And because you know I have to throw a little glitter in here, are there some gay Latino/a writers that I should put on my poetry playlist?
Wow. That’s such a huge question because Latino/a writing would be so profoundly different without our gay writers. Whole anthologies have been put together: one that springs to mind is Mariposas, edited by Manny Xavier.
To scratch the surface: We could start with your professor at Rutgers, Rigoberto Gonzalez. If you wanna get your neo-formalism on, read Rafael Campo. I’d also reach for Eduardo Corral, Miguel Murphy, Blas Falconer. Steven Cordova is a heart-stopper of a poet. Jaime Manrique wrote an excellent book of poems called Tarzan, My Body, Christopher Columbus. And OH MY GOD please go read Richard Blanco. “Tia Olivia Serves Wallace Stevens a Cuban Egg” will flip your wig back.
And, since I’m a sucker for shouting out the foundational work, I would run and read two poets that cannot be left out of American poetry, period: Miguel Algarin, the co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, whose poetics is living music and whose poems are acrobatic, dynamic, and heart-rending on page; and Gloria Anzaldua, the Chicana poet-editor-feminist-activist icon who to my mind is the blueprint for what a scholar should be in this day and age. You simply cannot leave them out of the conversation when you discuss Boricuas, Latinos, or Chicanos in U.S. letters…though some folks have definitely tried.
As the director of Acentos, you definitely have a stake in supporting Latino/a writers. Who are some Latino/a poets you think are game-changers that, for various reasons, have been overlooked?
Magdalena Gomez, like most of the women of the Nuyorican movement, found herself on the outside a lot, I think. Of all the things I hate about the poetry “business,” the treatment of Nuyorican women is pretty near the top. She’s fought against that kind of macho garbage all her life. She is also a fierce feminista who has made a life for herself as a playwright and multi-genre poet, performer, and essayist. She has collaborated in performance with the great saxophonist Fred Ho. She directs Teatro Vida in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can find her work mostly on CD, but last I heard, she has a collection of poetry coming soon too. Google is good for you! I would also check for the work of some other foundational (for me) Nuyo/Puerto Rican women: Sandra Maria Esteves, Myrna Nieves, Lourdes Vasquez.
Other overlooked/gamechanger poets:
raulrsalinas, the late activist Chicano poet whose work is collected in raulrsalinas and The Jail Machine, edited by Louis Mendoza.
Frank Lima, a Puerto Rican poet associated with the New York School (O’Hara, Koch, et. al.). Not the Nuyorican school, mind you. The NEW YORK school. And hardly anyone’s heard of him.
Jack Agüeros, poet, short story writer, founder of Museo Del Barrio, and translator of Julia de Burgos. This man changed the way I look at and value translation, because he captured Julia’s emotional center through the ACCURATE translation of Puerto Rican Spanish. Which is not Castillian Spanish. Which is not Mexican Spanish. Just sayin.
Willie Perdomo, the mad genius of Cypher Books, who I list not so much because he’s overlooked but because critics and interviewers have this annoying habit of labeling him as a spoken word artist–which is really another form of overlooking, now that I think about it. To me, he is a poet’s poet, and he taught me to be fearless in my approach to idiom. As Sterling Brown said, that’s where your truth lies…in your idiom. And if that means referring to your homeboy as your “compay” in a poem, dropping your culture into your work without a concordance or cross-reference, then that’s just what you have to do.
Could you tell us about the poetry collection you’re currently working on?
My manuscript will be/is getting some serious love this summer. I don’t know what to call it yet, except that it’s sardonic as hell, has a consistent suburban Spanglish sensibility, and mines a lot of emotional territory I haven’t touched since my trip to Cuba in 2000. Imagine the absurdity of being a fat boy in a guayabera in the literal center of Latin American revolution. In a place where revolution was abandoned before it really began. Contradiction, much? Took me nine years to dive into that wreck, so to speak.
As the curator of the Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase and member of the LouderARTS family, you’re certainly not a stranger to the idea of poetry as a community. What are some things that poets can do – right now – to support one another?
Make friends, not “allies.” Revel in their victories and watch them grow as artists. Contribute to that growth by making time to write, read, journal, discuss things together. Do things with them that don’t involve poetry at all. Ask about their families. Ask about their health. Go to each other’s readings because you love them as people, not because you’ll be seen in the correct circles talking to the right people to get your work in the right journal, or to get the college gig, or whatever. Community is community when the people within it genuinely care about each other. I run from community when it’s used as a euphemism for a class of professional schmoozers I normally wouldn’t want to associate with. If there’s one thing poets can do to support each other, it is to break this poisonous idea that you have to befriend certain people, or “be out and be seen,” in order to succeed as a writer. Leave that to the capitalists. They do it so much better.