Saturday, March 29, 2014

Back in business!

Books are in stock and ready to ship Monday. Purchase your copy of Comprehending Forever using the PayPal link at the right.

$20 gets you a signed copy, no additional shipping.

If you ordered a book and were waiting for one…well, your wait's over. :-)


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

April's 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

April 28th--Loser Slam, Asbury Park, NJ

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ordering your copy of Comprehending Forever

I have MUCH more to say about last Friday night's book party at the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe besides "It was bananas." Even though it was bananas. 

For now: If you missed the festivities and were unable to get your copy, I have a few copies in my own personal stash. $20 gets it sent to you personally, complete with my signature. No separate shipping. 

Click on the PayPal link on the right hand side of this page.

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?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dispatch from Bread Loaf Mountain

Michael Collier, in 1981, phoned the woman who was to become his wife, excited to share every single hour of the forty-eight he had experienced at Bread Loaf up to that point. I have him beat. It took me one.

There was one phone here then, and you dumped quarters into it. Things are slightly different on this mountain now: you can get on the internet and Skype your life away if that's your wish. Thus far, I've called home, I've tweeted, I've Facebooked and Skyped. It's what we've learned to do, at least those of us who use the internet to get others involved with poetry. You have to promote the reading. You have to get the word out. You have to make people aware of what's going on. This is, admittedly, an extension of how we have learned to grasp the world. Everything's a social event. Everything needs to be experienced with a comment stream, links, and pictures. It's all public, and fast, and now, right now. And you know it's unwise. But you do it anyway.

To hear Michael tell the story at last night's welcome gathering, it sounded like his wife greeted his enthusiasm with much wisdom. An innate instinct that the experience he was having was much better experienced…well, being experienced, as opposed to being documented. There's not much room built into the schedule for writing, though I can't ignore the instinct. I'm up, and typing, at what I'd normally call an ungodly hour, except there's something sacred about this hour, in this setting, that keeps me from saying the adjective. I don't know if this will be my ritual while I'm here. It might be. What I know for sure is that except for this one entry, it won't be public.

There's simply too much happening to tell you about. And by happening, I don't mean that things are taking place, events are transpiring, drinks and jokes and fellowship are being swallowed whole. These are happening, too. But what I mean is a process, a mode, the difference between documentation and direct experience that Erich Fromm talked about in To Have or To Be. To report is not to breathe in. Being on the spot is not being. Having an experience is not the same as experiencing.

Don't get me wrong. I'm recording everything. There are things—you know, things—I can tell you. Satellites cross the night sky up here with as much frequency as airplanes do in New York. The weather changes rapidly—it is a mountain, after all—and I truly did need a hoodie last night. If you wanted, you could drive for five hours on nothing but coffee and a bag of grapes. The conference is diverse. Different ethnicities, backgrounds, styles of writing. Yet everyone seems to be from Brooklyn. Water is not property, not if you judge by the cold clear rivers I've seen thus far. And I want to make a thousand stacks of pancakes when I get home, just so I can put some real goddamn maple syrup on them. They sell this shit by the boatload up here.

I'm going to resist the urge I normally feel to report every experience like I need a companion. Something you learn within five seconds of seeing a mountain range up close is that you really only need breath. Water, eventually, but essentially, breath. I'll write, and you'll read, but I suspect what I post here will be infrequent. And it'll be writing in a place, not about a place. There are people looming large in my mind, and this summer was not an easy thing. That's what I carry with me, mostly.

But I also have to say that I feel like I am here on something like a community scholarship. Real talk: this shit is pricey. Worth it, but pricey. If my family, my friends, and my colleagues had not gotten together to send me here, I would not be here. And it isn't just about money, either. I'm here on the power of pure love, and I don't doubt for one second that I am part of something larger than myself. A community. I know there are writers who shit on that particular word, some who should know better, frankly. What I know, at 6am on a Thursday on the side of a mountain, is that I'm a Nuyorican poet, sent here by family—by blood and by choice—and that I am exactly where I belong. 

I can be solitary, but I will never be alone.

Bueno. If I had a hot plate, it would be Bustelo time. I'm going to have to look into that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Decisive Act: On Orwell, Arizona, and 50 For Freedom

They didn't show up, and I shouldn't be surprised.  A press release was generated, an email address and phone number was distributed, the messages went to the right people, and my phone didn't ring, and no messages hit my inbox.  None of them showed up, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because there are always more important things to be discussed, like Mitt Romney's ignorance about the physics of airplane cabin pressure, or striking football referees, or the technical specs behind the iPhone 5. 

