in memory: Miguel Algarín

Portrait of poet Miguel Algarin, New York, New York, 1994. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of Miguel Algarín, Puerto Rican poet, writer, and co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café who died earlier this week. Algarín was the embodiment of being a poetic presence on and off the page. His poetry set precedents by holding space for political struggles and literary insights that represented the various communities he worked and taught in. His work through the Nuyorican Poets Café as well as in his teaching showed him as a model for holding space for poets from all backgrounds.

The more I teach, the more I feel that the classroom is a space of confluence, a space where the experiences of my students and those of my own all meet, eddy, and converge, a presence. A stage can be a classroom as can the page. Across these three spaces, Algarín touched a great number of lives, influencing directly through community-minded efforts as well as through a singular understanding of languages.

The poet Rich Villar in a recent set of tweets shared the following sentiments:

I think it’s good to celebrate the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It’s good to celebrate and mourn Miguel Algarín. It’s also good and important to celebrate Miguel’s IDEA of the cafe, the “poetics” of community, which is genius particularly because anyone can replicate it.

So many spaces and places defined what became known as the Nuyorican movement. None of it required official sanction or 501c3 status. It required two things: need, and audience. Even the old squat on 3rd Street wasn’t necessary at first. Any old space would do.

Villar goes on to share the example of Elisabet Velasquez who, among other things, is conducting a series of stories on Instagram highlighting poets who answer questions asked by her followers. I agree with Villar when he compares Velasquez’s use of social media to hold space in the spirit of Algarín. That when one looks outside the capitalist-driven and prejudice-strained world of literary publishing and awards, one sees that giving and honoring each other is easy. That answering a question on social media or mentoring someone through email correspondence is easy, is community. One of the great joys of running this blog is being able to connect with y’all and create community.

It is an understatement to say that Algarín’s example is not just a literary one but a human one, a political one, a socially aware one. It is one I continue to learn from. To return to teaching: it is a platitude for a teacher to say I learn from my students. But what does that really mean? It means I commune with my students. I listen to my students. I build with them. Again, all one needs to commune, to listen, to build and learn is to hold the space for it.

I encourage y’all to hold space with some of Algarín’s work as well as to share it. Share your own work. Share your voice. If you’re reading this, know that I’m glad you’re here.

2 poems
“Not Tonight but Tomorrow (1978)”
“New Year’s Eve December 31, 1975”

A write-up on Algarín’s life at The New York Times.

some quick thoughts

Thoughts for the week include:

  • Helpful to have found this spread at leftnortheast to add further info on the *ahem* holiday celebrated this week. It’s a weird holiday and you know it.
  • Sorta related: this article about the toll the pandemic is having on close relationships, friendships, family-ships, etc. Read it aloud to Ani over breakfast yesterday and considered how much is at stake in how we shape each other, how we shape ourselves.
  • On the note of community, here are poems by Raquel Salas Rivera and CAConrad from the recently released poetry anthology We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel and published by Nightboat Books. Both poems dive into respective kaleidoscopic momentums, offering complexities and insight along the way, a good representation of the range of depth in this anthology.

Here’s to surviving this month together.

community feature: The Offing

A pic of protesters, two signs clearly visible, one reading “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and the other reading “BLM.”

This week, I’d like to take a moment and highlight the good people at The Offing for their continued efforts to raise awareness within the writing community and engage us in initiatives against systemic racism. This past June they released “We Stand With the People” an open letter stating their commitment “to the work of Black, Indigenous, POC, Women, GNC, LGBTQ+, Disabled, and all marginalized peoples” and asking others to join them in taking a stand against white supremacy. The editors invited other literary journals to sign the letter and join them in their work, which I promptly did on Salamander’s behalf.

Part of their continued work after this public statement is to start a series of 10 letters dedicated to “engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within our respective organizations.” Last month, The Offing published the first of ten letters written by Aurielle Lucier and “hope each letter acts as a wake-up call.” In this first letter, along with offering resources, Lucier makes clear:

This project is…an invitation to focus your attention and extend your support beyond platitudes, legislative Band-Aids or monetary contributions. I am not asking that you simply carry Breonna and Tony and Rayshard and George and Ahmaud’s memories close to your hearts. Rather, I implore you to, not unlike protestors, shift your behavior to match your beliefs. I invite you to orient yourself toward justice, to move as one who believes that your freedom is inextricably linked to mine, and act beyond your comfort or convenience. 

