writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.


Dimitri Reyes

3rd Generation

after Marina Carreira’s poem, “First Generation”

We are grass cracked cement.
Dollar store chalk breaking on rough sidewalk.
Dust kissing our jeans when children cross streets
watching out for buses code switching between
careful, bus is turning and
cuidado, autobús están virando.
We are empanadas for breakfast and white rice for dinner.
We are C&C sodas and sunflower seeds
tucked into our Chucks, New Balances, SB Dunks, or Retro 4’s.
Our countries are our minds.
The megapixels of palms, grass, and sands
seen on the walls of barbershops and bodegas come in 4K.
We are change the channel on our IO Triple Play.
We don’t know how to respond to its-your-heritage month
because every month should be our month.
Someone says for what? Our forehead wrinkles in repeat.
For what. What. Qué. For. What. For. Qué?
We is 4K and our last names leave us naked.
We know there are more of us,
never think there are too many of us.
In America,
we’re included if we see us in America
until they don’t see us in America.
We are raised by our grandparents
(here or not)
while our parents figure it out.
They are still figuring it out.
We are a part of the same gene pool
until a different one is uncovered. 
We are the equivalent
of standing in the wrong line at the DMV
understanding English faster than we forget Spanish
and that still doesn’t license us star spangled freedom.
We are at-the-friend’s-house-with-the-clear-enough-pool
and say
damn, if only we can live in weather like this year round
where that friend reaches across 4 generations to say
you wildin’…
we’re not on the island…
I don’t even like the heat.


Short Statement, Dimitri Reyes: 3rd generation means a lot to Every First & Fifteenth because it is a celebratory poem that recognizes the arbitrariness of both the familiar threads of “La Isla” and the learned experiences of “American” English-speaking culture. The intersectionality of these two spaces is where this third “in-between” space (hence, “3rd Generation”) is discovered and explored where the speaker savors language and the different interactions amongst several generations. This poem is the urbanite’s need to learn through community engagement. Though the poem is a mouthpiece of a generation, the individual is aware of the optics of those around him, and therefore has permission to view and express different parts of his landscape with the help of others inhabiting the same space.


Author photo of Dimitri Reyes, photo credit Ananda Lima

Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto Rican multidisciplinary artist, content creator, organizer, and educator from Newark, NJ. He has organized poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRico and has read at The Dodge Poetry Festival, Split This Rock, and the American Poetry Museum. His forthcoming book, Every First and Fifteenth won the Digging Press 2020 Chapbook Award. Some of his work is published in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, & Acentos. He is the Marketing & Communications Director at CavanKerry Press and an Artist-in-Residence with NJPAC.

community feature: Through These Realities (call for submissions)

This week I’m taking a moment to highlight a current opportunity for Boston area poets and photographers of color via a project called Through These Realities. Check out the details, links, and posters below.

Also, speaking of collaborative work, here’s a link to “Our Lady of Sorrow” by Brenda Cárdenas, a stunning ekphrasis poem inspired by the work of Ana Mendieta. This poem is part of the dynamic PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio which continues to inspire me.

On to the call!


The project, called Through These Realities, centers around racial social justice, poetry, and photography.  For this project, local photographers of color will create a series of images inspired by new, prompt-guided poetry from local poets of color (preference is given to Somerville affiliated poets and photographers).

This project will culminate in a public art installation in Somerville featuring the photography and poetry. The poetry will also be published in Spry Literary Journal. Here’s the link to the site and call to learn more. 


A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

A flyer for the Through These Realities project.

recent news + upcoming event!

