Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fotos y Canto: Hitched & Holy Grounds Return. Beginnings & Endings For La Palabra.

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Hitched at Holy Grounds Celebrates Macondo Writers and Two Book Releases!
Michael Sedano

Hitched  is a quarterly reading series, created and engagingly hosted by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Notable for Bermejo's pairing of intriguing voices, Hitched might feature seasoned with emerging writers, people working in complementary styles, writers with contrasting approaches. Bermejo always finds a delighting facet in her guests' poetry and prose.

For December, the event paired two writers bringing debut books to light, Vickie Vertiz's collection, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut (University of Arizona Press) and Joseph Rios's collection, Shadowboxing (Omnidawn)! In addition, all the writers were Macondistas, including liz gonzalez, Alex Espinoza, Tisha Reichle, Sarah Rafael García. With Saturday's reading, Hitched reaches its seventh year. In Los Angeles, that's an institution. That Macondo writers workshop has been an institution since Day One.

For years--since December 2010--Hitched was a feature on the remote westside, at Beyond Baroque in Venice. When Bermjeo relocated the series to the eastside, Hitched got forcibly interrupted after a car crashed through the El Sereno front door of host, Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea.

The December 9 Hitched marked the return of Holy Grounds and Hitched. The owners of the venue donate their comfortable paved garden. The sound system provides clean audio adding no discernible artifacts. Readers Saturday showed how to use the two-step stage and microphone to advantage.

That microphone, however, complicates a photographer's quest for a perfect portrait of an artist reading aloud. A listener's brain can render the mic invisible, or at least irrelevant to enjoying the work. The camera is a dumb instrument that sees whatever comes between the lens and the speaker's face.

Technology adds dimensions to a reader's considerations that can enhance a presentation, or let it be a "more of the same" experience for audiences. There's no such thing as a "bad job" but there are infinite ways to be good, better, the best you've done. Knowing your tools makes writers better readers.

Cardiod microphones are a reader’s best worst friend. They solve a lot of issues. A coffee house patio, for example, demands projection, vocal power to draw in those people on their laptops, be meaningful to the ones who came to hear you, help them hear over those laughs coming from somewhere.

When there's amplification, a lot of noise and clarity issues get solved. Hitched at the resurrected Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea demonstrates the worst and best of  a microphone’s nature for writers reading to a live audience.

Two theories come into play when a reader sees a microphone on the bare stage. There's the mic theory and the speaker theory.

Mic theory is pura technology. Imagine a soap bubble coming out of the end of a pipe. The walls of the bubble begin at the pipe and swell spherically away from the pipe, to the sides and larger to the front.

The pipe is the microphone. The bubble is the microphone’s sensitivity to hear words clearly. The microphone hears above and below itself, to the side as well. Think of the bubble. A speaker need not direct one’s mouth to the mic for the mic to hear the words. If someone shouts “speak up,” angle the mic on the stand, or turn up the amplifier volume.

Speaker theory is pura complicada. Boiled down, directness counts. This means eye contact, gesture, presentation of self, handling text, memory, anxiety, voice and diction, expressiveness, variety, just to begin. Complicated, yes, but sabes que? You learned these when you acquired language and speech. Practice.

For microphone purposes, speakers will want to do as Joseph Rios, and be tall and project with a good voice. If not, lower the mic to chin level, stand a step off center from the stand. The bubble will reach out for your voice, even as you swivel your head making eye contact with people.

Or, one can do as Vicky Vertiz, who holds the mic in one hand, her book in the other.

Alex and Sarah took advantage of the two-step podium. They took the high ground. The end of the mic--the pipe with the bubble--is at chin level, well within the sensitivity bubble. The mic at mouth level will be too high to allow both a satisfying view of the reader's expressive face and good audio capture.

All bets are off if the reader buries her his face in the text.

Speaker bios provided by Hitched.

liz gonzalez 

liz gonzález's poetry, fiction, and memoirs have been published widely. Her work will appear in or recently appeared in City of Los Angeles 2017 Latino Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide, Inlandia: San Bernardino, Litbreak Magazine, Askew Poetry Journal, and Cultural Weekly, and in the anthologies Voices from Leimert Park Anthology Redux, The Coiled Serpent, and Wide Awake. Her recent awards include a 2017 Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and a 2017 Arts Council for Long Beach Professional Development Microgrant. She grew up in the San Bernardino Valley and lives in North Long Beach with her fur-buddies Chacho, a Chihuahua mix and Espresso, a tortie cat, and her partner Jorge Martin, a sound artist. She directs Uptown Word & Arts and is a member of Macondo Writers Workshop. She is a writing consultant and coach, a facilitator of free community creative writing workshops, and a creative writing instructor through the UCLA

