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Friday, September 15, 2006

Bus This!

Thanks for all the comments to my previous post.

But I want to address a comment by John Gallaher. John, I think, is speaking for a lot of people. I'm not picking on John. Really. I don't know him. But his comment pissed me off. But I'm not transferring my anger onto him personally. We all have our opinions. Let me highlight his two key points.

"It seems to me that if you don't like this literary event, you should have your own. Get your own bus and drive across country. I'm sure libraries would be happy to have you stop."

Get your own bus! Do your own thing! Yes, let me book a bus right now. I've got the financial resources to fund a tour in my pocket. It's chump change. And "our" bus will be no ordinary bus. No way! "We" like color and fringed dashboards. "We" like Virgin de Guadalupe bumper stickers. Hell yeah! Get on board, Senorita. Get on board, Speedy Gonzalez...

The Bus is being funded by Wave Books, which I believe is funded by a well-to-do gentleman. Wave Books has the resources to fund a tour. But judging from their blog posts, the poets riding the Bus are not dining at five-star restaurants and sleeping at the W. No, they're getting by on coffee and air mattresses. Good for them. Sadly, I can think of no literary Chicano/ Latino organization in the USA that would be able to fund a tour. This speaks volumes about some of the problems within "our" community. I hope my generation will be able to create national organizations to promote and disseminate "our" art.

Get your own bus! Do your own thing! I'm calling for inclusion. I'm calling for openness. It disturbs me when people suggest "we" do our own thing because that's the easiest way out. It excuses the organizers of the Bus tour from working toward inclusion. And it excuses "us" from interacting with poets with different backgrounds. It excuses all of us from building community, from promoting poetry.

"This tour is billed as “bringing innovative poetry to big cities and small towns.” One can argue the definition of “innovative poetry,” obviously, but know that they are trying for a specific thing on this tour."

Innovative poetry! The Bus is promoting innovative poetry! People are going to have different definitions of "innovative poetry." John and I agree on that. But I want to talk about what I'm reading between the lines: Chicano/ Latino poets are not writing innovative poetry. Really? Anyone who says this has not read the emerging Chicano/ Latino poets. I'm not saying John is saying this. But I often hear people say this about the poets of my generation. And invariably, when I ask these "readers" to name the emerging Chicano/ Latino poets they've read they name the old timers. When I read the emerging poets of my generation I'm awed by their fresh approaches to the art. Not all of "us" are writing about grandmas. And even those of "us" writing about grandmas are doing it in innovative ways. Read Ada Limon, María Meléndez, Cynthia Cruz and Scott Inguito. Read!! "Our" work is in conversation with all the trends in contemporary poetry. Some of "our" work is rejecting all the trends of contemporary poetry.

Innovative poetry! The Bus is promoting innovative poetry! Really? I want to be careful here. I don't want to dismiss the work of the poets riding the Bus. I like a lot of these Bus poets. But can you really call most of them "innovative?" I'll let you make up your own mind. I will say the Bus is mostly promoting a specific branch of American poetry. What would you call this branch? But there are Chicano/ Latino poets out there whose work blooms on this branch.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

Your post is made out of bone-white tears. The locus of true power in American poetry exists in the University Classroom...There lies the provenance of permanent change. I am glad you are teaching a class this quarter/semester.

HD

barbara jane said...

excellent post eduardo. i am still trippin on how few asian am poets are not reading in the sf bay area. esp. in re: innovative poetry, um hello, truong tran, catalina cariaga, tsering dhompa, pamela lu, justin chin.

i have issues with 'get your own bus,' though at the same time i agree that our community poetry/lit orgs, which are 'our own buses,' ought to be doing something directly addressing what can be interpreted as the relative exclusivity of 'american poetry.' and i think we ought to more aggressively put ourselves out there and make ourselves known to the wave books tour and others, but i also believe those mainstream american poetry orgs really ought to work harder at finding those "innovative" poets of color, who really are not hard to find. we are here, and some are not toiling in relative obscurity.

speaking of in/exclusivity, i've just been invited to participate in SF's litquake, during the asian pacific portion of the reading, along with truong tran, and this will be cool but i can't help feeling like he and i can't just be SF poets, or poets.

dang, makes me wonder if i and my work are just too darn 'ethnic.'

barbara jane said...

doh, i mean - i am trippin on how few asian am poets are reading in sf.

alternately, on how many asian am poets are NOT reading in sf.

ok, i'm good.

John Gallaher said...

Apologies for pissing you off, that was not my intention. What I was thinking of when I wrote back to you, was, specifically your comment about the bus being "whack," and your dismissal of writers such as Ray Gonzalez, who I went to school with, and admire.

The Wave Bus tour is funded by a press. It seems reasonable to me that the press would feature mostly the poets from that press. Or friends of the poets, etc.

When I suggested you "get your own bus" I was thinking of myself as well as of you. I was also not invited to read on the Wave Bus Tour. But the idea seems to be a good one. so next summer, I, along with two friends, are going to drive from MO to PA and read wherever we can. Turns out it's really not that expensive.

And I like your idea of the fringed dashboard. I think we might go with that as well.

Francisco Aragon said...

I think Emmy is correct to contexualize this event and point to the larger conversation about the (in)visibility
of Chicano/a and Latino/a poets in certain venues.
This bus tour seems to have sparked a conversation I've been having in private with anyone who will listen for the last three years.

