As a poet, I can do one of two things: I can kick the wall or I can laugh. I never went to a writing school, all the “big name” poets I know are dead or pack around “big names” like guns only among my relatively small circle of poetry friends, I evacuated my hometown of Memphis and I’m a perpetual mocker of the Iowa writing school which seems to clone poets for what Ron Silliman mockingly calls "the School of Quietude" (my friends Joe Somoza, JB Bryan and others are big time exceptions to my Iowa School rants.) Being 66 years old I figure all this stuff is foolishness--poetry is doomed not to make money--so I laugh. A friend told me once that the only time folks pay attention to poets is during a military coup and the winners line up the poets and shoot them.Make sure the buyers have this information—where the poet went to school, who were his teachers, is there a big name poet who is championing this poet? Hometown is also very important. Connections to the Iowa writing school trump everything.
So the other night I went to hear Rosa Alcalá read from her new book Undocumentary. It was a fine reading. Rosa, and her partner Jeff Sirkin teach the making of poetry in the bilingual program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Rosa is a Spanish immigrant. Or at least her parents were. She was the first born in this country. Her mother had been a garment worker for 27 years (from the age of 14 to 37) when in 1968 she and Rosa’s father immigrated. They settled into Paterson, New Jersey, the mother worked on assembly lines there, so I could easily imagine the Alcalá family wandering around in Williams’ Paterson somewhere. And Rosa was born into that working class consciousness. Her poetry and poetics rise up out of that consciousness—a political sensibility, an immigrant sensibility, a feminist sensibility, also a feeling of the irony of her teaching now in a university on the U.S./Mexico border with a PhD in Creative Writing. Her poetics are interesting and complex with a wide range of influences, thanks in part to her studies at the SUNY-Buffalo writing program that emphasized poetics. I enjoyed the reading immensely. I’ll paste a poem of hers at the end of this blognote.
Another big plus for the evening was learning about the Dos Press Chapbook Series out of San Marcos, TX. Dos Press published UnDocumentary, which is really half of book. Dos Press is not the usual Texas endeavor. It published poem books that packs a poetics that doesn’t wander around the SoQ territory. The other half of the book has poems by Ash Smith and Sasha Steensen. The editors are C.J. Martin and Julia Drescher. The Dos Press chapbooks are unusual. They publish them in what is called a “dos-a-dos format”: 1 book, 2 spines, 3 authors. It’s a complicated and labor-intensive form. I won’t try to explain further. Best thing to do is buy one. Especially if you love books. The Álcala / Steensen / Smith (including b&w drawings Roberto Ontiveros and machine stitching—truly a cottage industry) by is 12 bucks which is cheap for such a lovely book (they do have collector’s editions). It was a real pleasure to hold this book (these books?) in my hand after hearing John’s report on B&N buying practices for poetry. For Dos Press, it's not about the money. It's about making a beautiful book, it's about collaboration between book-maker, poet and artist. Good for them.
So now I’ll paste here a Rosa Alcala prose poem from the ActionYes on-line magazine:
Allegory of a Girl with Aspirations
Everything here carved in mythological smut: babies with weapons, virgins yawning, satyrs licking their grapes. All the while the piano plays: plebeian, plebeian. The dining room stretches its wood into the village down below. Not all its doors are heavy and ornate, some hinge on a coming and going. Through these, the cook slips in and out of frame wearing a white, double-breasted jacket. First, only the buttons can be seen, then the hands. Only the hands, not the buttons. Then neither, but his back and elbows. There are several entrances/exits to the kitchen, each swing winks a metal, an edge. The cook makes the food appear, but never delivers. His uniform sets a different kind of progress, his failed hunches are casseroles. This is his selected work. We think some expressions palatable. The double cotton worn two ways is a religious order, it is a protectorate. I feel the fossil of some baron's mutton haunches in the claw-foot tub, and think of my cook. I want to carry myself across the threshold, to kiss him, to be him, to sharpen his knives, to wear his jacket, to button it up the left side, then the right, masking and unmasking a spill, a breast, a blunder, a chest. Feigning a work of art I enter, camera attached to an eye. Everything is perfectly framed in the viewfinder as it spans the room. I take note: from the outside, the inside becomes another angle; from the inside, the picture changes with each step. There is no way to piece it together. He shows me all the surfaces, but I can't locate a burner, an oven. He lifts me & my equipment onto a cutting board, and in his close-up, says, "work the butter and sugar before adding eggs." I sink. I sing:
The compote or the composed.
The cook or the dandy.
Who will glaze my ham?
Who will I marry?