Tisha Reichl

Tisha Reichle is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Originally from a trailer on a dirt road, she moved to Los Angeles to study Sociology, Communications, and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. While engaging high school students with socially conscious literature, she completed her single-subject English credential at Cal State Dominguez Hills and earned an MFA at Antioch University. Her stories have appeared most recently in The Acentos Review, The Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Town. She is an AROHO Retreat alum, a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop, Las Dos Brujas, and an organizing member of Women Who Submit. She is currently a Wallis Annenberg Fellow at USC where she will eventually earn a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature.

Joseph Rios

Alex Espinoza

Alex Espinoza was born in Tijuana, Mexico to parents from the state of Michoacán and raised in suburban Los Angeles. In high school and afterwards, he worked a series of retail jobs, selling everything from eggs and milk to used appliances, custom furniture, rock T-shirts, and body jewelry. After graduating from the University of California-Riverside, he went on to earn an MFA from UC-Irvine’s Program in Writing. His first novel, Still Water Saints, was published by Random House in 2007 and was named a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. The book was released simultaneously in Spanish, under the title Los santos de Agua Mansa, California, translated by Lilliana Valenzuela.

Sarah Rafael García is a writer, community educator and traveler. Since publishing Las Niñas (Floricanto Press 2008), she founded Barrio Writers and LibroMobile. Her writing appears in LATINO Magazine, Contrapuntos III, The Acentos Review, among others. She is a Macondo Fellow and editor for the Barrio Writers and pariahs anthologies. In 2016, she was awarded for SanTana’s Fairy Tales (Raspa Magazine 2017), which was supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at Grand Central Art Center. Most recently, García is supported by Community Engagement for LibroMobile, a literary project aimed to cultivate diversity through literature. Her works and lifestyle promote community empowerment, cultural awareness and collaboration.

Vickie Vertiz

Vickie Vértiz was born and raised in Southeast Los Angeles. A Lucille Clifton Scholar at the Community of Writers, she was also the 2016 Poetry Center Fellow at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Her writing can be found in Huizache, Nepantla, and in The Coiled Serpent from Tia Chucha Press. Her second collection of poetry, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut, is available now from the University of Arizona Press, Camino del Sol series.

Hitched Celebrates Macondo Writers and Two Book Releases

UC Irvine Shuttering Magulandia

There seemed to be lots of time to get down to deepest Orange County, to Irvine to catch Magulandia and now that's less true. There's no time at all, in fact, to take in the show whole. After December 12, only the central University Art Gallery portion welcomes visitors until December 16. Click here for details on the final days of Magulandia at UCI.

If you were waiting for the exhibit to come down to buy that Magu sculpture, now's the time to make your offer. Have you picked out a place for it in the front room?

Beginnings & Endings at Avenue 50 and La Palabra

Karineh Mahdessian restrained the tears that refused restraint so the tears flowed as she disclosed news to a supportive crowd that today wraps her service hosting the immensely important and popular reading series, La Palabra at Avenue 50 Studio in Northeast Los Angeles. The December 10 meeting wraps the series for 2017.

Avenue 50 Studio has yet to announce January's host. Mahdessian will be in the audience. Joining her will be Don Newton and Laura Luisa Longoria, Luivette Resto, Jessica Ceballos y Campbell, the stellar lineup of hosts emeriti.

For this final celebration, Karineh invited her parents, shown in the heart of the group portrait. Numerous others who've featured or open mic'd through the years joined the readers in the circle of readers.

Circles have no beginning and no ending, a circle circles continuously. That's the logic of a La Palabra reading, The Circle. Today's circle doubled down, taking a round-robin format. Readers take the floor inspired by a previous reader or a moment's duende. 

Mahdessian launches the day with a tribute reading, Maya Angelou's "And Still I Rise."

Thank you, Karineh for making La Palabra take wing. All that energy. Invite the features. Curate the event. MC the Open Mic. Set up chairs. Bring refreshments. Clean up afterwards. Recruit Albie Preciado to be the official baker of fabulously imaginative treats. Make time to make time to make it happen. Cry when it works so well. Cry when things happen having nothing to do with La Palabra but are life, love, happiness. Like poetry. Like everything.

