From the editors: When you look at Rich Villar’s writing, his command of language is striking. Not just in the sense of writing well – although that, also – but in the sense that he understands the nuances of tone and diction like few others. In interspersed English and Spanish, Villar captures the emotional resonance of language, the political and class ramifications of word choice, and a thousand splintery details besides. This sense of reality, with all of its messiness and subtle negotiations, is at the core of what makes Villar such a vital and compelling writer.
By Rich Villar
sacred cristobal colon island outposts,
empires relocated stone by stone to the sea,
misnomer maps cracking new smiles to new nations
border lines looped around the neck of ownerless dust
moving melancholies of iron bellies purifying temples
economies of raw wrists, sifting tongues
names rattled in cheeks, spit for building clay
gothic architectures pushed through infertile soil
honed edges glided through soft slave throats,
tupac amaru’s tongues torn, language betrayed
patois spanish creole mixto yoruba yenyere bruca manigua
machetes burned claiming old blood and new blood
mestizaje risen in the voice of el zambo manuel
silver memories quickened the feet of bronze titans
monroe doctrines and catholic teachings
title passed from South to North, set down in constitutions
negritude, mambises, bolivar guevara dictadura,
allende and neruda buried in the same grave,
debt piles and roosevelt corollaries.
SUBJECT: RE: Latino Studies Conference
Yes! This is all exciting! Great stuff. Let me run this past the head of the department and see if I should apply for travel stipends. I’m going to email you the Call For Proposals today or tomorrow. If you have any support materials, please, if you would, when you have a chance, the deadline is tomorrow, attach me their hot urban spoken word, attach reclaimed epithets, attach black and gold Yankees caps, attach Pun’s wife pistolwhipped on camera, attach the recipe for your mother’s pasteles, attach a pregnant 15 year old Dominican, attach a copy of the Young Lords documentary, attach a copy of Samuel Huntington’s essay on Latino assimilation. If you need help with the language, send me an email and you can copy what I did last year. Don’t worry so much about including uplift or machetes in your proposal. I’m sure someone in the audience will provide that. Maybe we can even open up the floor to questions.
From Villar: I remember meeting Willie Perdomo at the Bronx Museum in late 2003 or so, when I was just a baby poet. I said something utterly fanboy to him, and I remember muttering something about not wanting to write for the slam, or not wanting to write a lot of easy spoken word stuff. Because I wanted to sound smart in front of someone I respect. I realize now that I’ve been having some form of this conversation with him, and myself, ever since.
The nice thing about having mentors like Willie is that when he gets to talking with you, he’ll immediately squash your fanboy language and place himself in the context of colleague—he’ll tell you, without telling you, there’s no need to fawn or feel intimidated, because I’m a poet just like you, and you have important things to talk about, things to say about poetry, the culture, and so forth. It’s funny, you read about how poets were in conversation with each other, one perhaps looking up to the other, and the relationship seems almost matter-of-fact to them, something obvious. I count it as a blessing, a rare one, even.
What I admire about Willie, what I can relate to, is his desire not to be pinned into one particular style or subject matter, to keep moving forward the way Miles Davis did. The poem Have It Your Way is a mosaic of sorts, a groundbreaking interrogation of the diasporic Puerto Rican experience. It asks necessary questions about authenticity, post-colonial politics, and how poets are permitted to capture these contradictions using language. It is also turns out to be somewhat prophetic, because the student strikes at the University of Puerto Rico are turning these questions over in our heads yet again.
Have It Your Way first appeared in So Much Things To Say: 100 Poets from the First Ten Years of the Calabash International Literary Festival, edited by Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer.
Have It Your Way
By Willie Perdomo
You should start talking about the half-Puerto Rican girl
in your workshop who used a palm tree in her symbol exercise.
Paradise, she says. That’s what it means.
You tell her that on the way to workshop
your taxi caught a red light at the intersection
of Fernández Junco y Avenida Kennedy in Santurce
& you saw Anacaona sitting under a palm tree,
picking shingles off her arms. You saw her
do a sloppy open back to outside turn toward your car
& break into a salsa rendition of Jingle Bells.
She pushed her beat-up, super size Burger King cup
against the driver’s window, asked for some epidemic chip-ins,
because her habit just got bigger by one trimester.
