Luis J. Rodríguez on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Luis J. Rodríguez by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Luis J. Rodríguez

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti chose Luis J. Rodríguez as Poet Laureate of the city in 2014. Rodríguez is Scholar-in- Residence at California State University, Northridge, and the author of fifteen books of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and nonfiction. For more than thirty-five years, he has been speaking and reading at schools, libraries, conferences, prisons, juvenile lockups, homeless shelters, migrant camps, and Native American reservations in the United States, as well as at festivals, book fairs, colleges, and universities throughout North, Central, and South America; the Caribbean; Europe; and Japan.

Rodríguez won a 2015 Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achieve­ment for Poems across the Pavement: 25th Anniversary Edition. His awards also include a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Paterson Poetry Prize, a Carl Sandburg Literary Award, and fellowships from the Sundance Institute, the Lannan Foundation, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Chicago, the California Arts Council, and the Illinois Arts Council.

The 1993 memoir Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., with close to half a million copies sold, became one of L.A.’s most checked out in libraries—and one of the most stolen. His memoir It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.

In Chicago, where he lived from 1985 to 2000, Rodríguez was active in the poetry slam movement born there. He was cofounder of the Guild Complex Literary Center, an organizer for the Neutral Turf Poetry Festival, and a writer for the city’s poetry magazine Letter eX. In 1993, Rodríguez took part in the first Slam Poetry tour of Europe. He also founded the crosscultural small press, Tía Chucha, now publishing for more than twenty-five years.

After moving back to Los Angeles, Rodríguez, his wife Trini, and other family and community members created Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley, offering workshops in the arts, writ­ing, dance, theater, photography, indigenous cosmology and language, and encompassing arts and literacy festivals, an art gallery, weekly open mics, performance space, and a bookstore.

__________

Love Poem to Los Angeles
(with a respectful nod to Jack Hirschman)

1

To say I love Los Angeles is to say
I love its shadows and nightlights,
its meandering streets,
the stretch of sunset-colored beaches.
It’s to say I love the squawking wild parrots,
the palm trees that fail to topple in robust winds,
that within a half hour of L.A.’s center
you can cavort in snow, deserts, mountains, beaches.

This is a multi-layered city,
unceremoniously built on hills,
valleys, ravines.
Flying into Burbank airport in the day,
you observe gradations of trees and earth.
A “city” seems to be an afterthought,
skyscrapers popping up from the greenery,
guarded by the mighty San Gabriels.

2

Layers of history reach deep,
run red, scarring the soul of the city,
a land where Chinese were lynched,
Mexican resistance fighters hounded,
workers and immigrants exploited,
Japanese removed to concentration camps,
blacks forced from farmlands in the South,
then segregated, diminished.

Here also are blessed native lands,
where first peoples like the Tataviam and Tongva
bonded with nature’s gifts;
people of peace, deep stature, loving hands.
Yet for all my love
I also abhor the “poison” time,
starting with Spanish settlers, the Missions,
where 80 percent of natives
who lived and worked in them died,
to the ruthless murder of Indians
during and after the Gold Rush,
the worst slaughter of tribes in the country.

From all manner of uprisings,
a city of acceptance began to emerge.
This is “riot city” after all—
more civil disturbances in Los Angeles
in the past hundred years
than any other city.

3

To truly love L.A. you have to see it
with different eyes,
askew perhaps,
beyond the fantasy-induced Hollywood spectacles.
“El Lay” is also known
for the most violent street gangs,
the largest Skid Row,
the greatest number of poor.

Yet I loved L.A.
even during heroin-induced nods
or running down rain-soaked alleys or getting shot at.
Even when I slept in abandoned cars,
alongside the “concrete” river,
and during all-night movie showings
in downtown art deco theaters.
The city beckoned as I tried to escape
the prison-like grip of its shallowness,
sun-soaked image, suburban quiet,
all disarming,
hiding the murderous heart
that can beat at its center.

L.A. is also lovers’ embraces,
the most magnificent lies,
the largest commercial ports,
graveyard shifts,
poetry readings,
murals,
lowriding culture,
skateboarding,
a sound that hybridized
black, Mexican, as well as Asian
and white migrant cultures.

You wouldn’t have musicians like
Ritchie Valens, The Doors, War,
Los Lobos, Charles Wright &
the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band,
Hiroshima, Motley Crue, N.W.A., or Quetzal
without Los Angeles.
Or John Fante, Chester Himes, Charles Bukowski,
Marisela Norte, and Wanda Coleman as its jester poets.

4

I love L.A., I can’t forget its smells,
I love to make love in L.A.,
it’s a great city, a city without a handle,
the world’s most mixed metropolis,
of intolerance and divisions,
how I love it, how I hate it,
Zootsuit “riots,”
can’t stay away,
city of hungers, city of angers,
Ruben Salazar, Rodney King,
I’d like to kick its face in,
bone city, dried blood on walls,
wildfires, taunting dove wails,
car fumes and oil derricks,
water thievery,
with every industry possible
and still a “one-industry town,”
lined by those majestic palm trees
and like its people
with solid roots, supple trunks,
resilient.

Joy Harjo on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Joy Harjo by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Joy Harjo

© Melissa Lukenbaugh

Joy Harjo is an internationally known performer and writer of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, the author of ten books of poetry and a memoir, Crazy Brave. A critically acclaimed poet, her many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

__________

Equinox

I must keep from breaking into the story by force
for if I do I will find myself with a war club in my hand
and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun,
your nation dead beside you.