Mission Accomplished! Fun, Poetry, Gente, Love, Value. Karineh Mahdessian, órale.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Interview of Ivelisse Rodriguez

Ivelisse Rodriguez

Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her short story collection, Love War Stories, is forthcoming from The Feminist Press in summer 2018. Her fiction chapbook The Belindas was published in 2017. She has also published fiction in All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, Obsidian, Label Me Latina/o, Kweli, the Boston Review, the Bilingual Review, Aster(ix), and other publications. She is the founder and editor of an interview series, published in Centro Voices, the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, focused on contemporary Puerto Rican writers in order to highlight the current status and the continuity of a Puerto Rican literary tradition from the continental US that spans over a century. She was a senior fiction editor at Kweli and is a Kimbilio fellow and a VONA/Voices alum. She is currently working on the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ about 70s era salsa musicians in Puerto Rico.

1.    When did you start publishing? What impact did seeing your first publications have on you?

My first short story, “Summer of Nene,” was published in 2005 by Junot Diaz in the Boston Review. First, it was awesome that Junot Diaz, whose short story collection Drown I love, saw the potential in the story. That level of support from any writer whose work you admire becomes this tangible thing that you can always reach for and hold onto when you are in the throes of your writerly angst.

A handful of people may read what you wrote, but being able to hold your work in your hands, the externalization of it, it’s like it now exists independently and has a life apart from you. In short, publication makes your work feel real, so real that it now has a material form.

Publication is really the moment you have been waiting for—it is memorable; exciting; and life-altering, even in a small way, like so many other “firsts” that we wait for in life. You are no longer the person you were before this event in the sense that it is like a first kiss, a first love, etc. A small shift has occurred, and you may be the only one who feels it.  

2.    How have you matured as a writer?

Love War Stories, my forthcoming short story collection, was started twenty years ago, and writing that book really taught me to be a better writer and to have a greater respect for craft.

Impatient is the best way to describe my former writing practice. I declared stories complete when they were far from it because I thought the race was in racking up publications. It’s hard to disabuse yourself of this notion because so much of one’s starting and furthering a career depends upon that. You have to wrestle with this until knowing creating the best work that you can is your true objective. I can see the difference now in working on my novel. I am much more invested in the process, and while I would like to be done sometime this decade, I want to write the best novel I can more so than beating some hypothetical timeline.

Learning the trajectory of my writing process has guided me out of some demoralizing writing moments. Now I understand that I write several terrible drafts that are more exposition than story. Or that after those moments where I am convinced this story is just not going to come together, I usually have an essential epiphany shortly thereafter. Being able to call upon my understanding of my writing process allows me to rouse myself and keep going.

3.    What do you think your role is as a promoter of culture? Do you think that there is such a responsibility?

In the debate about whether or not someone should be labeled a Latinx writer, I think the moniker is important (though that should not be one’s only label) because the world needs evidence that Latinx writers exist. I was thirteen when I first read a text by a Puerto Rican—Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas—and I had always been an avid reader. The significance of seeing yourself in the world cannot be underestimated. Reading Thomas for the first time was a pivotal moment—someone was telling my story for once. And so without texts or writers who do not act as cultural ambassadors, then thirteen-year-old bookworms could read 100s of books and never see themselves.

I’m invested in adding new narratives to the oeuvre of Puerto Rican literature. Much of the literature focuses on migration, language issues, displacement and social unease, nostalgia for the lost homeland, but the post-migration generations are my focus. So part of my cultural responsibility is to further the literature.

That also entails being a champion for Puerto Rican literature. I am the founder and editor of an interview series with contemporary Puerto Rican writers, published by Centro Voices, the e-magazine for the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. There are texts from Puerto Ricans in the continental US that span over 100 years, and I am worried that it’s a history that can easily be forgotten. But this history is important as it chronicles the early life of Puerto Ricans in the US, and it is also a foundation for other Latinx literature by the mere fact that it existed. So I interview an author a month, and it has been great to see how these contemporary writers are in conversation with past Puerto Rican writers, while simultaneously forging ahead with new threads and new themes.