Freddy the Touristica driver said that you
don’t see what you just saw in the tourist guides,
Real will recognize real once they see
that your R’s were traded for L’s
& your S’s got clipped somewhere
across the Atlantic.
Don’t go to the beach in the winter—
you won’t find real Puerto Ricans &
at least three construction workers
from DR will opine that if PR
goes free the sand will go quick &
you just ain’t ready for that kind of noise.
On the way to pick up his financial aid package,
Carlito received a voicemail from his Tio Pedro.
It said that Mami Juanita just walked into a precinct,
strapped head-to-toe with dynamite sticks,
demanding that the San Juan Ritz-Carlton Casino
give back all her Social Security checks.
First Tuesday of every month
dale pa Viejo San Juan, Noches de Galería.
Beware of bleached trigueñas, dudes
who thread their eyebrows & Pro-Statehood politicos
who use bomba y plena groups to fundraise.
Tap a cobblestone for good luck and with
the best of luck you’ll end up at Café Seda,
on your tenth can of Medalla, DJ Velcro
spinning the summer jam out of you.
You might even try to get symbolic with it
& puff a blunt by El Morro, putting yourself
in the persona of the first dude who saw Columbus
& told him to take off the brim, lose the doublet,
get rid of the girdle, it’s hot, yo & you being
the Paseo Boricua that you are,
the dirt-eating Ponceña that you are,
the Filiberto Ojeda Ríos that you are,
the che-che cole that you are, the thirty
seconds it takes to steal a car that you are,
the olive skin Buddhist pop star that you are,
will pass Columbus the blunt & tell him to
take a hit before the government is forced
to shut down for a day.
Now remember—your conjugation game
needs to be tight. It’s true—Puerto Ricans
love for free. But in the immortal words
of my compay John, “What the fuck is a vosotros?”
After the first ¡hola! you will be from out there,
de afuera, no matter your authentic Taíno DNA pattern,
no matter how many boleros abuelo sang when you were born,
no matter how many flags are hanging out your window.
You don’t hear as many coquís these days so when
the mic opens remember how Don Pedro blasted
the interrogator with that me cago en la madre
que te pario, cabrōn but you have to make sure
that you do it all in lengua madre because there will be
that one dude dressed in full black regalia who will
crash your class, set fire to a stolen PNP poster &
without saying whaddup, what’s going on brother,
he will ask you, the Visiting Nuyorican Poet,
if you know Spanish.
From Villar: In December 2008, Raina Leon, my co-editor, sent along that month’s submissions for The Acentos Review for perusal and proofreading. Sean Dalpiaz’s poem Volvió A Nacer hit me, not like a ton of bricks, but a punch to the gut. His sparse lines are evocative of William Carlos Williams (a Boricua writer, point of order!) as well as Pedro Pietri, in that every line hits, and every line builds. Emjambment is your friend, people!
In a poem published in Boog City 48, A Round Walk, Dalpiaz’ takes on Pablo Neruda’s image-rich Walking Around by resetting it inside a prison. Here’s a line I wish I’d written: “One man’s steam is the next man’s melted dream.” Considering how many of Neruda’s colleagues ended up in prison themselves, I’d like to think Neruda would have appreciated the new perspective.
I’d like to see Sean write some stupid-long poems, book length maybe, just to hear where that voice goes, and what it builds to. What it builds.
A Round Walk
By Sean M. Dalpiaz
Rounded steel ordering footsteps that grant a thought
to a guard’s lips;
lip service cracks the concrete, the state workers
plow their machines through to fill the cracks
with hot tar;
the masked never walk on hot tar,
one man’s steam is the next man’s melted dream;
these are the days spent hoping
the back door will be open;
a straight-faced silent obsession and compulsion sets in as
the texture of fake wood railings ooze their oils
onto frightened palms,
and the shuffling from both sides begins:
“the other prisoners”: a duty or chance to release someone
the prisoners: an ease, a breathing backwards stance of courage,
a scattered, rushed breech of confidence stolen
from some false idol’s sermon.
I scatter the images and check if my heart is still
All faces are blurred and stretched:
I smile at its temporary nature.