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

unsilencing in these times, ha

Let me start off with a half-quandary / half-aphorism:

Post-election isn’t exactly post yet–what’s that s’post to mean?

I’m still nervous.

A photo of a forest from above by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

Alright, now that I got that out of my system, here are some thoughts from this past week:

  • I caught myself sharing with my students in passing that life’s been sad and busy mostly and, well, I don’t lie to my students.
  • That said, been enjoying conversations across the courses I teach. My composition students are expanding their sense of the world and the intersection between literature and politics–all thanks to this essay by Yong Jie who gives a dynamic breakdown of an Italo Calvino quote about literature giving voice to the voiceless. Amen.
  • My poetry students are also expanding their sense of freedom on the page. One even articulated something at the core of my teaching in her own words: “The duality of the lines relates back to our class discussions of how behind every mark on the page, there has to be strong intent by the writer.” I say the core of my teaching–perhaps I mean the core of what I aspire to in my work on and off the page. Finding intent, of life and of each poem, that’s the mission.
  • Speaking of my poetry students, I am excited to be doing the work of expanding what a creative writing workshop can be. One resource that’s helped a lot was this essay by Beth Nguyen who breaks down the value of allowing a writer to speak during workshop. I tried and, well, wouldn’t you know, a writer smiled in workshop and all writers learned as well. It was something special to be a part of.
  • Lastly, check out this poem by Jessica Salfia made from the first lines of emails received during quarantine. That she was able to compose this by April of this year shows how quick we are to language, and how quick language is away from us.

I’m enjoying writing these posts. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re finding rest and peace of mind as you need to.

dispatch: last week’s events & this week’s thoughts

Just a quick post to share the recordings from last week’s events!

First up is the Far Villages Anthology Talk, “Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World.” I joined Gillian Parrish, and Kathryn Hummel for a conversation moderated by the insightful Abayomi Animashaun. Our conversation included a discussion of what we termed the “empathetic imagination” as well as working across different languages, different countries, and different practices. Check it out below! Also, check out the Far Villages anthology here.

Next up is the Salamander Issue #50 Virtual Reading with readers: Rajiv Mohabir, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Anne Kilfoyle. I had a great time hosting this first virtual event for the Salamander community. As part of my intro, I included a few words in memory of Leslie McGrath who passed away this summer. I also read her poem “Ars Poetica” which I encourage y’all to check out. Here’s the event itself!

Lastly, I am writing and posting this a little later than usual for me. Main reason being that my mind’s been overwhelmed with the election which has yet to be called. It’s been a trying year already and this seems to be taking us deeper into the crucible. Whatever the results, it shouldn’t be this close. The gravity of what it being this close truly means is crushing. I wish you all sleep and peace of mind.

readings: today, then, & always

The flyer for the Salamander virtual reading!

Tonight (Friday 10/30) me and the Salamander crew will be hosting the “Salamander #50 Virtual Reading.” Here’s the full info:

Friday, 10/30 @ 6PM EDT-Reading: “Salamander #50 Virtual Reading” Featured readers: Rajiv Mohabir, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Anne Kilfoyle

Register here for this event.

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Also, had a recent blast to the past via my friend and fine poet Alan Berecka. Alan was kind enough to recently post some short clips of me reading at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas back in 2016. Here are the links should you care to check’em(me) out:

“Joe”
“Jalapeños”
“Drinking at Home”
“Spiderman Hitches a Ride”

Ani pointed out that this was in the last days of me reading with “wild eyes” — which was really my hard-headed attempt to “make eye contact,” ha. These days, I’m inclined to take a performance as an opportunity to serve the poem. Like, that’s my job at a reading, to make sure you hear the poem.

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Lastly, the election. It’s been happening and keeps happening and it’s stressing all of us out, no? And that’s not the only stressor, not the only public one, nor private one. I’m hoping y’all are being kind to yourselves still. Here’s a poem by Matthew Olzmann, “Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope” that I’ve been sharing at readings. As the speaker hears from the rope bridge: here’s to all of us making it across.

dispatch: virtual events this week!

