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Emma Trelles
Emma Trelles is the author of the chapbook Little Spells (GOSS183) and Tropicalia, winner of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and forthcoming from the University of Notre Dame Press.
Interests: books, bands, poems, peace, hiking, camping, politics, cats, gardens, movies, and mulling.
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Glasgow ruins, by A Tangled Mind in Motion FALL FEELING (from Las nubes by Luis Cernuda), translated by Ruben Quesada Upon the old ruins it rains, The autumn still green, Odorless, dreams blossom, And the body gives in. I’m raptured in the fountains, Along the valley there are sheer figures, And amid the vast pale air, brilliant Blue wings. Beyond the fresh babbling is the sacred Halo of death. Nothing is gained nor lost. My memory grows dark. Everything is true, except hate, as harsh As the gray clouds Passing vainly above this treasure, Furiously made dim. SENTIMIENTO DE OTOÑO by Luis Cernuda Llueve el otoño aún verde como entonces Sobre los viejos mármoles, Con aroma vacío, abriendo sueños, y el cuerpo se abandona. Hay formas transparentes por el valle; Embeleso en las fuentes, y entre el vasto aire pálido ya brillan Unas celestes alas. Tras de las voces frescas queda el halo Virginal de la muerte. Nada pesa ganado ni perdido. Lánguido va el recuerdo. Todo es verdad, menos el odio, yerto Como ese gris celaje Pasando vanamente sobre el oro, Hecho sombra iracunda. Ruben Quesada is the essays editor at The Rumpus, senior editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and digital content editor at CantoMundo and the Latino Caucus. He is also the editor of a forthcoming volume of essays on Latino poetics from University of New Mexico Press, the author of the poetry collection Next Extinct Mammal (Greenhouse Review Press) and translator of the early 20th century Spanish poet Luis Cernuda, Exiled from the Throne of Night (Aureole Press). His poetry, prose, and short films have been featured at The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Stand, The California Journal of Poetics, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Poetry Foundation. He’s held fellowships and residencies at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and CantoMundo. Ruben is invested in the creation of community infrastructure and the promotion of Latino writers at all stages of their career. Continue reading
Posted 5 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
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HOMOTEXTUALITY by Carolilna Ebeid Owing to the general scarcity of books in the post-Soviet city, this particular population of library dwellers, which included the intellectuals, playwrights, poets, homosexuals, would pass the same borrowed copy of the novel among them, the hardback becoming a familiar / familial object, they would mark words with imperative asterisks, underscore whole paragraphs, each reader insinuating himself & herself in the coordinates of here & here in faintest graphite, creasing the corners of pages where one, anyone of them, should return. Carolina Ebeid is a the author of You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior (Noemi Press, Fall 2016). She is a student in the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Denver, and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers. She has won fellowships and prizes from CantoMundo, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Stadler Center for Poetry, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work appears widely in journals such as The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Colorado Review, and more recent work appears in Linebreak, Bennington Review, jubilat, and in the inaugural Ruth Stone House Reader. "Homotextuality" first appeared in The Acentos Review. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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GIRLFRIEND from Odalisque In Pieces by Carmen Giménez-Smith Versified, we took pills and ideals. The backlit of the hills' blue against the sky plus the creamy soignée element flared around us. Under dutiful watch, almighty christ. So some day I was walking with Dawn. The drills gone for Sunday. My duress was valentiney, not the deliverable package. Torrential downplay of the giggling kind. I am sad to see you go. Then the humpbacked lady with her such trying walked past. We walked too, but not the limping kind. Not the body failure way. Limbed as fish or tree. Wired for longitude. We were just loving the grand early-ness of walk. Some do. Some do. Coincidence then with such a bomb shudder. Such like in none to see. The better part of it in the neck and gut. The ground was as still as always but the shift made us look, for heaven came to earth to dimple our reverie. For that when two girls crossed came one, old. For that peculiar nod knowing where we were. Such fatuous noise we were, but also necessary. Killing time with cigarettes. Filling in the blade okay. Then was it. Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of a memoir and four poetry collections— including Milk and Filth, finalist for the 2013 NBCC award in poetry. She co-edited Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing, published by Counterpath Press. A CantoMundo Fellow, she teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University while serving as the publisher of Noemi Press. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Birds in Field – Mound Bayou, by Brandon Thibodeaux from A HUNDRED LITTLE MOUTHS by Valerie Martinez --1-- from up above: lewh, whist, stlew, ist, histle, and so it is with breath and sound, puckered mouth, little o—aperture—through which travels noise, pitched. harsh or sonorous. un-, in-, -telligible. a small piercing. sweet. behind which the body leans forward: heel, arch, ball, knee, pelvis, torso, neck. as if. upon. a precipice. --2-- And the girl goes, meandering, through a field defined by fences. Link, slatted wood. Limned by four back yards. Beyond which the houses contract, holding breath. Early morning. Quiet. So she closes her eyes and hums, telling the windows open, open, let the air-song out. --7-- And the girl’s foot in the dirt, making its circles and shallow diggings. So that the field is pockmarked here and there, between tufts of wild grass and weedlings. Bird’s eye view: a field poked and dotted. This creature making her marks. --9-- reverberating: calls of the red-winged blackbird: throaty check, high-slurred terrr-eeee whistle. male song, with display of his red shoulder patches: scratchy oak-a-lee or ooPREEEEEom. female: chit chit chit chit cheer or teer teer teerr. --10-- And what is happening in the houses— the man rinsing dishes, another moving quickly from room to room, glancing