The Belindas, 2017

4.    What project are you working on now?

My current project, the novel ‘The Last Salsa Singer’, focuses on the world of salsa—music created in the dance halls of New York City by young Puerto Ricans. To save his greatest friend, Vicente, the salsa singer, splits his upcoming concert—one song to rescue Richie; one song to catapult Vicente. Counseled for years by Vicente and the band about his “in-between” relationship with Lucy, Richie, the saxophone player, is about to bind his life to Lucy’s, who is pregnant by someone else. As a joke, the orquesta members make the Palomita song deriding Richie’s love story with Lucy; as a last resort, they decide to perform it. The Palomita song swallows “La verdad” at the concert—Vicente’s legacy-making song, or so he had hoped. And by the time the Palomita song, which becomes their greatest hit, is done, everything Vicente has every wanted is consumed, leading to his suicide. For the next thirty years, Richie will be tied to Vicente, hoisting Vicente’s legacy, along with his own guilt for having brought Lucy into their lives. ‘The Last Salsa Singer’ is about different forms of love: friendship over romance and the love of one’s art.

5.    What advice do you have for other beginning writers?

After working (inconsistently) for twenty years, I finally finished my manuscript and am getting it published. But I can’t give you the answer that you just have to stick it out and it will happen to you. I think, all things being equal, some people are just luckier. Some people will have those urban legend stories where they publish a story and an agent comes calling, and then they get a book deal. Those stories are possible, but I think that you have to figure out what kind of luck you have to keep from going crazy. For some people, it will feel like you are climbing a mountain on your knees, and other people are just breezing up the mountain.   

As a writer, you are entering a career where all your work may be for naught which is a bewildering truth. Writing or any other artistic endeavor are realms full of chance. And many times you may wonder if you should keep going, and the only way that I could answer this for myself was that I didn’t know what else I would do with my life. What would I do with all those empty hours?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

El Carpintonto

 El Carpintonto
 Antonio SolisGomez

My stepfather, Jesus Parral called himself a carpintonto or a wood butcher and often when the outcome of a project was lacking in perfection, he would say "alcabo no es piano," the understanding being that he practiced rough carpentry and not cabinet making. I however practice cabinet making in a rustic sort of way and have just finished a new workbench.

Rough slab of mesquite for my bench

I often think of my stepfather, who had married my mother when he returned from the war. He had seen a lot of killing, having landed in Normandy, fighting his way through France and Italy and marching through Germany all the way into Berlin.  Once home, he supported the family by becoming a carpenter, inspired by his carpenter uncle Aniceto and learning the trade in a Conservation Corp Camp, (CCC) as a teen during the Depression.

Cutting a straight edge by hand

We learned early on that he had a dual personality, one that was gentle and caring and one that could be cruel and violent, making me wary and fearful lest he be in a bad mood. My brother and I often felt the sting of his leather belt across our backside, sometimes deservedly as we were prone to naughtiness but sometimes without cause.
He was also a taskmaster often wanting a helper/gopher when he worked on his car and later, on weekend side jobs, dragging my brother or me to help him.  He wasn’t a patient man nor a good teacher and he barked orders the entire time, mostly to hand him a tool or to hold a piece of wood that he was sawing or to clean up. The work was dirty, tiring and I resolved then that I would go to college and never work with my hands.

As a teen I learned that he was illiterate and then I understood why he forbade my brother and me to read in the house but not until adulthood did I began to understand other aspects of his personality.  By then I had seen him sparingly as he had thrown my brother and me out of the house after we had finally subdued him when he hit our mother.  I was fifteen and went to live with my grandmother and never lived with him or my mother again.

Using the table saw to square the lumber

My stepfather had been raised by his maternal-grandmother because his mother didn’t want him or his sister around.  Teodora, his mother, was like an evil character from a Dickens novel.  When she finally brought him and his sister home as a teens, it was only to enroll him in the CCC in order to get his family allotment and to sell the daughter to an older man.  When he went into the army, she had him send her some of his military pay for “safe keeping”, money she then squandered.

We began to repair our relationship when I was in college and after I married and graduated, I would call him to give me a hand with projects around the house, and he would call me to read letters that he received from the union, Social Security, the VA, IRS, DMV, etc. as he never learned to read.

The squared mesquite slabs and two pieces from an older workbench

By then he and my mother had divorced, two of their boys now adults, and a daughter and a son still-living at home and in school. One thing in his favor during those turbulent years was that he showed no favoritism; he was mean to everyone. After the divorce he remarried and had a new son and he spent his retirement raising and selling canaries.

Beginning to plane and sand

Slowly I also stopped having the bad dreams of him chasing me at night and I running through the neighborhood, jumping fences, crossing yards, climbing roofs, all in an effort to elude him.

All the parts sanded and ready to stain & assemble

And I developed a passion for working wood and despite those early traumas I was glad I had some early exposure to tools, some of those tools that belonged to my stepfather ending up in my own toolbox.

 The finished workbench measuring 84" in length and 20" wide with a trough in the center below the surface.