A quick post sharing info on a few events I’ll be a part of this week:

The book cover for Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets.

First, I’m excited to be a part of a talk celebrating the anthology Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets (Black Lawrence Press). Here’s the full info:

Tuesday, 10/27 @ 8PM EDT–Talk: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World Featured Contributors: Stephen Page, Jose Angel Araguz, Ben White, Gillian Parrish, Kari Treese, and Kathryn Hummel

Each contributor will read for ten minutes, then we’ll be engaged in a conversation regarding the theme of our essay.

Register here for this event.

Also, check out my post about this anthology here.

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A flyer for the Salamander reading featuring author photos.

Also, this Friday me and the Salamander crew will be hosting the “Salamander #50 Virtual Reading.” Here’s the full info:

Friday, 10/30 @ 6PM EDT-Reading: “Salamander #50 Virtual Reading” Featured readers: Rajiv Mohabir, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Anne Kilfoyle

Come join us for what will be a great, dynamic reading of poetry and prose!

Register here for this event.

Also, check out excerpts of this issue here.

Have a good week y’all!

turn, volta, turn

Some quick thoughts and sharings from this week:

  • As many of you know, I’m a board member of CavanKerry Press, and I’m excited about the work done by this literary organization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve managed to maintain their staff and publishing schedule, while conducting various community outreach events virtually. They are currently doing a fundraiser which I encourage y’all to check out at their site along with their current collections. They also have some of their literary anthologies available for free electronically.
  • One win for the week was getting the laundry done just before the machines were replaced in our building. And when I say just before, I mean JUST before–like, I came back to get things out of the dryer and the washers were gone. And if this doesn’t seem like a win to you, we’re not living in the same pandemic.
  • Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think 🙂

Been sharing the meme below with students. I share it with you hoping that if you feel called out, know that you matter. Let’s keep keeping it together together.

A meme with a crowd of Spidermans on one side and one solo Spiderman on the other, each are pointing across at each other in recognition. Over the crowd it says “Students barely keeping it together this semester” and over the solo it says “Professor barely keeping it together this semester.”

exhausted seltzer

Image description: A black square with the following written in white letters: “Your quarantine nickname is: How you feel right now + The last thing you ate”

Ran across this square in one of R.O. Kwon’s tweets (her novel The Incendiaries is dope, btw!!!) and due to the moment time of time I came across it, “exhausted seltzer” is what you can call me. In true poet luck, I’m charmed by the combination of words. I mean, seltzer when exhausted is flat, technically–which applies to how I’ve been feeling lately. Mind, I’m not feeling this when doing readings or when teaching–those are spaces where the energy I put out is given back, conversations and events that give back some of the fizz (oof, rough metaphor, I know). Rather, it’s the weight of ALL THE THINGS going on, all at once, and constantly happening.

If you can at all relate, please be kind to yourselves. Maybe have a seltzer, ha.

Rembrandt’s painting, “Head of an Old Man in a Cap”

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

dispatch: post-reading, new anthology, & new review

A brown man standing before a laptop reading poetry.

First off, thank you to everyone who was able to attend the readings this past weekend! On Friday night, I was delighted to share space with r. erica doyle and Adeeba Shahid Talukder. The reading was in celebration of Adeeba’s collection Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved (Tupelo Press, 2020). Check out “For Qays.” Thank you to the NYU Creative Writing Program and Kundiman for hosting us!!!

Thank you as well to the Suffolk Intertextuals for inviting to read this Saturday! I enjoyed being able to share a range of work including my two poems featured in the new anthology Dreaming: A Tribute to Selena Quintanilla Pérez (FlowerSong Press, 2020). Check out this post I shared earlier on “The Things to Fight Against” also included in my book Small Fires.

Lastly, I am happy to share my latest review for The Bind has gone live! This time, I spend time with Sara Borja’s Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff (Noemi Press), breaking down the collection’s engagement with imagination and experience. I also include a writing prompt 🙂

Hope you’re all staying safe and well, questioning and fighting against systemic oppression!

Más later!

José