(Sibling Rivalry Press, Little Rock, AR, 2018)
REVIEWED BY DRYLAND STAFF
Ruben Quesada’s chapbook, REVELATIONS, is a collection where poems about angels, Christ, and crucified gods mix with poems about heroin, erections and dead birds; the holy and the unholy.
Poems are grouped together by titles of his translations of works by Luis Cernuda, a Spanish poet who was exiled from his home country in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War, and one of the first openly gay poets of the 20th century.
Except for the opening piece (“Angels In The Sun”), all the author’s poems are titled by way of roman numerals. Poems I through IX are all prose pieces; psalms that offer a window into a soul that has witnessed and experienced much pain and sadness.
What impacted me most from these prose poems were the endings. Some, just a few words, but each more melancholic than the last. For example, a haze of zinnias hushed in the rain, and later, body turned to ash, and, nothing more was said.
Cernudas’s poems share the themes of nature; the changing seasons; and life and death. Here, some lines from “Desire,” my favorite of the translated pieces: from the yellow poplar/ a leaf like a broken star/ spins toward the earth. And this stanza from, “Fall Feeling,” another translation, and the final poem in the chapbook:
Upon the old ruins it rains,
The autumn still green,
Odorless, dreams blossom,
And the body gives in.
Quesada carefully chose which poems to include with his own, and the four translated poems complement his own language well. For instance, compare the previous cited lines with these from poem, “X,” sunsets were plum colored lights kissing snow/ covered rooftops joy was a love letter, and this first stanza from poem, “XIV”:
Beneath sunsets like wildfire
an alchemy of traffic in orange
and red on the 405 in Los Angeles
Both poets know the importance of color to set the mood, and both are masters at describing everyday natural occurrences in nature and life that make the reader want to stay in that moment.At only 38 pages, this chapbook is a bible tract, but not the kind handed out by Christian zealots trying to save you from the eternal flames of hell. This is a religious text for all who can feel September quietly transform from summer into autumn, and for those who believe in the beauty of words.
REVELATIONS is available for purchase through Sibling Rivalry Press
Featuring Johnny Huerta (Buckhorn, NM), Abel Salas (Boyle Heights, CA) , and Tim "The Tater" Staley (Las Cruces, NM)
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Johnny was born in Portales, New Mexico. He is the author of three poetry books. Posole With Benefits, Acid & Menudo (Grandma Moses Press, 2017), and Sopapilla Syrup. He now lives in San Francisco.~
Based in Los Angeles, journalist and poet Abel Salas has written for The Austin Chronicle, LA Weekly and the NY Times, among others. His poems have appeared in Zyzzyva, Beltway Quarterly, and Huizache as well as the anthologies Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Change (University of Arizona Press, 2016) and The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising From the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles (Tia Chucha Press, 2016). He is the editor and publisher of Brooklyn & Boyle, a community, arts and cultural monthly and was a co-founder of Corazón del Pueblo, a grass-roots arts, education and political action center in Boyle Heights.~
Tim “The Tater” Staley was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1975. He lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He’s a DJ on his community radio station, KTAL 101.5 FM. He is anxious sometimes, and other times he tries to knock that feeling down. He likes to write poems and read books unless he’s watching Chicago Fire, the TV show, with his wife. Find him at poetstaley.com~
BY VIVA PADILLA
I met ANTHNYXYZ, Anthony Lee Pittman, back in 2011 at an art show when I was the editor of a short-lived literary & arts magazine with an anarchist collective…I saw his Miles Davis oil painting and was blown away by how good he was (I then featured this piece in one of the issues). He was just a kid at Compton High School at that time being mentored by his art instructor Cleveland Palmer, who not only guided his development as a painter, but also, more significantly connected the queer Blaxican kid, who grew up around the Mexican side of his family, to his Black roots.
In February, he had his first art show, Hood Politics (named after Kendrick Lamar’s song by the same name) which showcased a variety of artwork on different mediums depicting Black and Brown cultural and political figures and themes like Tupac, Selena, openly bisexual rapper Jay Will aka “Kandie” from Compton, and the many innocent souls who were killed for being Black or Brown. After the show, we got a chance to get together and catch up.
Viva Padilla (VP): Hola Anthony, como estas? Thanks for giving us this time to get to know you a little bit. Congratulations on your first art show! I’m so happy for you, dude, you've come a long way. What inspired you to put this show together?
ANTHNYXYZ: First of all THANK YOU for having me on this issue of Dryland! This is the first interview I’ve ever done and I’m honored to share this moment with a movement that that aligns directly with the reason why I do what I do. Much love to y’all and the readers. My main inspiration comes from my culture and my city. Being a Blaxican I get to experience two beautiful ass cultures and I really just wanna show my love for what my people have done and have given to me. Also, ironically, the gentrification and racism I’ve experienced in this fucked up country has also inspired me to rep my culture and my city even more.