briefly out the back window. Sight traveling down, skimming along the backyard rock and dirt, climbing up and onto the fence, peering curiously into the field. Toe-dragging, walking end to end times two, then corner to corner. The girl in headphones: agitated, focused, curious, pumped. --11-- “A diary fills its pages With one eye on the clock How long? How long Have we got?” --22-- And each afternoon, sprung, the way the girls synchronize their headphones, listen to the same song, part at the entrance to the field— fist bump and nod. The way she alone walks in, measures in strides, north to south, west to east, cater-corner. Counting her steps. Knowing the field expands and contracts, a living thing. On bad days, suffocation. On good, the field’s borders reach west, all the way to the Pacific, east to the Black Kettle grasslands. The land. She. A lung. --48-- And the way the girl straddles the field, takes up its four corners, ties it like a balloon. she: bird-of-the-world. lifting. --49-- Here where the earth, air, word, body-wave, bird-song are gathered--nest. Constant murmuration— liquid, liquid ink. What she has learned to learn by leaning—here at the precipice. Where the sound is sound’s absence, absence a radical noise, noise of all things radiating north and south and west and east on the wave of her voice. --50-- through the air and up. whoosh. here we are. Valerie Martínez is an award-winning poet, educator, activist, and collaborative artist. Her book-length poem, Each and Her (winner of the 2012 Arizona Book Award), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Open Book Award, the William Carlos William Award, and the Ron Ridenhour Prize.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Unknown Distances, inkjet print on canvas, 2012, iliana emilia garcia “UNKNOWN DISTANCES” by Francisco Aragon Not this deserted stretch of beach this morning fog… And that slick border of sand would make a slapping sound were I to run barefoot along the very edge (the foam on my left receding) as I did after school those years four of them, striding to the Cliff House and back: practice. Not this shoreline—a kind of liquid lace gathering at the corners of your mouth that Sunday you ran with me: the starter’s pistol, mile 1, mile 5, veering off at mile 10… —The San Francisco Marathon I finished at fifteen. Not this ocean’s palette—muted, barely green: a fringe of froth along the top dissolving into sky, half this canvas white —a kind of absence. But rather: this human invention —two of them— of weathered wood, tightly woven for sitting. And if you were seated on the right, in the distance and I in the one on the left in the foreground, we’d be facing each other We might even speak Photo by Mike Cook In 1998, after a ten-year residence in Spain, Francisco Aragón began a period of activity that included his own literary output, editing, translating, and curating. In 2003 he joined the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) at the University of Notre Dame, where he founded Letras Latinas, the ILS’ literary initiative. In 2010, he was awarded the Outstanding Latino/a Cultural Arts, Literary Arts and Publications Award by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and in 2015 a VIDO Award by VIDA, Women in the Literary Arts. A CantoMundo Fellow and member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, Aragón is the author of Puerta del Sol (2005) and Glow of Our Sweat (2010) as well as editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (2007), these latter two winners of International Latino Book Awards. He teaches a course on Latino/a poetry at Notre Dame in the fall and directs Letras Latinas in Washington DC in the spring and summer. For more: franciscoaragon.net . "Unknown Distances" first appeared in Nepantla and was written as part of PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Guadalupe, acrylic on wood, by Sylvia Ji she broods in her pen: LA GALLINA by Alexandra Lytton Regalado October cuts furrows of cloud in the Salvadoran sky as papier mache skeletons dance on our mantle, mariachi band of the dead in a glittering box, and a votive of la Virgen de Guadalupe draped in her green cloak next to the American pumpkin we’ve yet to carve. On this Day of the Dead, my children return from a piñata with two baby chicks dyed lime green and tangerine—a strange fad in party favors in El Salvador. The children squeal, watching the chicks rush about, like wind-up toys their beaks open and shut on crumbs of bread, gullets twitch as they swallow water, and tuck their heads into a wing—a bare bulb for mother’s warmth. The next day, we return from ballet class to find one pitched across the newsprint with legs rigid as a cartoon’s. And when the kids ask for a burial ceremony, already the other chick is staggering, asleep at the wheel and suddenly peeping. My daughter strokes the chick’s walnut head and says, Ok, Mami, I’ll go play while you wait for it to die. So I sit at the kitchen table, the limp bird hammocked in my hand—and with each breath I think—this is it, this is the last, and no, another breath—just as the children at bedtime lean into me with plumes of sweet breath, their limbs jerk as they approach the edge—as I hope this is—that they will abandon themselves to sleep, but again they turn and grip me tighter. Outside these four walls is my hot bath, the soup in the pot, a chapter, my other life. So I wish for the bird’s last breath—how like matchsticks are his bones. Now there is no return to the dancing skeletons in their glittering box—this is where I am supposed to dim the lights, and yet I have to describe how my daughter broke a branch of purple bougainvillea, point out that my son scooped up the dead bird and pitched him into the hole in the earth as one would toss a paper cup into a wastebasket, that it was 8pm on a school night and they stood like statues as they clutched my hands and whimpered Angel de la Guardia, the only prayer they know by heart. It ends like this: my children came alive again when it was time to pat down the shoveled dirt—but the next day they did not paint the stones to mark the graves as they had promised. Co-founder of Kalina press, Alexandra Lytton Regalado is the author, editor, or translator of ten Central American-themed books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in cream city review, Gulf Coast, Narrative, NANO Fiction, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. Her full-length collection of poems, Matria, (Black Lawrence Press) is forthcoming in 2017. She is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Prize, the Coniston Poetry Prize, and... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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LYCANTHROPES IN LOVE by Steven Cordova The first man is in a chair, his barber behind him shaving the hairs off the back of his neck. There's another, a second man: He's in the very next chair, also having his neck, the upper regions of his back, shaved. He is bigger, less effete than the first & no doubt that is why, across the shop's full-length mirrors, the second man is shooting the first a look full of the hostility two lycanthropes feel, one for the other, when first they sniff each other out. Still, in hairy, recurring dreams they're bound to find themselves, just the two of them in a dark wood where they will once more expose their fangs to each other, & then, their puny arms having become legs, clawed & roughly padded, their bodies having become far more the same than different, they will run, they will run & run & they will not stop running until their tongues hang down. And they will do it again—they will run & run & run—the very next time the moon grows full. Steven Cordova is the author of Long Distance (Bilingual Review Press, 2010), and his poems have appeared in many journals & anthologies, including Bellevue University Press, Callaloo, and Northwest Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. "Lycanthropes in Love" was first published in The Good Men Project. Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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The eighth season of the Mission Poetry Series opens with a reading on Saturday, September 17, at 1 p.m. at Antioch University Santa Barbara. “The Ringing and the Bell: Three Poets in Autumn” features three award-winning California poets: Mary Brown, William Archila, and Catherine Abbey Hodges. The title of the event is taken from a poem by Barry Spacks, a beloved Santa Barbara poet who is widely admired and who served as the city’s inaugural poet laureate from 2005 to 2007. The reading will be held at Antioch University Santa Barbara • 602 Anacapa Street • Santa Barbara, CA• and is free and open to the public. The event offers complimentary broadsides, refreshments, and poets’ books for sale. The Mission Poetry Series is hosted by program director Emma Trelles and production coordinator Mark Zolezzi. Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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The sixth season of the Mission Poetry Series wraps up on Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m. at Antioch University Santa Barbara. “People, Earth, Sky, Stars: Two Poets in Spring” features nationally-acclaimed poet Denise Duhamel and San Francisco poet and activist Paul Fericano, one of the original founders of the series. The title of the reading is taken from a poem by Frank O’Hara, a New York School poet and an aesthetic mentor to both readers. The reading will be held at Antioch University Santa Barbara, 602 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA, and is free and open to the public. The reading will also offer complimentary broadsides, refreshments, and poets’ books for sale by Chaucer’s Bookstore. The Mission Poetry Series and its program director Emma Trelles is also excited to welcome long-time Santa Barbara resident and author Melinda Palacio as a curator. Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Le sombre Malembo, Dieu du carrefour, 1943, by Wifredo Lam 1. After an entire lifetime in South Florida, I now live 3,000 miles away on the central coast of California, in a small city ringed by mountains and bordered by a Pacific which appears paler and vaster than the Caribbean-Atlantic I have always known. This is where I hear that the Cuban embargo is unraveling, the news a fragment floating from my car radio right before I turn off the ignition to trundle groceries from the trunk to our garden apartment. The U.S. will further ease travel restrictions to the island, open an embassy, lift some trade and banking sanctions. It is as if a mythic bird has winged overhead and I’ve only caught a glimpse of a few bright feathers. My first thought is what was that? It doesn’t really register. 2. I get busy putting away eggs and carrots grown at nearby farms. But the news keeps simmering somewhere inside me, a place as intrinsic to me as my ardor for lists or the invisible work of my lungs. It is the tiny island of Cubania I have carried within me since I was a child, born in the U.S. and trying to belong in Miami, a city that, in the 70s, still viewed my Cuban family and so many other recent immigrants as outsiders, no matter how quickly we learned English and how hard we worked. 3. As a young girl, I saw Fidel Castro as the camouflaged villain standing between the rotary phone in our kitchen and my family in Havana, whom we could only talk to briefly and on rare occasion. I’d shout in Spanish over the crackle of lines and wonder what their faces looked like. We didn’t have any pictures of them. When I eavesdropped on talk of Castro’s demise, a long-cherished topic in Miami, I imagined a scene much like the one in the The Wizard of Oz, where an oppressor is felled with one crashing stroke. Everyone is giddy and sings in three-part harmonies. A land returns to color, and instead of shoes, two black boots would curl and crumble to dust. 4. I think about this part of my childhood when I think of Cubans on the true island-nation, who, like we once did, have begun their own migration from perceived outcasts to rightful neighbors, with whom we share bloodlines and friendships and a percussive, slangy Spanish. I'm not talking about those who created a palm-fringed prison of the body and its free will. I mean the everyday Cubans who have kept on keeping on. Their relentless optimism and resourcefulness are at the core of Cubanía, something that is also seen in the micro, self-written psalm of my people: Todo se resuelve. Everything will work out. 5. In my imagined island of Cubanía, there is a little boat anchored near the shore and a blue-striped cabana on the beach. It contains a crazy-quilt of culture: *café con leche, large, and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Death of Rubén Salazar (1986), by Frank Romero. In Miami the ocean behaves like a painting, diversity like an artist’s brushstrokes on a canvas, the immigrant like a dreamer. Swaying like a northerly, “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art”— a powerful art exhibit curated by E. Carmen Ramos and a permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum — made the second stop on its national tour in the temperate landscape of South Florida. From May 9th until May 11th, nine poets from Miami, Tampa, and El Salvador — Elisa Albo, Adrian Castro, Silvia Curbelo, Mia Leonin, Rita Maria Martinez, Caridad Moro-McCormick, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, and yours truly — convened at Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum to respond to the exhibit’sdiverse collection of