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Christopher Soto
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Many of the early-career poets that I come across in MFA programs, major publications, conferences, readings are writing in a similar fashion— first person narrative poems, left aligned, less than one page in length, tight language, controlled temperament, image centric, high lyric… Sometimes, I read these poems and spin in their artistic splendor. Sometimes, I read them and feel cold (as if I’m hugging a dead body at the morgue, a lifeless body in its finest cloths). Sometimes, I pray to Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, June Jordan, Essex Hemphill, Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, Tatiana de la Tierra, Akilah Oliver, Etheridge Knight and ask for their resurrection, strength. In writing this post, I want to highlight the work of poets whose words BREATHE, rebel, are fiercely independent and politically centric. I am want to celebrate the (mostly) non-MFA poets who can give you an analysis of the relationship between poetic craft, class privilege, and white supremacy. I want to celebrate the poets who will laugh at me (for posting this article with an organization whose name perpetuates the concept of this settler-state). These are the poets who would more likely spend their money supporting social movement work then submission fees for poetry journals. These are the poets who have been and will be standing at the forefront of the next protests against police brutality. Let’s take a moment to celebrate their fearless independence (& listen to their calls). *Also, please know that there is much overlap, nuance, amongst the two “camps” of poets that were just described. (It gets really complex when trying to distinguish collectives of poets from one another stylistically and politically). This post is not intended to be an analysis of poetic movements, rather I hope that it serves as a starting point for people interested in contemporary poets who also mobilize politically. 1. Alok Vaid-Menon is a transfeminine South Asian writer, performance artist, and community organizer based in NYC. For the past six years they have organized in solidarity with racial, economic, and gender justice movements in the US, South Africa, India, and Palestine. Their creative and political work grapples with questions of power, trauma, diaspora, race, and desire. Alok currently works at The Audre Lorde Project and is on tour with DarkMatter, a trans South Asian art collaboration with Janani Balasubramanian. Excerpt from girls wear blue; boys wear pinkwashing “how many words does it take to dismantle a bomb? how many words does it take to erase a border? how many words does it take bring back the dead?” 2. Juliana Huxtable was born and raised in College Station, Texas and currently lives in New York, NY. From 2010 to 2012, Huxtable worked as a legal assistant for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. She is a co-founder of a queer weekly party in New York City called SHOCK VALUE and she is a member of the House of Ladosha. In 2015 Huxtable had a sculpture of her, photographs of her, and poems of hers featured in... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I always wanted to be a sad white girl. I wanted to be sad like Lana Del Rey. I wanted a sadness that could be so universal, that it’d move everyone to tears. A sadness that everyone could relate to. “I want a summertime, summertime sadness.” … Yes, I’ve experienced that before. I know where that’s coming from. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the contextualization of POC sadness. My sadness is viewed in terms of all that is surrounding it. My sadness is about domestic violence, homelessness, queerness, gender dysphoria, intergenerational trauma passed down from the Salvadorean civil war, etc., ETC…My sadness is something to observe, consume, sympathize with BUT NOT EMPATHIZE WITH (not to mobilize for). Most people do not know how to interact with my sadness. My sadness is so multifaceted, it speaks twenty languages. This past year, Citizen by Claudia Rankine was released and white people all across the literary world discovered racism. The sadness in Claudia Rankine’s book was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime. Everyone was talking about Citizen and micro-agressions and feelings. But I didn’t see any of the white people in my MFA program marching next to me when Mike Brown was killed by the police in Ferguson, when Erica Garner was killed by NYPD. I didn’t see any of them working to dismantle the systems of oppression which created my sadness / my community’s sadness. Yet everyone raved about how revolutionary that book was. REVOLUTIONARY FOR WHOM???!!! There was this article that I was reading a while ago (which I cannot currently find) which discussed sadness in terms of the medical industrial complex. The article was talking about the over-diagnosis of depression in the United States and ways that other parts of the world interact with deep sadness… Thinking about sadness in terms of regional / systematic pain faced by particular groups of people. For example, PTSD faced by the communities attacked by US imperialism… Okay, I don’t want to stray too far from topic. Here’s what I want to say… I want people to act, I want people to mobilize around POC sadness. Don’t just feel bad about our stories, consume us, and spit us out… I don’t care if my stories make you feel bad about queer youth homelessness. I don’t care if you read my work and talk about it with your friends at brunch. That doesn’t matter. I want you to give your money to the Ali Forney Center and make the problems stop. I want you to donate your money to Black & Pink to support queer folks in prisons. Right now, everyone knows that brown folks are killing it in the poetry scene. It feels like the mid 90’s when Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and Shakira were all on MTV. And white girls were getting spray tans all over the country. It was a moment of Latino pop splendor that had seldom been seen before… Felt like that moment was going to last forever... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I wanted to do a fun / campy post where some of my queer poet friends could celebrate the people who have helped them develop as writers and humans. (Where we could celebrate the people who let us imagine a world outside of corporate slumber and heteronormative family models). Quickly, I’d like to thank some of my mentors- Griselda Suarez, Eduardo C Corral, William Johnson. Love you so much! For letting me know that I could be brown, queer, a poet, and FIERCE and surrounded / affirmed by community. For guiding me and holding me and feeding me and laughing with/at me and creating opportunities for me. HOLY SHIT, Ive been a messy-gurl in this life. And y'all have supported me through all of it. Yayayyy!!! ... And now, the rest of the LOVE PARADE--- STEPHEN BOYER Dodie Bellamy came into my life at a critical time, I was straddling the worlds of university and night life, a day job and porn, yet still broke, barely surviving, depressed, and full of dreams. My advisor at USF, the poet D.A. Powell, knew I was miserable and after reading my work suggested I meet Dodie and apply to the weekly, private workshop she offered as a way of getting out of the trappings of the institution and enter the queer San