I read an article recently on the Blackness of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance and the writer said something like, we need to be unapologetically Black because if we don’t embrace our culture, white people will steal it and appropriate it and that’s usually where the culture gets diluted. So, I wanna rep us for who we are and not what white people think we are. Compton has been on the map since the late 80s and today it’s become a trend to emulate hood culture when most people have never ever truly experienced what it’s like. A lot of people wanna be from the hood but they don’t really wanna be from the hood.
VP: I feel you. Gentrification is knocking on our door that’s why we have to claim all of it now while we still can. Your show was chill, there was nothing snooty or whitewashed about it. I like that you're rebelling against the mainstream L.A. art scene which is usually DIY ironic hipster overkill on one end and squeaky white curated and catered pretension on the other. What did you envision?
ANTHNYXYZ: That’s exactly the vibe I was goin for. I didn’t want to have some traditional, elitist, white art show like the rest of the BS in L.A. My goal for the Hood Politics art show was to create a space specifically for the Black/Latino queers, hoodrats, thugs, homies. I want to create a unique space for us to celebrate our culture and connect with other people of the same background. It was really powerful to host a gallery in the middle of West Adams which was once predominantly Black, then Latino, and now white as hell. I could have easily chosen to do something in Compton but I don’t wanna limit myself. Black and Brown folks own L.A. and we’re gonna take up space wherever and whenever we want.
VP: Yee. You featured a separate quiet room lit only by blacklights and candles with an altar honoring Black and Brown souls killed by police and white supremacists, a sacred act on your part as an artist in a time where people are stuck on their newsfeeds watching video after video of killing after killing. People get caught up in the sensationalism and then they forget about it without stopping to think that these souls are flesh and blood, they are people who lived meaningful lives, they aren’t just victims... In creating this altar, what were you hoping to accomplish?
ANTHNYXYZ: My intention with the altar room was to force everyone to physically step into a space that made you reflect on the injustices that our people are constantly going through. The mood in that room was completely different from the rooms outside where people were turning up, drinking beer, looking at my art and listening to some classic hood throwbacks.
I feel like we forget about our brothers and sisters sometimes or like, we get really upset and riled up when shit goes down but after a while it’s fades away. So, this altar was a place we could mourn all of the fallen victims of police brutality…to add a physical component as opposed to just seeing stuff on the news or on social media. These are actual people like you and me and I understand it’s so easy to get caught up in other stuff that we might forget, or put these issues aside so I just wanted to remind folks of the pain that underlies in our communities.
Hopefully people were inspired to continue to fight the system. In any form. As long as we’re staying conscious of the struggle.
VP: How did you get into art?
ANTHNYXYZ: Art was always my favorite thing to do since I was a little mocoso but it really wasn’t til my 10th grade year at Compton High School that I actually saw myself as an artist. I was learning some dope skills under Cleveland Palmer, my art teacher, and it was on from that point. That year was also my first feature in an art show ever when I participated in a show dedicated to women who were victims of domestic violence. It was put on by the YWCA and my homegirl’s mom was organizing the event. I was lucky enough to work with the guest of honor, Jenni Rivera and create a painting dedicated to her and her journey thru that experience. It was dope! Being able to be a part of that and create something meaningful definitely inspired me to keep going. The following year I was taking AP studio art and I created so much work that year that I had enough to start showcasing work. I didn’t expect to and I wasn’t going out there looking for shows but social media connected me to a lot of dope people who reached out to me and allowed me to take part in art shows and events and that’s how I started building my network. So by senior year I was already doing shows at the DTLA Art Walk. I’ve been practicing and taking art classes AND going through life since then and it’s allowed me to grow as an artist. Hood Politics was my first collection of work that had one cohesive theme. And I loved it. I’m already planning something bigger and better for the future, but this time I wanna do it specifically for all my Black and Brown queer folks. I’m planning this one carefully so that I can really bring my vision to life.
I’m also getting ready for my third year at Camp Ubuntu Watts, a summer camp where I’ve been teaching art to middle school kids. Camp is a huge part of my life and getting to work with the Watts community is something I’m very grateful for. I always grow as an artist during the summertime because of my experiences with the kids and the relationships we build with them, the community and among our staff.
VP: You're doing good work. I know you’re only just getting started... What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
ANTHNYXYZ: I’m starting to collaborate with a lot of people on some special projects, doing commissions, and merchandising my work so I have a lot going on right now. I’m learning how to manage it but overall it’s real cool to see how far my work is taking me. My dream is to eventually quit my day job and just stay home creating art and rolling up. •
Follow ANTHNYXYZ at instagram.com/createdincompton