works. Under the guidance of Francisco Aragón and Emma Trelles, we engaged in a phenomenal workshop entitled, “PINTURA:PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis”—the brainchild of Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Luis Jiménez’s Man on Fire I felt at home around these brilliant writers whose work I had previously read but who now sat next to me, taking down notes and preparing to give me feedback on my ekphrastic pieces. With these poets, I knelt on the floor to engage with a sculpture, or I hopped imperceptibly to establish a relationship of movement with a large painting. I also laid flat on the floor to re-appreciate certain lines and photographed myself against any piece that could reflect me. Throughout, I maintained mental discussions with a sculpture (Luis Jiménez’s Man on Fire) and with how I could offer it a poem. "How do you want me to read your nakedness?" I asked. "How can I be your medium?" Each time I received a different answer. Through rich exchanges with my fellow poets, I found out some of them had received a newfound creative jolt from the exhibit and this project. We were provided with context and outside materials to help us consider, for example, each work as a cultural artifact or a visual text. My creative productivity increased since I, too, found myself a part of an inclusive community of Latino writers — a community seldom seen while I was growing up in Allapattah, Florida, but which is currently burgeoning in Miami through a wide range of projects and festivals, such as the O, Miami poetry festival. Spending time with the exhibit itself, the poetry we were assigned to read, the theoretical essays we analyzed, and what we ultimately produced allowed us to discuss ekphrastic poetry as an exchange that occurs in translation, the body, sensuality, gender, borderlands, Spanglish, diaspora, and family. Lotería-Tabla Llena (1972), by Carmen Lomas Garza Trelles found ways to engage us with the artwork and with the work of other poets who have embarked on similar journeys. She gave us an outstanding bibliography to understand what we were there to produce. Suddenly, we developed the perspicacity to unravel multifarious tensions between... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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In the quest for a happier, better informed NaPoMo, The Tropical Roundup has returned. This is essentially where I post random or thematically or geographically linked tidbits from Poetry Land. Or culled from news, music, art, gossip, and other realms. Or simply netted from my aquarium brain. "Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it." **The Mission Poetry Series wraps up its 5th season this Saturday, April 5th, at 1 p.m. with a new partnership with Antioch University Santa Barbara and with "April Voices: Three Poets for the Spring of It," featuring Teddy Macker, Phil Taggart, and Friday Lubina. Offering two readings each year in September and April, the series was founded in 2009 by poet and author Paul Fericano, (who also writes a regular column for The Santa Barbara Independent), and Susan Blomstad, a religious sister in the Order of St. Francis and the former director of the Mission Renewal Center in Santa Barbara. ** In other Santa Barbara poetry news: Inaugural poet (and all-around nice guy) Richard Blanco popped into The Book Den recently to say hello and sign his inspiring new book: For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey. The Book Den is one of California's oldest bookstores and stocks a bounty of new, used, and out-of-print books. Shop indie, folks. It tastes good. ** Over on Barbara Jane Reyes' Poeta y Diwata blog, the Oakland-based poet serves up yet another thoughtful post in which she considers the evolution of her latest poetry project ("And the word was a woman....") along with the complexities of allusion, form, and language. Here's an excerpt: "...we stretch from our initial frames into others’ frames. We build from our foundations and into the cultures that surround us, and which we now inhabit. As a poet frequently referenced for my code switching/operating in multiple registers, this is a no brainer; there’s a language that’s introduced itself into my repertoire. As poets, we sponge up languages, from everywhere." Read the full post here. **And, from the unconfirmed, but no-less enticing, rumor bog: The winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize hails from California! A full announcement with the poet's name and details is slated for April 14 at the University of Notre Dame reading featuring 2012 winner Laurie Anne Guerrero (A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying) and prize judge and poet Francisco X. Alarcón. The Letras Latinas blog will post all the good news later that evening.The Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize supports the publication of a first book by a Latino/a poet in the United States, in collaboration with University of Notre Dame Press. Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Coming Fall of 2015 from Sibling Rivalry Press -- The Collected & New Collaborative Work of Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton. Excitement! And here are more 2015 titles from SRP, via cue cards & poet extraordinaire Ocean Vuong. --et Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Hey Chicago! Just a reminder: This Thursday, the Poetry Foundation will host two gifted Latino poets at its HQ for a reading, book signing, and reception: Dan Vera -- author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, which won the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press prize -- and Orlando Ricardo Menes, who judged the contest and whose newest collection, Fetish, won last year's Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Poetry Off the Shelf: Orlando Ricardo Menes & Dan Vera Thursday, Oct 24, 7:00PM Poetry Foundation 61 West Superior Street Free admission And here's a preview. Windfall Antiques Overdrawn, repoed Grand Prix, workshop in hock To the dogs, Papá mends houses of refugees Who niggle over how much grout to squeeze Into a crack, who bathe in their girdles and socks To skimp on Fab. Checks bounce, taxmen hound, the truck's Muffler shot, Papá scouts groomed lawns for settes, Divans, chaises meant for Goodwill, windfall antiques To fix with mallet, strainer, needle, twine, & chalk. "Waste is for gringos," he'd say, tapping brass nails That wiggle on warped pine or straining buckram On a crippled carcass, my hands dull as I shear Chintz for skirts, though Papá, reverent with details, Irons burlap, measures the tweed sleeves & trim In metrics, smoothes out horsehairs to cashmere. --from Fetish (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), by Orlando Ricardo Menes -- Learn more about