Just a quick post to share some recent happenings as well as information on an upcoming event:

A photograph of poets Kim Stafford, Elizabeth Dodd, and José Angel Araguz.
  • First, I’m excited to share that I was recently interviewed as part of Frontier Poetry’s “In Class” series of profiles of creative writing professors. Check out the interview here. Many thanks to Jose Hernandez Diaz for the invite and for the folks at Frontier Poetry for having me share my thoughts on teaching!
  • Also, I’m honored to have some of my blackout poems included in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Check the poems out here as well as editor Dana Delibovi’s engaging editor’s note here–then click through at the bottom to see all the illuminating works! Special thanks to Dana for including my work!
  • Lastly, I am ecstatic to share that I will be participating as a poetry reader alongside Elizabeth Dodd and Kim Stafford as part of Terrain.org’s online reading series on July 26th at 8pm ET. The reading will feature a Q+A and will be moderated by Terrain.org assistant poetry editor Anne Haven McDonnell and held in collaboration with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) biennial conference: Emergence/y, with Zoom hosting provided by the University of Arizona. Registration for this virtual event is required and can be accessed here along with info on the event.

Hope everyone’s well in their respective worlds!

Abrazos,

José

   

not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

Photograph of weeds by Shelagh Murphy on Pexels.com

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

Abrazos,

José

new Salamander issue!

This week I’d like to highlight the recent release of the latest issue of Salamander! If I’m being honest, it’s still surreal to me be in the position of Editor-in-chief. A literary magazine is a confluence and meeting ground; it is also a lot of work, often in solitude.

I ruminate and say as much in my editor’s note, excerpted in part here:


I have lived and worked in Boston longer under the pandemic than not.

This means, I have edited more issues of Salamander under the pandemic than not. I share these details in order to give an impression of how my experience of Salamander has been framed. The emphasis on survival and perseverance that colors and shapes my personal, teaching, and writing life also has its place in the work represented by these pages. The hours of reading submissions, followed by the hours it takes to organize and order the contents of an issue, and then more hours in front of the computer working out the layout and design, these hours have happened across a wide range of moments of my life. Hours talking and writing with friends and loved ones affected by Covid-19 as well as grieving for those lost; hours of preparing lesson plans and answering emails to students navigating their own unpredictable lives; hours poring over the news for updates about vaccines—these hours all blur together and live around the work put into this issue.

The fraught nature of these hours is one of the reasons I’m excited to share the artwork of Shannon Miguela Dillon. Her piece “Begin Again” featured on our cover struck me right away for its balance of vibrancy and depth. In the colors of the flowers there is a feeling of life and hope, of flourishing. Such sentiments are currently running parallel at the moment in the U.S. as folks think of returning “back to normal.” But under the flowers are the human hands that are a stark contrast in their shades of gray and black. This contrast brings me back to the title, how the flowers feel like they represent the word “begin” and the implied promise it comes with, while the hands represent “again” which has the implication of time and effort. The word “again” reminds me that we have been here before, that life is not new but continuing. This nuance reflects further the nuance of human life. While some are eagerly removing masks and setting aside protocols, others remain vigilant and brace themselves, still living lives of compromise without the privilege of any concept of “normal.”

Dillon’s work is also a celebration of the body and the self, of presence. And really, this is what I am hoping to emphasize in these opening words. By asking that we not forget the lessons of the pandemic—a pandemic that is ongoing and which continues to affect lives in irrevocable ways—that we not forget the power and necessity of protest in the face of systemic racism and oppression, I am asking that we remember what is at stake, that we exercise the search for nuance through art so that we do not miss out on it in ourselves and each other.


Writing such things in my role as EIC, much like my time in the classroom, has me practicing what it means to speak authentically. In the face of the capitalistic framework of literary publishing, I feel it’s important to always underscore the humanity and heart behind the work done. If any of this matters, it’s because we matter–our emotions, trauma, happiness, obsessions, presence, insights–matter.

I encourage y’all to check out the issue. On the site at the moment we have poems by Cortney Lamar Charleston, Alixen Pham, Maria Zoccola, Sarah Marquez, Leila Chatti, and Leah Umansky; a creative nonfiction essay by Andy Smart; fiction by Jake Maynard; as well as reviews and more artwork by Shannon Miguela Dillon. Check out the issue to read more!

José