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By Jeffrey McDaniel

This post is building off the discussion on Emily’s thread.
I lived in Los Angeles from 1996 to 2003, and there was a lot happening there with Latino writers too. (LA is kind of cut off from the rest of the nation in some ways in terms of literature.) I’m thinking of Luis Alfaro (who after poetry got into playwriting and won a MacArthur genius grant), and Michele Serros (who is now writing non-fiction, How To Be A Latina Role Model), and Dennis Cruz (a Bukowski-esque spirit with the power to both terrify and move), and Alicia Vogl Saenz (who has exquisite diction and elegant imagery), and the dark humor of Richard Garcia (The Flying Garcias on Pitt Press). There’s an arts organization in East LA called Self-Help Graphics.


In Leimert Park (South Central-ish), There’s a great jazz/poetry arts space, The World Stage, founded by jazz musician Billy Higgins and poet Kamau Daaood, (a giant of the spoken word who deserves WAY more recognition despite his recent book on City Lights Press). Many of the poets who have bloomed, been pruned at the World Stage (there’s an excellent, workshop attached to the Wednesday open mic) are African-American, but the vibe is open and very embracing of poets from all backgrounds.
I do think Latino poets are currently underrepresented in mainstream poetry publications and readings. (I am cognizant of the contradiction in that phrase: mainstream poetry). I also am 100% sure that over the next 25 years we will see big changes in this area; as the demographics in this nation continue to shift, the poems are going to be impossible to deny, and become more and more visible in mainstream poetry circles. How do I know this? 1. These American stories need to be heard. 2. I worked with high school poets in LA for six years, and there were some amazing young poets. Jorge Monterossa, a former national teen poetry champ, is a ferociously sensitive, perceptive, spiritual voice. He is currently working on a book of short stories, and everywhere he reads: Acentos, the Nuyorican, Beyond Baroque, he tears it up. There is a talented young woman named Lynda L. I don’t want to mention her last name, but her story is one that needs to be heard, the story of a kid who was carried into this country when she was 2 and worked her ass off in school and got straight A’s, while working 25 hours a week at a movie theater to support her family, and then got accepted into college, but couldn’t get in-state tuition because she doesn’t have the right paperwork, and is consequently trapped in a situation that seems like a story cooked up by Franz Kafka. Hers is an American story that needs to be heard.
About ten years ago, I was working at Beyond Baroque in LA, and we were putting together a grant to have an artistic exchange between Los Angeles poets and poets in Mexico. I had a very hard time finding anthologies that featured contemporary Mexican poets. It was jarring to think Mexico was only 120 miles away physically, but in terms of poetry it seemed further away than Europe. Maybe that’s changed some in the past decade. I think I’ve seen a few anthologies in the past couple years that are beginning to fill that gap. Can anyone think of any really good young writers from Central or South America who have been translated into English.
I read down in Buenos Aires at a series called Zapatos Rojos. http://www.zapatosrojos.com.ar/ It was a run by several young female poets, who were really smart and interested in avante garde writing. The reading happened on a sofa, like we were on a television talk show, and there were rose petals scattered on the stage. Maria Negroni is an award-winning Argentine poet who has a book out in the US.
Other poets worth exploring widely and deeply: Neruda, of course; Peruvian-born Cesar Vallejo, especially his first book Los Heraldos Negros; Borges’ short stories (again of course); Nicanor Parra, the Chilean “anti-poet”; Alejandra Pizarnik, some call her the Argentine Sylvia Plath, though she actually began publishing before Plath.
Some more Latino writers in the US to add to the list: Edwin Torres (wonderful fusion of experimental techniques, such as sound poetry, and performance poetry) and Willie Perdomo (writing strong poems for 15+ years) in New York, and Quique Aviles (a poet and performance artist) in DC.
Jumping around a bit. One responder in the Emily thread mentioned how the anti-immigration sentiment is actually anti-Mexican, and how that extends outwards to all Latinos. I would definitely agree with that. I’m afraid anyone with a Spanish accent is being demonized. In Bedford, New York (the rich suburb where Martha Stewart lives), three Guatemalans have been brutally murdered over the past few years. Families are being ripped apart.
As a nation, we are in a catch-22, because the experts say that over the next 10 years we are going to need more a lot more workers. Something about our border with Mexico reminds me of the Berlin Wall. I know that comparison doesn’t hold up completely; maybe it’s just the idea of a wall and people dying to get across. This situation has the potential to get a lot uglier; there’s fear spreading through undocumented communities, and xenophobia and hatred being stoked.

Comments (3)

  • On June 18, 2007 at 12:06 am Rich Villar wrote:

    Word. Great post here, thanks for picking up the discussion. Just passing thru for now, but of course there’s much more to say.
    Where is Jorge Monterossa these days? I tried to contact him the other day and didn’t hear back. Stay up, dude.
    Rich Villar.

  • On June 18, 2007 at 9:10 am Hannah wrote:

    In case anyone’s interested, Indiana Review’s summer issue last summer was a special issue on Latino/Latina writers and includes some really great poetry…a really wide range of aesthetics. You can order a single copy (vol. 28 no. 1) here: http://www.indiana.edu/~inreview/general/subscription.html

  • On June 18, 2007 at 5:26 pm Jeffrey wrote:

    Hey Rich,
    Jorge just finished his junior year at Sarah Lawrence. He has been working on prose as well as poetry. When I get back to town next week, I can try and get you his number.
    Thanks Hannah for the magazine tip.


Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, June 17th, 2007 by Jeffrey McDaniel.