There will be no articles written, no reporting, no witness from the press (except for what we do on our own, clearly).  They've got to report on the Presidential election, and the issues surrounding our economy, and health care, and illegal immigration.  No time for a bunch of rabble rousers talking about banned books, books you can still buy on Amazon.  Because if you can still buy things on Amazon, then all is well.

Did you know that Amazon once banned George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm?  Of all the books to ban.  Supposedly it was a dispute over rights, but it led to a massive outcry—similar, it could be said, to the outcry over Tucson's book ban.  But it's okay, Amazon said at the time, because it offered refunds to the buyers.  Point being, the technology to control what you read exists.  Point being, if Arizona had known this sooner, perhaps they wouldn't have to physically remove any books from the classroom.

Let's be clear.  The issues in Arizona are only peripherally about books.  Though it should be said, the first thing you do—if your aim to disappear a nation—is to throw their literature in the trash.  Burn it, ban it, box it, just don't read it.  And so they did just that, Arizona: they banned the books, and they boxed the books, and they made the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson disappear, along with their teachers, along with any mention of it in the schools.  Ah, but they told us, they reassured us, that the books are not banned.  They just can't be used to teach Mexican-Americans about being Mexican-American.  And they told the rest of their teachers, that any attempt to teach any of the banned literature, all 80 titles on the list (it should scare you, to death, that there's a banned books list, and that it used to be a curriculum), could result in their termination, should any complaint about their rabble-rousing content be raised by a concerned parent.  Or, anyone, really.

This is where the story ended, even after Tony Diaz and the group Librotraficante had the audacity to quote the law in public, show its unconstitutional application toward one group of people, report to us the students' discontent, and organize a series of panels and lectures around the years-long battle between Arizona and the teachers, which is still ongoing in the courts.  They told us about the school district suing the former teachers for damages.  They told us about the threats to other people's jobs, to keep them in line, to silence them.  And they (meaning Luis Urrea) told us about the Orwellian implications of banning books, unbanning Shakespeare, and rewriting history, and covering themselves in doublethink and Newspeak.

We gathered, though the press did not, last Friday at the 50 For Freedom of Speech reading, because this is not simply about banning books.  Banned author Martín Espada knows that; which is why, when I asked him to do the reading, he brought himself from Amherst, Masschusetts, on his own dime, to be with us, the very night before another reading in Boston.  And banned author Luis Urrea knows that; that's why he drove straight to La Casa Azul from the airport when Tony Diaz made the call.  (And Tony flew up from Houston himself.)  It's about freedom, the fundamental right to know that down is down, and up is up, and that 2 + 2 = 4. 

What do you think it means when a government entity does not want you to read a book called 500 Years of Chicano History?  Do you honestly believe it has anything to do with the ideology of the authors?  Has anyone in the state of Arizona actually met these authors on the banned list?  They are not concerned with how well the students do in school.  They've admitted that much: despite the success of the program in sending children to college, the program was cancelled anyway.  The state of Arizona is concerned with what, and how, children learn in school.  But it is not the facts they're concerned about, specifically.  It's the narrative they're worried about.  The story.  They are concerned, as Big Brother was concerned, with controlling the past; as Orwell points out to us, whoever controls the past controls the future. 

The United States has a past that it would like to forget.  The United States has, in its past, summarily executed brown people, Hispanics and Latinos from every walk of life.  The trouble for Arizona, and everywhere else, is that there are history scholars, activists, students, thinking people, some with U.S. college educations, who had the audacity to write textbooks, and to think to themselves the following: Hispanics and Latinos did not drop from the clear blue sky, or from some mystical war-drawn border.  In Arizona, we're actually learning the same story again, about whitewashed history, and changed facts, and misleading narrative.  We're learning about context, the same kind of context that created activists like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebron, and James Baldwin, who was also banned in Arizona.  Today, it's Mexican-Americans.  Take you pick as to who's next.  Who's due, as it were.  Where the fire will be next time.

If Chicanos have a context, and a history, before the advent of white supremacy, before the advent of European conquest or Pax Americana, there might be a reason for them to walk a little straighter, to understand their histories in context, to see themselves in a continuum from Aztlan, to zoot suits, to The House on Mango Street.  500 years ago, Chicanos existed.  Africa existed.  Latinos existed.  They had just different names.  When will we learn these names?

And when will the media learn to write long pieces about the systemic dismantling of civil rights?  When will they show up to poetry readings by authors on the banned list, in community spaces like La Casa Azul bookstore, in other states besides Arizona and Texas?  When will they tell you about Latinos uniting against their own genocide?  When will they tell you about the counterspells being cast by poets and writers, the ones who still believe in language, and history, and meaning, and roots? 