I keep walking away though it has been an eternity
and from each drop of blood
springs up sons and daughters, trees,
a mountain of sorrows, of songs.

I tell you this from the dusk of a small city in the north
not far from the birthplace of cars and industry.
Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have
broken through the frozen earth.

Soon they will come for me and I will make my stand
before the jury of destiny. Yes, I will answer in the clatter
of the new world, I have broken my addiction to war
and desire. Yes, I will reply, I have buried the dead

and made songs of the blood, the marrow.

from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015)

Robert Pinsky on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Robert Pinsky by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Robert Pinsky

Robert PinskyRobert Pinsky‘s new book of poems is At the Foundling Hospital (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His Selected Poems appeared in 2011. Pinsky has described his 2013 book Singing School as a combined anthology and manifesto. His best-selling translation The Inferno of Dante was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Prize. His other awards include the William Carlos Williams Prize, The Lenore Marshall Prize, the Korean Manhae Prize, the Italian Premio Capri and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pen American Center. As Poet Laureate of the United States, he founded the Favorite Poem Project, featuring the videos at www.favoritepoem.org and a summer Poetry Institute for K-12 Educators. He performs with pianist Laurence Hobgood on the spoken word CDs PoemJazz and House Hour, from Circumstantial Productions. Pinsky is William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at Boston University and has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the only member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters to have appeared on both The Colbert Report and The Simpsons.

__________

Samurai Song

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had no
Mother I embraced manners.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

Alexis Rhone Fancher on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Alexis Rhone Fancher by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Alexis Rhone Fancher

Los Angeles poet Alexis Rhone Fancher is the author of How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen and Other Heart Stab Poems (2014), State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies (2015), and Enter Here (forthcoming in 2017). She is published in Best American Poetry 2016, Rattle, Slipstream, Rust+Moth, streetcake, Hobart, Cleaver, Public Pool, H_NGM_N, Fjords Review, The MacGuffin, Poetry East, and elsewhere. Her photographs are published worldwide, including spreads in River Styx, HeArt Online and Rogue Agent, and the covers of Chiron Review, Witness, and The Mas Tequila Review. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net nominee, Alexis is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly, where she also publishes a monthly photo essay, “The Poet’s Eye,” about her on-going love affair with Los Angeles. Find her at: www.alexisrhonefancher.com.

__________

Cruel Choices

When my husband’s two grown daughters are in town, the three of them go to the movies, or play pool. Share dinner every night. Stay out late. I haven’t seen my stepdaughters since my son’s funeral in 2007. When people ask, I say nice things about the girls, as if we had a relationship. When people ask if I have children I change the subject. Or I lie, and say no. Or sometimes I put them on the spot and tell them yes, but he died. They look aghast and want to know what happened.Then I have to tell them about the cancer. Sometimes, when the older daughter, his favorite, is in town, and she and my husband are out together night after night, I wonder what it would be like if that was me, and my boy, if life was fair, and, rather than my husband having two children and I, none, we each had one living child. His choice which one to keep. Lately when people ask, I want to lie and say yes, my son is a basketball coach; he married a beautiful Iranian model with kind eyes, and they live in London with their twin girls who visit every summer; the same twins his girlfriend aborted with my blessing when my son was eighteen, deemed too young for fatherhood, and everyone said there would be all the time in the world.

from ASKEW Literary Journal, Winter 2016

Mandy Kahn on Poets Cafe

The following interview of Mandy Kahn by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).


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Biographical Information—Mandy Kahn

kahnMandy Kahn is the author of the poetry collection Math, Heaven, Time. In January of 2016, former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser featured a poem from the collection, “At the Dorm,” in his syndicated newspaper column American Life in Poetry. Kahn collaborates with composers to create works that feature poetry in tandem with classical music and has had readings and signings at Colette (Paris), Motto (Berlin), Shoreditch House (London), Davies Symphony Hall (San Francisco), Printed Matter (New York) and Art Center College of Design (Pasadena). She was one of several librettists who wrote the text for the critically acclaimed opera-in-cars Hopscotch; her libretto for the project was subsequently quoted in The New Yorker. Kahn also works as an essayist, and is coauthor, with Aaron Rose, of the nonfiction book Collage Culture: Examining the 21st Century’s Identity Crisis, which features graphic design by Brian Roettinger. Collage Culture was simultaneously released as a record which paired readings of the book’s texts with a score by the band No Age.

__________

The Tour Guide

I followed the German tour guide
through the hulking old basilica.

He told the group (or so I guessed),
indicating high and low:

This is where the wind begins.

This is where the childhoods of a thousand
martyrs live, untouched.

Wood grain in these pews still curls
to likenesses of patron saints.

Window-holes are cut the breadth
of human souls, when loosed.

Dark paint in the frescoes is crushed ants.
White paint is light.

Leaves and fauna long extinct are rendered
in the porticoes. See that goat
with antlers? Gone from life,
but captured here.
(Hold your breath and it bows its head.)
(Reach towards the ceiling and sigh, and it sighs.)

Worth two times the value of the Bulgar Sea
is that old bell.

(When younger priests
would ring it,
the nuns were warned to shield their hearts.)

He said far more
I can’t recall

and when I tried to pay him,
he spurned my coins, saying, in German,

What good is money,
my child, to the wind?