the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize here. -- Visit the Letras Latinas blog here. --et Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Attention Chicagoans! Next week, the Poetry Foundation will host two gifted Latino poets at its HQ in Chicago for a reading, book signing, and reception: Dan Vera -- author of Speaking Wiri Wiri, which won the inaugural Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press prize -- and Orlando Ricardo Menes, who judged the contest and whose newest collection, Fetish, won last year's Prairie Schooner Book Prize. Poetry Off the Shelf: Orlando Ricardo Menes & Dan Vera Thursday, Oct 24, 7:00PM Poetry Foundation 61 West Superior Street Free admission And here's a poem from Vera's winning collection. Next week, before the reading, we'll offer one from Menes' book as well. My Double I tease you about the dog's affections. You have his eye when you're in the room and when you walk away his ears keep pace in case his feet must follow. He wants for you so dearly when you've departed. I tell you, What am I, chopped liver? But you are his beef bourguignon. You are the steak tartare of his every dream. I play green with envy but the truth is, he is my clearest mirror. If I lived in the lovetime of a dog and thought that every time you left you might not make it back wouldn't I climb the chair near the window? wouldn't I pace the floors in deep distress? --from Speaking Wiri Wiri (Red Hen Press, 2013), by Dan Vera -- Learn more about the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize here. -- Visit the Letras Latinas blog here. --et Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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I first heard Xánath Caraza read her work last year in Milwaukee at "Cantos Latinos! A Mosaic of Latino Poetry," a poetry and panel of quite diverse Latino poets assembled at the city's library. Xánath sort of blew me away with her reading. I recall her dark hair and a red shawl that, on her, resembled a queenly sort of cape, but what I remember most was the forceful passion she put into the poems she read, the wake-up punch of each word, how, the longer she read, the less her Spanish sounded like language and more like raw sound. I kept thinking of Shangó, the Yoruba deity (or orisha) of lightning and thunder and one whose presence is often associated with music, specifically the percussive power of drums. Her voice had that kind of command to it. I could not imagine a better title for her collection Conjuro, which is the Spanish word for a spell or incantation. She recently spoke to me from her home in Kansas City, and I learned as much about her consideration of culture and history in her work as I did about the sway color holds over it. "Poetry is a feeling of orange," she writes in "Linguistic Filigree." I wanted to know more. ET: I saw you hold a crowd rapt when you read in Milwaukee last year, particular with "Yanga," which felt like one of the central poems of this book, both in its homage to how Africa has helped shape Latin American history *and* because oral tradition has a powerful claim in your work. Let's talk about Yanga first. Tell us who he was. XC: I fell in love with Yanga early in my childhood; we studied him in grammar school. It captured me that he was a real person. He was, while a slave, a community organizer and was able to create the first free zone in the Americas in 1630. In a way, these slaves were unconquerable. The original name of the zone was San Lorenzo de los Negros, but now this town is known as Yanga. I was always fascinated with language, and I pay attention to idioms. We have all these words we know come from Africa, and there are towns in Veracruz,, Mexico, that are named after African voices. So Yanga speaks to the history of Veracruz, and I wanted to put together Yanga's language and the Spanish versions of these words into a poem. Louis Reyes Rivera, an African Puerto Rican scholar and performance poet, had a deep impact on me when I saw him in Kansas City. He was such a nice person when I met him, very calm, down to earth, and then when he stood up to read, he turned into a drum, like a conga, pounding right in front of you. I put all of that together to create "Yanga." Yanga (para Louis Reyes Rivera) Yanga, Yanga, Yanga Yanga, Yanga, Yanga, Hoy, tu espiritu invoco Aqui, en este lugar. Este,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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South Florida is the coolest part of the country right now, which is kind of spooky but not so much that I won't take that news as a bizarro blessing. Outside the rain is delicate and softens the world to gray and insistent green. I'd like to make a bouquet of grass or wrap its thick pelt around my shoulders. I'd like to hide in it for a while. My desk is beside floor to ceiling windows and I perch here like an invisible finch, never tiring of the view of trees and tennis courts, inlet and boats, the parking lot, the delivery trucks, recycling and garbage bins slicked clean. The windows sound great, right? But not so much when there's a hurricane. I've watched them bow, glass like lungs taking in and expelling air. If you have lived in Florida all your life, you usually don't evacuate for any storm rated category 3 or under. You are filled with equal parts savvy and foolishness. I watched Katrina through these windows, days before anyone knew the fear and suffering that would accompany her. We haven't had any hurricanes this season, not yet, so I can delay thinking about the 42 year old panes busting open, or buying water, sardines, and batteries, or losing hours to the local TV meteorologists. They call themselves storm trackers but I think they are sinister geometry buffs because they love nothing more than conjuring cones and grids and oddly pulled shapes that resemble lethal amoebas or a noxious taffy. Instead of all that, I get to sit here and ignore deadlines, maybe take my umbrella to the park across the street. There's a hawk that lives there. We named him Joseph, after a bygone mayor of the little city where we live. This summer, Joseph has been observed grooming his wings, lunching on the small and feathered (his beak makes fine cutlery), and terrorizing the mockingbirds who also live in the park but are not so afraid of him that they won't dive-bomb his head in protest. Sometimes I walk through the park listening to the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, my summer anthem album, a gospel record, really, if you think about it. I sing "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and "Many Rivers to Cross." I hum "Sitting in Limbo." Sometimes I stand beneath the canopy of a royal poinciana, which, when in bloom, hazes the space beneath it to a watery and pale red. This summer, I've been working and looking for work, doing and waiting, thinking maybe I should worry more, or less. There's no silencing the reel. I've been keeping modest lists: Go to bank. Call doctor. Hawk, storm, faith, here. Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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The Other Latin@: Writing Against a Singular Identity is an anthology of 20 essays that, according to its co-editor Blas Falconer, aims to counter a narrow perspective of Latino/a writers and honor their diversity. In his own essay, Falconer writes, "When Spanish enters the poem, it is often done because it is part of the memory, not because it is the language of the reader or of the audience." This idea of how Spanish is mysteriously fused to the neurons of Latino writers resonated with me, and I wanted to hear more from Blas. He and co-editor Lorraine Lopez will present the book this Thursday, April 26, at noon, as part of the Books and Beyond series at the Library of Congress in partnership with Letras Latinas and the University of Arizona Press. At 6:30 p.m., both Falconer and Lopez will read selections from their own work. For details, visit here. ET: What was the source of inspiration for this anthology, for the idea that Latino writers are more than a globbed together demographic or a brightly colored (I'm guessing red) wedge in a pie graph? BF: The book began, in part, as a presentation on an AWP panel I wrote in 2008. The acquisitions editor from University of Arizona Press was in the audience and came up to me afterwards and suggested we do a whole book. I told her I was thinking the exact same thing. We wanted to open it up beyond the Latino identity that's been seen through a small lens. The book also originated from the fact that I didn't really understand my own relationship to the Latino community or to Puerto Rico. I had traveled there a lot when I was younger, but after my grandmother passed away I stopped going. I also knew that there was this rich Puerto Rican community in New York that I didn't feel quite in sync with because I grew up in Northern Virginia, and there just weren't a lot of Puerto Ricans there. As a writer, I kept asking myself, ‘Am I Latino?’ ‘What does it mean to be Latino?’ I have a white father and a Latina mother, but I have an estranged relationship to Puerto Rico. What does this mean? Then I realized that I saw two of my dearest friends as Latinas - Lisa Chavez, a Chicana from Alaska, and Helena Mesa, who is Cuban and grew up in Pittsburgh - even though they too felt disconnected. I thought, ‘Let's explore this.’ I realized that many writers were challenging the term of Latino in various ways, and I thought reading about their experiences might be interesting. Another source of inspiration is that sometimes I just don't want to write. I'm on empty. But I'm still fueled by great poetry or writing, so I want to be involved somehow. Editing kind of satisfies that need. Seeing how different people write, how their work or books come together. It's inspiring. ET: How did you seek out... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
"A book ought to be an ice pick to break up the frozen sea within us."-- Franz Kafka -- etrelles Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Above: store-bought bow and discount wrapping paper, pieced together with magic tape and love. Yes, I know there's only five days left till Christmas, that by the time this post is completed Hanukkah is already twinkling its arrival, that some holiday shoppers are sitting smugly alongside their craftily wrapped presents, the kind with hand painted angel paper and chiffon bows and berries artfully attached. But the Tropical Roundup is not one of these shoppers. She is on Cuban time, which technically means that while everything will get done, it will all happen in a great flurry, at the last minute, with some presents and cards assembled in the driveway outside the recipient's home. Wine will assist in these endeavors, as will cortaditos and pasteles de guayaba (both of which I'd consume twice a day if I didn't care about looking like a gourd). One does not have to be Cuban to exist in this perpetually behind (but well fortified) state. But it helps, as does living in South Florida, where "Cuban time" is as common an expression as Turn down the a.c. and Coño! Here are a few quick gift ideas for those of us who consider Cronus a nemesis: 1. Behold the beauty to the left, a Great Gatsby tee from Out of Print Clothing, displayed prettily alongside my high school copy of the novel. My birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas are all within a couple of weeks of each other, so my husband is doomed to hunt for gifts for me throughout December. I assist (read: prod) him with tips, such as this shirt I'd been eyeballing for about a year now. On its website, Out of Print states that it "celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art." Indeedy. Other choice picks include Thoreau's Walden, Darwin's The Origin of Species, the mysteries of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (The Sign of the Twisted Candles and The Mark on the Door, respectively), and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, in a festive red and white. To browse women's, men's, and kid's shirts, visit here. If you select overnight or second-day air delivery, your prezzies will arrive before Santa does. 2. Last month I was lucky enough to read at the Miami Book Fair International and hear many fine poets, whose fine books I bought as well. I think you should buy them too, particularly from independent bookstores like Books and Books, Powell's, Politics & Prose, or whatever book shop is in your town and is battling Amazon, the real world version of the Dark Lord of the Sith. Here's some of what I scored: Susan Briante's Utopia Minus (Ahsahta Press); Sandra Beasley's I Was the Jukebox and Gerald Stern's Everything is Burning (both from W.W. Norton); Radha Says: Last Poems by Reetika Vazirani (editors Leslie McGrath and Ravi Shankar... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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A Fantastic Cave Landscape, with Odysseus and Calypso (1568-1625), by Jan Brueghel the Elder Dear Stacey, I've been slack in my letter writing because of work, which is, at the moment, attending to the sentences of others. I'm sweeping clean the muddiness of poor word choices and useless repetition, employing the foot soldiers of concise writing: grammar and punctuation. It's tedious, but I also kind of dig it. It's a lot easier to fix someone else's mistakes. But when the work seems insurmountable, I think about what else I'd rather be doing, or, to put it another way, what might be my own kind of Ithaka, "...the island of them all" - something that I greatly desire and whose attainment is continually delayed. The promise of it keeps me going. One of my Ithakas is riding my bicycle, a pearly white Raleigh that my husband gave me before we were married. I love it so much that I instantly named it Pegasus, and soon after bought a bike bell, which I mostly ring just to hear its thick trill. It is searing hot in South Florida at the moment, the norm in late July, but when I'm on my bicycle the temperatures seem less oppressive, as does everything else, and I get to fly around town smelling the ocean and checking out the poincianas and palms and the little green parrots that like to nest and screech in both. I feel like the me that was once a 10 year old, skinny-legged girl explorer. And I suppose she too is another kind of Ithaka. What I'm getting at is that even though I haven't been writing you, I have still been reading and thinking. Books IV-VI are my favorites so far. I like how the mundane tasks of servants are described in painterly fashion: Here a maid tipped out water for their hands from a golden pitcher into a silver bowl, and set a polished table near at hand; the larder mnistress with her tray of loaves and savories came, dispensing all her best... And also here: "...but Helen called the maids and sent them to make beds, with purple rugs piled up, and sheets outspread, and fleecy coverlets, in the porch inside the gate. The girls went out with torches in their hands..." Whether cooking, doing laundry, or making beds, no chore seems too mundane for Homer to depict with color and physical touch. Even scent is not overlooked, as when Eidothea, daughter of the god Proteus (and a nereid), dabs ambrosia beneath three lads' noses to drown out the "bestial odor" of the seal skins in which they hide. The ambrosia is likened to perfume, and, to me, the moment hints at how man aligns himself with both the beautiful and the monstrous, how often the two can be experienced within breaths of one another. "Eidothea," by Linda Carlson I also admire the simple, fairytale connotations of these books' titles, such as "Sweet Nymph and Open Sea," although... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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"Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY," watercolor by Nari Mistry Dear Stacey, I am in receipt of your letter and will say I was pretty tickled when I saw the first mention of Ithaka in Homer's verse because I knew that you were reading it from your own Ithacan abode. I wrote "Stacey!" in the margins beside line 30 and then again alongside line 213: Another thing --- this too I ought to know --0 is Ithaka new to you, or were you ever a guest here in the old days? Far and near friends knew this house; for he whose home it was had much acquaintance in the world. This is my serpentine way of saying, yes, it is very cool that you're reading The Odyssey from the Finger Lakes region. Is it also a coincidence, then, that Homer so often personifies dawn with "fingers"? There are fingers of "pink light" and "finger tips of rose," and I gather that there will be more mention of dawn's pretty grasp in the books to come. I think if you read some of them at daybreak, from Ithaca, you might dream of flying over water, "in a clap of wings," with eyes faded to the grey of Athena's. I had not planned on quoting so much of what I've read thus far, but I had also not expected to encounter such music. The sound of it! Sometimes I read lines out loud just to hear the iambic pentameter or a spondee, or some combination of both ("My word, how mortals take the gods to task!"). I actually scanned some lines in pencil, although I have not attempted to do any such thing since Campbell McGrath assigned The Poem's Heartbeat many years ago in graduate school. Good god, I was an awful scanner and have probably flubbed the above line now as well. But I wanted to share with you how Homer's long song has inspired me to listen, more carefully and with less judgement, not only to whatever words I find on a page but to the sounds around me: the rattle of a maintenance man's cart, footsteps in the hallway. A spare kind of music. It is so quiet here as I write this to you from South Florida; even the mockingbirds have taken a break from their summer chatter. Yours, Emma Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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1. In February, I met with P. Scott Cunningham and Pete Borrebach for lunch at a noodle house. I couldn't find the place at first because it was lodged in the lobby of a motel on Biscayne Boulevard that, in years past, was known more for hookers and guns and rock (and I don't mean 'and roll'). But this neighborhood has now reinvented itself --as is also the city of Miami's custom-- into a hamlet of galleries, eateries, and indie mom and pop shops. There are things to do here besides driving by with locked car doors. Scott and Pete were working on their own newborn - O, Miami, the city's first poetry festival. I ate basil and tofu and listened to their schemes: they were going to try to place if only one poem into the hands of my hometown's 2.5 million citizens, regardless of whether they liked poetry or not. Scott and Pete were most interested in the latter, the possible converts, and they knew how to set the trap. They'd woo the city with a relentless courtship. O, Miami would wrap buses with couplets, fly in W.S. Merwin, the sitting U.S. poet laureate, invite Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, hip hop legend Kool Moe Dee, actor-now-writer James Franco, and many more to speak and read, host collaborative art shows and a literary death match, surreptitously sew poetry tags into shirts at thrift stores, drop poems from the sky, rent a Ferrari. They had a lot of wild ideas. Had they locked it all down yet? No. When would the festival launch? In about 6 weeks and running the whole month of April. I smiled and slurped my dripping and delicious noodles. I thought a) These guys are crazy. b) God, I hope they do it. All of it. 2. Abe's Penny Live. The Brooklyn-based publishing house opens its first exhibit at O, Miami, with readings by Denise Duhamel and Gabrielle Calvocoressi and photographs by Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger, and Robby Campbell, whose image I've swiped (below left). The gallery is filled with literatis climbing over wood pallets that have been nailed together to form a kind of writer's club-and-tree-house installation. Pencils and paper provided, as are postcards from which to make a bit of mail art. Some of them are already hanging on the walls and some are stacked into racks at the ready. And whether it's on an electric typewriter or with a bouquet of long-stemmed beauties (below right), visitors oblige. While Denise Duhamel reads a beautiful poem about all that she sees in Georgia O'Keeffe's Pelvis of Blue, ( "a nest with a hollowed-out bottom") or bluebirds on the branch of her hip bone, Campbell McGrath sits next to me, asks for a sheet of paper from my own notebook, which I am writing in because Denise's words have conjured my own. Don't you sometimes get the best sparks from hearing someone else read her poems? I do. I ask Campbell what he's... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Note: The following review first appeared in Organica magazine's Winter/Spring 2011 issue. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what J. Michael Martinez means when he writes " Margin is the whiteness in our silence. I said, Difference is already spread between the body and the gaze. You said, We lament the name we give; we give word to find respite from the shallows between." We encounter these words as a drifting dialogue, a kind of coded prose that appears untitled and on the blank page before the opening of Heredities, winner of the 2009 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. This sense of almost knowing, of entering a frame of words without origin or apparent direction, is one of the beautiful bones that make up the body of Martinez’s first collection, a book that feels at once like wading into history and lamp-lit archives, folklore and myth, personal diary and fleeting sketch pad. The young Chicano poet exhibits fearlessness in his choice of fantastical subjects and forms. In "Articulations of Quetzacoatl’s Spine" and "The Sternum of Our Lady Guadalupe," anatomical drawings crown the long missive-like lines which consider faith and its accompanying sacrifices, whether in the guise of a jaguar or an eagle, or in how two ligaments attach themselves to the flawless "souls of infants," now "transformed into hummingbirds." In his poems, Martinez often considers the act of becoming, of renewal as revolution, a way of claiming power by assembling not only such earthly elements as amaranth, water, oaks, and wings, for example, but also by the parsing and reconstruction of language. "Heredities: Letters of Relation" illustrates the poet’s skill with linguistic collage; the poem’s lyrical sections are written completely from Hernan Cortes’ letters from Mexico during the conquest. The slaughter is documented once more, yet his own words are now re-arranged to display the gleaming details discovered in the lives of the Tenochca (or the Aztecs as they are later known), particulars that offer the same historical prominence to a people as to the wars that enslaved them. "We sail the laws and beliefs/ of their idols, chambers garlanded/ in feathers of little birds/ covered with pearl shells./ Their past is a valley circular,/ fertile in fruit and cotton....Owls and sparrow hawks/ echo in the oratories..." It is particularly exciting, for me at least, to read a first book by a Latino poet who does not offer the familiar trope of nostalgia as a way of exploring identity, but, instead, mines deeply into artifact and gender, the influence of personal lore and the self-colored perceptions of language. Martinez invents his own forms to consider the idea of source and the alchemy of what makes a life. This means that Heredities requires patience and a willingness to abandon traditional narratives, to practice a negative capability, where mystery becomes the norm and, thus, a place where one can slip into an unhurried dreamscape. While reading these poems, I thought about paintings by Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
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Introducing The Tropical Roundup, in which I, at random times, post points of interest that may be thematically or geographically linked. Or, they could be event driven or contain some kind of vital-to-obscure news peg, Said points will most likely be stolen from other sources, such as blogs and dailies, but will also be gathered by scrawling notes on the back of gas receipts, in a fruitless effort to bring order to our blue and green sphere, which is currently screaming off its invisible tracks. Also, I like lists. 1. First and foremost in the inaugural round up is FLORICANTO IN WASHINGTON D.C.: A Multicultural Reading in Response to SB 1070. The reading takes place during the AWP Conference this Friday, Feb. 4, from 6-9 p.m., at the True Reformer Building in D.C., and is sponsored by Split This Rock, The Acentos Poetry Foundation, and Poets Responding to SB 1070. Floricanto presents more than 20 poets responding in verse to what organizers call the growing "xenophobia under which the bill was created," which "targets immigrants and legalizes racial profiling." SB 1070 was signed into state law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in April 2010 and authorizes police to arrest and charge any immigrant not carrying identifying documents. When asked to comment on how police officers might discern suspects without profiling, Governor Brewer told the New York Times "we simply have to trust in our law enforcement." Because blind trust in men with guns always works out well, doesn't it? According to Rich Villar, executive director of the Acentos Foundation, the word "floricanto" has linguistic origins in both the Meso-American and Spanish languages, re-appearing during the rise of the Chicano arts and poetry movements of th 60s.. "Poets came together for celebration, for political ends, for self-affirmation," says Villar. "In the Floricanto, the poetic and political are not only compatible, but complimentary, inevitable." "This reading is a show of solidarity," Villar adds. "It is also very a specific act. It is the unambiguous use of language, in the form of poetry, to counter the obfuscated legal language of war, death, and exile. The poets in this reading do precisely that, day in and day out." Floricanto will be hosted by Oscar Bermeo and featured readers include Francisco X. Alarcon, Tara Betts, Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Carmen Calatayud, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Susan Deer Cloud, Martín Espada, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Randall Horton, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dorianne Laux, Marilyn Nelson, Mark Nowak, Barbara Jane Reyes, Abel Salas, Sonia Sanchez, Craig Santos Perez, Hedy Trevino, Pam Uschuk, Dan Vera, Rich Villar, and Andre Yang. 2. AWP Conference, Author book signings Here's a sampling of who will sign what at this year's bookfair. Is there an author/book that's been missed? Add it to the comments box. Neil de la Flor, Almost Dorothy (Marsh Hawk Press). Buy this book and score a free voodoo doll bookmark. Neil will also be taking pre-orders with Maureen Seaton for their collaborative book Sinead O'Connor and... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2011 at The Best American Poetry