Monday
Aug112014

Summer Workshops a Success -Gerald Cedillo

The last three weekends poets met up at the Inprint House, early some saturday mornings, carrying their binders of poems and satchels of loose leaf paper with barely legible jottings to workshop with other poets. I can think of no other artistic endeavor as unique as a writer’s workshop. Needless to say, it is not my slapdash kitchen remedy, it is a group of like minded individuals coming together for a slow and considered conversation, meditation, of each other’s creative obstacles and, in doing so, their own. Re-reading what I wrote it sounds more like AA. But, I prefer to think of it as a monkish devotional art: we writers huddled over the table like scarlet-robed monks shaking out grains of sand onto their mandalas.

Lupe Mendez’ class on the beginning process, the draft, and sources of inspiration came after his whirlwind (note: international) poetry tour. I didn’t attend, but I can speak only to his passion as a poet and teacher. I know, for me, the beginning process is always the hardest. Like getting out of bed in the morning. Or evening. Or night. It helps that this a popular problem for many, getting something, anything, down on paper. This is my new motto.

My class was a rambling diatribe on the state of our metaphor, how reckless they’ve become: the consequence and fun of the unexpected in our writing. What I wanted to say was something like this: we are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world, so much, as of ourselves. That when we write we are writing from an impulse inside us that knows what best to say than what we consciously permit. I was all hopped up on Richard Hugo and Dean Young and William Logan.

Chris Wise brought it all home with a subdued and deliberate class on the revision process. Process is key. He taught us tools on how to re-examine our work, distance ourselves by walking down the forest trails of grammar and syntax, to birdwatch and see what lands in the branches of our words.

Of course, a big thanks to Inprint for allowing us to use their space, and to Lupe and Chris for bringing their talents to the table. I want to extend a thanks, both as a continuing student of the art and organizer, to all the poets that joined us those weekends and shared their work with us. It meant a great deal to us all at WAT!? and is more encouraging than you could ever know.

Now comes the part no class can ever really instill. The tour is beginning this weekend and already I am wondering how best to gird myself against the busy work-a-day world so I can know only a hermit’s joy and write to my heart’s content. Isn’t that every writer’s wish? To have the time to create what I want and not be rushed. The simple mastery of bringing out every flavorful morsel from the savory walls of that vegetal soul. The only thing to do is write, write, write. Write when and where we can. Write like a MOFO! Or, in one of my favorite reprimands of Bukowski:

 

“...if you're going to create

you're going to create whether you work

16 hours a day in a coal mine

or

you're going to create in a small room with 3 children

while you're on

welfare,

you're going to create with part of your mind and your

body blown

away,

you're going to create blind

crippled

demented,

you're giong to create with a cat crawling up your

back while

the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,

flood and fire.”

WAT!? is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s Kobayashi in a hot dog eating contest. Pace and determination, not flash and trash. Think of the venues and the settings, the contexts of what to perform, where. How best to get our meaning, our emotion, across. What to say, how to say? And, soon, it will be Wednesday, and there will be three more days left. Three more plates of hot dogs. Do I even have enough poems to fill that time. I mean, I do, but are they worth it? Not to mention the non-competitive competition of your fellow poets. Like my mother would say at family reunions. “Is everyone eating my beans? What did they say?” We all want to bring the best possible dish we can make. We want to know people are having their fill.

See you at the tour, reader, I hope you bring your appetite!

Tuesday
Jun102014

Goodbye Alice - by Gerald Cedillo

 

We have lost a startling new talent, a unique and sincere young woman, and friend - Alice Alsup.

I met Alice at a VIP poetry slam, in the chaos that used to be the Boomtown readings -- too many people and not enough standing room. Begrudgingly, I took the role of slam judge foisted on me by Outspoken Bean. At a small table, overcrowded with coffee cups and tiny plates, my head probably down in my journal during a break in the action, she sidled up beside me. I was surprised.

She was impressed, she said, by my -- what was the word she chose? She was a vocabulary fanatic (I called her a sesquipedalian) -- my integrity? my adherence? Sitting on the other side of the audience, she was tracking the judges scores. She was not the official scorekeeper, just an audience member - a not-regular audience member - and thought the scores I had given were in keeping with her own internal barometer. She was, she said, a strict judge herself. And, with that, I joined into the ongoing conversation she had been having with local artists and poets, bartenders and organizers, with any kind of interesting or lovely people that fascinated her.

She had only just discovered poetry and, in her words, wanted to be as tuned in to Houston’s art scene as much as she could be. I was not alone in catching the infectiousness of that dervish motion she cast when talking about art. No, I didn’t know her any more than most, but I realize when you see someone immersed in something they love you see them coming in to themselves, authentically themselves, and if you’re lucky enough to help or participate, if for only a moment, then perhaps you have served well. I was so fortunate.

