Follow Harriet on Twitter
Poets in The World
So maybe I will see some of you at AWP this week. It’s a quick in and out for me. I teach in San Francisco on Friday morning, and then I’m off to Denver. On Saturday afternoon, I speak on a panel entitled, “Poets in the World: Building Diverse Communities through Independent Poetry Centers, Blogs, and Radio,” organized by Camille Norton. Other panelists are Oscar Bermeo, Jan Beatty, Tim Kahl, and Susan Kelly-DeWitt.
So “Poets in the World,” which is where we are supposed to be. In the Bay Area, I have always had a local, grassroots literary community, comprised of, well, local writers, and the work of these local writers has consistently been connected to this place, its history and political movements. There was no line drawn between activist work and literary work. In fact, the literary work has been activist work. I’ve previously blogged here about this community. I’ve also previously blogged here about Al Robles, Tony Robles, Jeff Tagami, and Catalina Cariaga. Growing into becoming a writer, I was surrounded by folks like this, folks for whom poetry has always been a way to tell stories about our families, our neighborhoods, our struggles, our political and geographical movements, about the people of this place. Poetry has always built and affirmed community, and propelled emerging writers onward.
I was one of those emerging writers once. I kept binders full of inchoate poems, acts of mimicry after reading Gloria Anzaldúa, Carlos Bulosan, Jessica Hagedorn, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ntozake Shange. I read them, and I wanted to tell our stories just like they did. I joined Maganda magazine in 1990, attacked slushpiles of Filipino American authored work with gusto, published so many emerging young writers, organized and hosted spoken word events and poetry readings, and in our community spaces, performed spoken word with so much heart.
Also in the early 1990’s, local author and educator Jaime Jacinto took me under his wing, started pointing me in such helpful directions, and asking me hard questions about my poetry and how I planned to grow it. He brought me into some great Bay Area literary spaces. He blurbed my first book. Nearly 20 years and a MFA degree later, up until the penultimate versions of my Diwata manuscript, I continued seeking his advice and direction. “Think harder about your music,” he’d say, “Go find Nate Mackey,” which I did. And it made all the difference.
I don’t remember now when this line between Poetry and The World was drawn, between those who get published by The Man versus those who spit Truth and Fiyah, and (referencing Craig’s recent post) between those who MFA versus those who don’t. I don’t know who started it. I hate getting stuck in the middle of it. I just know this division is counterproductive.