Maybe when they find themselves being downsized, or commanded what to say, by their bosses, by their governments, by financial concerns.  Maybe that day is already here. 

What's left for us, poets, Latinos, is to wake up and understand what is happening, to understand it in the context of lightning-fast information being passed and passed over.  We have to speak, and we have to speak often, in new ways and old ways, to keep these fights fresh.  And we must always be ready to tell the world our history, never tiring of the truth, never weary when people tell you they don't get it.  Never scared when the media doesn't show up. 

And we have to remember love:  that's what was present in massive amounts last Friday at the Casa Azul, and in many places around the country, reading banned literature out loud, casting counterspells into the universe to reverse the trends, defy conventional wisdom, and survive the way we always have.  We have to remember love because our children thrive on it, because we thrive on it, because we will not become automatons unless we allow ourselves to be.  We have to remember love, because love banishes indifference, and because love will keep us rooted, our histories intact, our people whole.

Remember love, now and until the day you die, by reading every book that the state of Arizona tells you not to.  Read them, and quote from them, and steep your children in them.  Love every day, and do not give in to indifference. 

While you're at it, write some of these things down. 

"To mark the paper was the decisive act."

–George Orwell, 1984

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Counterspell: 50 For Freedom of Speech/NYC, in protest of the banning of books in Arizona

If you're not familiar with the story in Arizona, then take a few minutes to get educated:

From The Progressive, January 2012:

Here's the Salon article cited by the Progressive:

And here are a few videos to drive home the point.  

Tony Diaz, founder of Librotraficante, explaining the practical impact of the Arizona law, the end of Mexican-American studies, and the banning of books, at a panel organized by students and scholars at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City:

And here are Sergio Troncoso and myself at the same event, on Latino literature and censorship:

The actions of a few politicians in Arizona, riled up by the hate in the hearts of those without empathy or human understanding, constitute a spell against intellect, against immigrants, against education, and against dignity.  And make no mistake, it is spreading from state to state.

I believe in counterspells.   

This is why Acentos is joining up with Librotraficante, and a coalition of like-minded Latino creatives in NYC (Latino Rebels, Sangre Viva, Capicu Cultural Showcase, and La Casa Azul Bookstore) to participate in a national day of action...a zafa, if you will...against the de facto banning of Latino literature in Tucson, Arizona, and wherever else it's being considered.

The New York City gathering will feature the banned Puerto Rican author and award-winning poet Martín Espada (Zapata’s Disciple), as well as Tejano author Sergio Troncoso (The Last Tortilla and Other Stories), as well as the public readings of other banned book texts by some of New York City’s top Latino academic, literary and spoken word talent.

Also reading are Bonafide Rojas, Miguel Ángel Ángeles and John Murillo; Peggy Robles-Alvarado, María Rodríguez, and Nancy Arroyo-Ruffin will be reading from Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street; Juan “Papo Swiggity” Santiago, Mark Anthony Vigo, and José Vilson will be reading from Luis Rodriguez' Always Running; and John Rodríguez, Grisel Acosta, Isabel Martínez, Elizabeth Calixto, and Vincent Toro will be reading from Rodolfo Acuña's Occupied America.

The reading will be taking place on September 21st, from 6pm-8pm at La Casa Azul books: 143 East 103rd Street, NYC (6 train to 103rd St.)  

I posted the following on Facebook a few days ago.  It bears repeating, and sharing...

What we need to understand is that the banning of books in Arizona, the end of Mexican-American studies in Arizona, did not happen yesterday. It happened in January. And the debate is even older than that.

We waited until the administrators of the Tucson school district marched into classrooms, boxed up books, and physically removed them. And when we found our outrage, the national media turned away from the story and stood by, again, when teachers and administrators were fired.
It has taken the efforts of tireless educators, activists, and groups like Librotraficante to keep our attention focused, and to keep the heat on Arizona, a state which has already shown the nation that they are willing to throw civil liberties and young people under the bus. And still, I get email and notes from otherwise thoughtful people who are only now hearing about the banning of books, who are surprised this could happen in the United States.
How long do we wait to stand up to genocide? Understand, the first step in erasing people is erasing their literature. How long do we wait? Until the authorities find it in their interests, or in the interests of "the citizens," or in the interests of national security, to round up whole groups of people by the dozens, the hundreds, the thousands? Do you think it impossible? Or confined to Arizona?
You will be erased if you don't wake up. Your history will be invalidated. And the authors of your destruction will hide behind the law to do it. Don't let them.

“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”
-James Baldwin, THE FIRE NEXT TIME
Banned in the Tucson Unified School District