Alice was a true student of Slam Poetry. I told her so. Her youtube channel is filled with poems she’d collected and worked to memorize. I shared a lengthy car ride with her to the Bryan/College Station Mic Check Prom, the entirety of which was spent reciting poems back and forth for hours. We wrote a duet together. She was disappointed we could only make time to perform it once. I promised her we’d perform it in Houston. Here’s a line she wrote: “Maybe if we danced like our lives deserved a soundtrack.

The poet Nyne was her mentor. She told me so. She considered Outspoken Bean a hero. I told her she’d chosen well. More than just frequenting poetry spots in town -- Notsuoh’s, Avante-garden -- she ingratiated herself to the people, the place, the institutions they were and were trying to establish. Along with Amir Safi, she helped revive a historic Houston poetry scene.

And I feel I should say something here: there is such a long history of art  in Houston, it is easy (for writers, particularly) to become disgruntled, disillusioned. Her’s was a refreshing vigor, a desire to know and feel and seek out these experiences many of us take for granted, the vibrancy of our art, the exceptional opportunities in this place, now. She was ever the student, but one lesson she very much taught me, one I wish I could have imparted back -- in the exercise of the spirit we are, all of us, always beginners.

She attended the UH Creative Writing program’s summer conference, Boldface -- I’d like to think it was at my bequest, but she would have discovered it no matter what. There, I’m sure she worked with many talented writers and professors (her first writing instructors) who, no doubt, saw what we all saw - a determined and energetic voice that had great promise.

After the WAT!? draft she told me she was so nervous her hands were trembling. All of us judges could see it from the front row. It didn’t matter. Her language, the richness of that imagination, her humor -- it was an honor to hear, to know her. To have written with and performed beside her. To have learned so much from.

Alice, we will miss you. Goodbye, Poet.

Tuesday
May272014

Draft Recap - by Gerald Cedillo

Chris Wise stands in the backyard of Super Happy Funland and counts the passing train cars. Too late to see the show, he sauntered into the great empty concert hall where a few band members schlepping drum parts onstage neglected to look up, so he made his way, beer in hand, to the clanking railway outside.

After thirty poets auditioned, mingled & introduced one to another, promoted other venues/upcoming gigs, asked questions of the judges & caught up (for some it had been a long time apart in the small literary world), they finally made slow half-steps out the door. The judges remained another hour to catch a last group of poets who performed for a handful of stragglers. It was brilliant. Still, a few days behind us and it is one long, exuberant conversation by the tracks that stays with me.

Not just Chris, but a number of the tour’s veterans returned to see the show, many stayed and chatted an arm’s length away from the Union Pacific’s 100-plus freight. And this is what was essential in everyone who attended: our yakkety-yakking all night, driving from out of town, off early from work, begging strangers for rides, one coast to the other to hear a poets’ latest news. Those who had nothing to prove, but came ready to perform, ready to support their colleagues in the theater of the heart that is poetry -- the friendship and community that the Word Around Town creates.

 

The new draftees, too; --  celebrated local poets, successful business people, leaders in the community, young and old -- to see them pour their hearts onstage one imagines they would be doing this with or without the space provided them that night. They would not be quiet. They would express and write and, even, perform despite having just moved to this great city, having not written for nearly a decade, having just discovered Spoken Word months prior. It all seemed inevitable and natural and familiar, the companionship of artists and the faith of people feeling the same impending joy of discovery.

To the artists, all terrific, all deserving - a number of you I wanted to leap from my seat and hug. I have a great tenderness for all who performed, who tried, who shook, who forgot their lines, who were solemn, who thought out what they wanted to say, who got something across, something off their chests, a few tears shed, who were ridiculous, who were everywhere, who were wordless, who left us wordless, who were content. Who, also, left us content.

Thank you to the venue, we learned a lot this year about what we want the tour to be and what we expect of Houston’s artists. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work, the polish of the performers, and the reception & reputation of those who came to share a little bit of themselves.

This is how strong our necessity is - the place the train comes from is a place where artists have to resort to pavement, the bright tatters of spray cans and the immense and suddenly dangerous engines of mile-long locomotives just for a quick scrawl, one short unremembered message. But they do it. They insist on their art. And we, Chris Wise & I, the other judges and returning poets, waited and counted each car that passed -- those messages from other states, those solid moving shadows out other parts of the country -- to reach an audience.

I have heard that poetry is meant to do three things: Witness, Record, & Celebrate. The Draft did just that.

We will be announcing the 2014 lineup and we are sure this year’s tour will be one of the strongest yet. We have a long history behind us, almost ten years, and still this train shows no signs of stopping. This summer WAT poets will receive a slew of new opportunities, meet wonderful people, and continue to celebrate their art with fellow poets, whose love seems equally unmeasurable, for one whole week on some of the city’s more inspiring stages. As far as I’m concerned, August can’t come quick enough.  

