alicia Ostriker, and Teresa Carson)

April 10th--Howard University, Washington, DC (with Ekere Tallie and Bonafide Rojas)

April 16th--Palabra Pura, Roberto Clemente High School, Chicago, IL (with Laurie Ann Guerrero and Eduardo Arocho)

April 17th--Northwestern University, Chicago, IL (with Laurie Ann Guerrero)

April 18th--Africaribe Cafe, Chicago, IL (with Johanny Vasquez Paz and Luis Tubens)

April 24th--CUNY-College of Staten Island, Staten Island, NYC

May 4th--Harlem Arts Salon, Harlem, NYC (with Willie Perdomo and Ekere Tallie)

May 9th--Nine on the Ninth, Busboys and Poets (14th and V Street), Washington, DC

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Book, The Rumpus, and Some Thoughts on Amiri Baraka

My original intention for returning to this blog was to point you to my interview at The Rumpus and to tell you that my first book, COMPREHENDING FOREVER, will soon be available through Willow Books.

Excited and grateful as I am, both of these facts are overshadowed by, and tied to, the transition earlier today of Amiri Baraka. I could say there was something that made me point to Amiri during my talk with Rochelle Spencer, but the truth is, I've always been laboring in his giant shadow--not since I first started writing, but the moment I decided to claim a political identity for myself as a writer. Really, the moment I decided on a life as a literary activist for Latino/a writers.

Doubtless, I owe debts to many: Martín Espada, Willie Perdomo, my friends and colleagues at Acentos and louderARTS, Aracelis Girmay, and so many others. My own work is laid out to do for the next several decades (God willing), and I'll be at it until I can no longer draw breath.

I went to Amiri's Poetry Foundation biography and was blown away by their detailed career retrospective on him. When you think of writers like Sekou Sundiata, Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, Jayne Cortez, or June Jordan, of course you consider the length and breadth of their literary output, and you damn near genuflect at their feet when you meet them. But at their death, you are confronted--literally confronted--with their bibliographies, and you realize that the word "prolific" is thrown around way too much to describe your contemporaries.

Amiri's bibliography and CV reads like history. It is. The Black Arts Movement was nourished at his hand and the hands of his colleagues. He wrote Blues People. He wrote Dutchman. He wrote Preface To a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. So many plays. So many essays. And these are only the things we have archived. As Brian Gilmore reminds me, Baraka was that dude who would come to a reading with some joint he literally stapled together THAT DAY. Not some old shit, either--brand new essays or poems that he wanted you, that day, to read and absorb and reckon with. The man wrote non-stop for decades. I can't even say that. That's a goal I'd like to attain. One to strive for between tweets, I suppose.

Which reminds me. Amiri Baraka was social media before there was an INTERNET. His words were nothing but available...if you really wanted to hear them. Though he was sought after, no one needed to publish him. He would publish himself, get seen himself, do readings himself. And travel. And speak. And send you emails. And post diatribes on websites with complicated URL's.

And he'd ask you: "Where's your book?" Every single time he saw you.

Truly. Every time, even if he didn't remember my name. I'd tell him who I was, and what I do, and what I hope. And the question was the same: "Where's your book?"

My book is coming, Baba Baraka. I had hoped to see you in person to give you a copy after all these years, but I guess I'll have to leave that to the universe and just know you got it.

What's my debt to Amiri? What's ours? If you're a writer of color in this country, and you feel empowered to speak truth to power in ways that make you very unpopular, if you speak the hard truths without shame, and if you feel the mission is important enough to staple together your own damn books and make them available without the permission of the dominant culture, then you carry some of Amiri's fire with you, too. If you're a writer of color who carries forward the utilitarian, afrocentric view of art--that it's meant to DO things, not simply BE for its own sake--then you carry with you the Black Arts, the Nuyorican, the Chicano, the Queer lit, the Feminist lit. In short, when you write with purpose for your people, unapologetically, and when you choose to be a part of your history and your survival, and when you choose to document it, then you are writing in the tradition of Amiri Baraka, now our ancestor.

Where's your book?