Francisco I ran away, seeking. At the time, I wanted to be making art and writing but it seemed impossible to go from notes to actualized work, everyone seemed so cool and connected and then I met Dodie who showed me the shit covering all the “cool people’s” faces as she refocused my energies on craft, form, politics, experimentation, and most importantly–continually demonstrated the strength necessary to remain yourself in this apocalyptic world. DARREL ALEJANDRO HOLNES I cherish my semesters spent slipping poems under Mark Doty's door, picking up his comments on my poems in his mailbox, and meeting occasionally throughout the semesters when he was my undergraduate thesis advisor at the University of Houston. My getting feedback from the poet who wrote "Charlie Howard's Descent", the first poem to ever make me cry, a poem Jericho Brown introduced to me while we sat in the Gulf Coast Magazine office and talked about poetry and our crushes, made me fearless when confessing and questioning my queerness through poetry, an exercise that in many ways saved my life. I am eternally grateful. Mark Doty, I celebrate you. KEVIN KILLIAN Hello Loma thanks for asking me about this! At my age the mentors I could name are mostly passed on now. Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn, Robin Blaser, Harold Norse, James Schuyler, from each I learned something about how to proceed in the world. A trio of friends made me the writer I am today, the New Narrative group of Steve Abbott, Bob Gluck and Bruce Boone. The poets of my generation were shot down by AIDS, so we lost Essex Hemphill, Sam D'Allesandro, Reinaldo Arenas, Tim Dlugos, David Wojnarowicz; from each I took... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
“Duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive… The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation” Federico García Lorca. --------------------------------------------------------- By the age of 16, I had more dead friends & relatives than I wanted to count. … I lost too many people in my life, too young. When starting grad school at NYU, I told my professor that I could not write poems like all the other students. I told her that I came from a death culture- a place where death was always lingering, where time felt like scarcity. The other students would spend weeks, months, meditating over their poems, contemplating the smallest revisions. But not me. I always wrote as if I were next to disappear, as if I would be gone, mid-sentence… And that’s how I held my poems, as if they were in the process of disappearing... And that’s how I held my lovers, as if we were in the process of disappearing… As if they would be in my arms one second and then gone in the next. And for me, so much of my writing, feels like one big sloppy shout—an attempt at telling you, “I’m here! We’re here! And we’re dying!” Fuck. I think about some of the viejas that I met, who refuse to cry. They would attend funeral after funeral, and keep their jaws clenched tight. They had no space to shed another tear for death. I think about the moment (at age 16) when my dog died and I began to laugh. I thought that God was playing a joke on me… God had already taken away all of the people that I love and all I had left was this mangy dog. Dead dog. Stupid joke. There is this poem that I wrote called “DEATH NEVER GETS EASIER JUST MORE EXPECTED.” I threw it away. Nothing good lasts... I’m sorry but my mind is starting to spiral... Let me tell you a bit more about death culture, as it pertains to poetry. When I speak of death culture, I am not talking about docupoets-- poets of documentation who reference artifacts and attempt to record various histories. When I speak of death culture, I am speaking about A FRAME OF MIND, a sense of one’s mortality, and NO this does not accompany some sweet feeling of relief or freedom. Death culture produces a deep and silent pain, a feeling of injustice (cuz we should not be dying like this, so easily). Death culture is not the state of disenfranchisement, it... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Alternatively Titled: Liberal Victories, Radical Failures In January of 2015, Javier Zamora, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and I started the Undocupoets Petition to protest first book contest discrimination. We launched an article online with Apogee Journal, displaying the names of 400+ poets, publishers, academics (who stand in solidarity with us). We stood up to ask that submission guidelines no longer read “proof of US citizenship or permanent residency.” Many people opened their ears and hearts. Many people supported us in this endeavor. The Lambda Literary Foundation launched an interview with Wo Chan, VIDA launched an interview with Cristian Flores Garcia, and Fusion News interviewed Marcelo, Javier, and me. The news of these articles was covered thoroughly by the Poetry Foundation, Coldfront Magazine, and others (such as this wonderful blog post by Miguel Morales)… We were also inspired by the outreach of poets such as Jennifer Tamayo (who is currently working on another article about Undocupoets) and the words of Janine Joseph in her recent article Undocumented, and Riding Shotgun. Also, worthy of mention is the Undocupoets Petition Reading which was hosted at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop and drew a large audience. A lot of media was produced by, with, and for Undocupoets in these past few months. In the coming months, I will also be helping to edit an issue of the Southern Humanities Review, dedicated to Undocumented Writers. We (as a collective of poets) are also submitting some panel proposals for various conferences at the moment. This is all to say– All of the articles, activities, voices helped contribute to some major changes within the poetry community. Here are all of the publishers / organizations which have responded to the Undocupoets campaign– CHANGES PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED Letras Latinas(Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Red Hen Poetry Prize): Manuscripts must be of original poetry, in English, by one poet who resides in the United States. Yale University Press (Yale Series of Younger Poets): The competition is open to emerging poets who have not previously published a book of poetry and who reside in the United States. Poetry Foundation (Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships): Applicants must reside in the U.S. Persea Books (Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry): U.S. Citizen and/or currently residing in the United States. Crab Orchard: All unpublished, original collections of poems written in English by a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or person who has DACA/TPS status are eligible. BOA Editions (A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize): Entrants must be a legal resident of the U.S. or have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or Legal Permanent Status (LPS). Academy of American Poets (Walt Whitman, etc.): U.S. Citizen / resident of the United States for a ten-year period prior to the submission deadline or January 1 of the prize year for those awards that have no application process, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Legal Permanent Status (LPS), or any subsequent categories designated by the U.S. authorities... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 19, 2015