So someone has said that the this Bus tour is about "innovative poetry"... Well, in Milwaukee, where the tour was slated for a stop, Panamanian-born poet Roberto Harrison just published (he's having a reading tonight!) a collection called Counter Daemans, which was blurbed by non other than Ron Silliman. And Brenda Cardenas is there, who is doing among the most interesting things with inter-lingualism around. And yes, Brenda was featured at Poetry Daily on August 26, Poetry Daily being the only mainstream venue that has been quite good about representing Chicano/a and Latino/a poets in the past few years. Don Selby and Diane Boller have been exquisite on that front.

On the exact opposite spectrum is the most Chicano/Latino-less space of them all: Poetry Magazine. They are coming on their three-year anniversary since Christian Wiman has taken over (which is not to say that JP was much better, though he did publish Gary Soto now and then). I share the lone most compelling piece of data:
in three years, they have received numerous, I mean numerous books by Chicano/a and Latino/a poets. And they have commissioned for review a grand total of 0 zero. No Alberto Rios, no Lorna Dee Cervantes, no Virgil Suarez, no Luis Rodriguez, no Judith Ortiz Cofer, no Ray Gonzalez, no Sheryl Luna, no Maria Melendez--they have received books by all these people, and many others and not one line. One.

So yes, as Emmy says, it's part of larger conversation.

Eduardo C. Corral said...

John, where exactly in my post do I dismiss Ray Gonzalez? I respect his work. I made that clear in my post. I was just pointing out that in a tour promoting emerging voices there should be emerging Chicano/ Latino voices.

Wave Books has every right to promote their authors. But that doesn't excuse them from erasing the voices of the largest minority group in the United States. Not in my book. Your point would make sense if the Bus was only pushing the work of Wave book authors and perhaps other similar small presses like Verse and Fence. But the Bus is hosting poets who've been published by a vast array of presses.

And I still think the bus is WHACK!

Peter said...

Thoughtful post, Eduardo. I agree with you totally. And agree there is a diversity problem. But I also love the *idea* of the Poetry Bus. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater; perhaps they will discover a way to be more diverse as they grow?

Eduardo C. Corral said...

Peter, I also love the concept of the Poetry Bus. I just wish they'd been more thoughtful in its execution. I hope to see a more diverse list of readers if they do this again.

Francisco, I also think Emmy is correct to contexualize this event. And I love her suggestion to do something instead of just bitching. I'm rethinking my stance of not attending the Bus stop in Phoenix. We need to make ourselves visible, to force them to see us.

Justin Evans said...

Alas,

I am like T.S. Garp in that I am not doing anything new or innovative with poetry, and as such, will never be asked to participate in such things.

jeannine said...

Dear Eduardo, I've been following this conversation with interest. I think not only is there some question of the aesthetic variety on the inclusiveness - do you have to write a certain way to be on the Wave Books tour? - but the question of "emerging" writers is pretty interesting - I think Wave Books' tour is mostly inclusive of poets with two or more books, which is more of an "established" than "emerging" type of writer. I think Wave Books' mission isn't really to try to support emerging writers.

Eduardo C. Corral said...

Jeannie, I've always thought poets with one or two books were still considering "emerging." I'm thinking of that anthology, New American Poets of the 90s: the poets in the anthology had one or more books.

Also, there are poets reading on the Bus tour without books.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Hey, Eduardo:

As one of the whitest of the white, I do find the whitebread nature of so much of poetry, not just the Bus, to be consistent and saddening. It's probably exacerbated for me because Colorado Springs is such a conservative Caucasian town, but it comes up a lot--mainstream poetry (and I include the mainstream avant in that) is all too frequently a middle class white academic and/or dilettante activity.

In terms of the Poetry Bus, the "innovative poetry" argument, though it could certainly be worded better, combines well with what you said about the specific branch of poetry--Latino poets, Asian American poets, etc. are certainly being innovative, but there's a dominant brand of avant poetry that Wave represents, and it's mostly written by white teachers and graduate students. I don't think that this style of poetry is invalidated for that reason any more than Chicano poetry would be invalidated by the fact that it's written by Chicanos, but there's still something regrettable in the (I feel unintentional) exclusivity of it. I think you're totally right about the Bus promoting this style of poetry (though the readers at individual stops fall well outside of it--see Jake Adam York in Denver, for example).

But the more important question than all those is this: why can't we have a Poetry Buss Tour instead of a Poetry Bus Tour? I'd pay my way on that.

Man, I should stop drinking and posting.

jeannine said...

Good point, Eduardo. Maybe I was thinking of all those visiting poetry teaching positions - they seem to all want two books these days. Sigh.
Anyway, this was all perpendicular to your original discussion, which was about race and diversity on the bus. This may be cynical, but don't you think some aspect of the organization of the Wave Books tour was "who was friends with whom?" That approach may limit diversity...among other things...

Anonymous said...

John Gallaher said, "...and your dismissal of writers such as Ray Gonzalez, who I went to school with, and admire."

John Gallaher thought, " . . . but some of my best friends are Latino!"

Snark said...

The Wave Poetry Bus Tour?

I'm on it:

http://poetrysnark.blogspot.com/

32poems said...

Eduardo,

Thank you for these conversations. I I noticed today -- because of you -- that the Dodge Poetry Festival appears to have no Chicano readers. I could be wrong. I took a few moments to study the pictures and people looked either white, Asian or African-American to me.

Deborah

louise said...

It seems to me that perhaps the bigger question is, why is there so little diversity on Wave's list, and why is there so little diversity amongst their friends--if indeed, that is how the selections were made.