|(left to right) Magdalena Gomez, Jesus Papoleto Melendez,|
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Edwin Torres,
Often such panel discussions are deadly but this group was lively, full of energy & laughter & back & forth banter. Performance poet Edwin Torres began by saying he doesn't consider himself a Puerto Rican per se (born in the Bronx of Puerto Rican parents) but doesn't shy away from it. He read an excerpt from an essay on performance that discussed the artist as "other" that helps us understand the "we", about trying to figure out where the edges are. He said, "performance takes a wall & turns it into a stage."
Jesús Papoleto Meléndez was one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poetry Café. He read excerpts from the preface of just-published collected works, Hey Yo! Yo Soy! - 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry (2leafpress.org) about making up stories as a young child, the influence of his black friends & the encouragement of tutors and teachers, paying tribute to these teachers. He read a poem about Mexican immigrants crossing the freeway outside San Diego, "Tourism Up Dow Jones Up 5 Points."
Even the sometimes tedious questions from the audience ended up giving these lively writers more chances to laugh, to tell more stories of who influenced them, of fellow poets on the scene.
Magdalena Gómez was loud & defiant, after beginning with an enthusiastic "thank-you" performance, then into a long political rant, "invent this…" Then a poem about a bitter confrontation with her mother when she, Magdalena, worked in an AIDS ward. She ended with the poem "Why I Became a Loud Puerto Rican" (so she could tell her story). Magdalena is also the Artistic Director of the Teatro Vida in Springfield, MA.
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes read 2 pieces, one in Spanish, a long dedication, then a piece mostly in dialogue with a black thug that expanded into lyricism & a conversation with his mother, gay sex & love (almost). Fun, shocking & to the heart of the matter. His books include Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Disapora (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) & Uñas Pintadas de Azul = Blue Fingernails (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2009).
Jesús Papoleto Meléndez read a series of pieces as if he was at an open mic in NYC (or here), beginning with "Cop Haiku," then mixed blood & gold in "Overflow." His title piece from his book, "Hey Yo! Yo Soy!" a political piece incorporating Native chants followed, then a piece written as a youth "Spring Again," & ended with the poem he read at the panel.
The program was sponsored by the Center for Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean Studies; the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino Studies; and the College of Arts and Science at UAlbany; as well as the NYS Writers Institute. It was one of the best programs I'd seen up there in a long time.
You can find more photos from this marvelous event at my flickr site here.