Thursday
May152014

A Draft Veteran Speaks - By Gerald Cedillo

The WAT?! DRAFT is all but upon us and I catch myself thinking of those first reactions to -- how best to describe it? a festival, competition, audition? Truthfully, it’s all three -- the unique beast that is the Draft.

It is, first and foremost, a celebration of poetry. So many poets, their styles, technique and experience. All the voices are dizzying. And, though it is a competition, it is only discretely. Unlike Slam competitions there will be no judges casting their scores over their head, no craning of necks, no booing or announcing of rounds, of winners or losers. The Draft compares best to an audition, but public and with an audience whose participation, whose appreciation, gives such a startling life to nebbish poets and a newfound intimacy in the words of the unabashed performer. I guess, it’s something like the writer’s American Idol? Wouldn’t that be great. (...nothing like this.)

Of course, if you’re familiar with Houston’s poetry scene (any fledgling scene, really) you’ll encounter a few faces you already know. You will almost certainly hear a few poems you’ve heard before -- poets trot out their most polished pieces, their darlings, again and again, like preening pageant moms. This is expected. What’s not expected are the voices you haven’t heard. The culture-shock of poets from the other side of the tracks, so to speak: the literary, the performance, the hip-hop heads, the tattooed professors, the lifers, the eccentrics, the songstresses, the too-fucking-real, and then some! all under one tent, all abutting one another in an explosion of some madman’s already disordered library. It’s a Noah’s Ark of local poetry, and, no matter how long you’ve been in the scene, there are a few beautiful creatures you’ve yet to encounter.

Now, it’s been awhile since I performed in the DRAFT but I can still taste the adrenal-copper in my mouth waiting as each name got called out before me. Riffling through papers in my folder, in my bag, penning a few new lines of old, old poems and trying to read them inaudibly as I sat and struggled to listen to the other poets. I remember living and dying on stage with everyone: envying their writing, their mastery, their stage-presence. Mostly, I envied the ones who could sit down afterward and enjoy the rest of the night’s performances. Maybe, I exaggerate some, but it was nerve wracking. For poets with more experience performing, even auditioning, it’s no easier. I like misremembering a quote by Nietzsche, the bravest have the largest capacity for fatigue.

Each DRAFT has had its unique flavor, its different poets. Who knows what Super Happy Funland will bring? I’ve been looking back at the videos of last years draft (here and here) and am still surprised at the poets trying out whose names I’ve now become accustomed to by touring together, many of them friends, and at how many poets -- many who didn’t make it, but all of them deserving -- got their chance to read one poem, one statement, and be heard on that one night. I hope we get to hear them again. I hope they did not get too discouraged by the competitive feel or think they couldn’t try out this year. I am glad the publicness of the audition didn’t cower them then, I hope it doesn’t now. I hope this year everyone sees the DRAFT for the celebration it most certainly should and can be. Friends, poets, I hope to see you all very soon!

Monday
May122014

The Poet's New Year - by Gerald Cedillo

Most of us do not believe everything the calendar says when it describes the obsolete peculiarity of days growing shorter or longer. Students mark time beginning in August, businessmen encounter it in tax periods and quarters, politicians in alternating campaign years. For many aspiring poets and writers, our year feels like it ends with the high holidays of April’s Poetry Month celebrations and, for those of us fortunate enough to be in Houston, it begins again in earnest with the Word Around Town Poetry Draft.

As a two-year veteran of the tour, I can honestly say many poets, readers and general spectators alike feel this way. Now, having just made the organizing team -- along with Stephen Gros, Lupe Mendez, Tanyia Johnson and Joe Belmarez -- I can confirm a good deal of the city's organizations, venues, bars, and established artists around the community can’t wait to see the latest Word either.

This year we’ve teamed up with the legendary art house and Rock club, Super Happy Funland, to bring you what promises to be an exhilarating Draft. Be prepared for a rowdy, hallucinogenic night of word-wreathing and oratorical pyrotechnics. The rest of the year will follow suit. Inprint will host poetry craft workshops during the summer for our poets; we’re planning exclusive parties, getting more sponsors, better technology, longer blog posts, and -- of course -- last year’s incredible returning poets. More on that later.

The Draft is nearly upon us -- Saturday May, 17th beginning at 4pm -- with seven (7) spots available for the tour. We want to do our best to make sure we see Houston’s up and coming artists from every corner of the city. 

Help us -- plug us on your facebook, twitter, instagram and nightly graffiti raids. Invite your friends, family members, business contacts, all of your Fave Five and Google Plus circles.

I greet you on the reopening of our literary year, with many wonderful expectations from what’s come before and what we’ve yet to see, I cannot remember a more optimistic start to one than this. See you at the Draft!