5 Questions for 2022 California Gubernatorial Candidate Luis J. Rodriguez

We need to reset everything. From being a state that pollutes and excavates or drills for the profit of a few, to a state that is based on the shared well-being of everyone.

Luis J. Rodriguez, Candidate for California Governor 2022

Matt Sedillo: Hello Luis! Thank you for being here. Let’s get right to it! This is the second time that you are running for Governor with endorsements of several political parties. The first question is why did you seek out multiple endorsements and what in particular about your political vision has inspired this rarely seen unity around your campaign?  

Luis J. Rodriguez: The California Green Party and the state’s Peace & Freedom Party came to me last November about a “Left Unity Slate” that would include endorsing me for California governor and other candidates for state offices. I agreed because we cannot turn over the electoral arena to corporate interests, whether in the Democrats or Republicans. The radical visions and answers to address poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, deadly police practices, climate change, healthcare, education, and immigrant rights must blossom and take root. Governor Newsom in recent polls is losing ground among progressives, youth, as well as Black and brown people. Where will these constituencies go? Not to the Republicans! A clear electoral alternative must be reimagined and constructed. When I accepted the two most progressive third parties’ support, I also asked the Justice Party to join with us. This is historic. These parties have rarely, if ever, united like this. I’m also reaching out to independents and the growing number of disaffected Democrats. It’s a unity not just around a candidate, but for the issues and solutions that actually close the huge gaps in our social, environmental, and economic systems. Our campaign’s taglines are “Imagine & Build,” “Dream & Deliver.”

Matt: As everyone knows our planet is in crisis. California is a major economic engine within our country which is still one of the, if not the, biggest environmental polluters in the world. What would you as Governor do to change the destructive industries and green the economy? 

Luis: We need to reset everything. From being a state that pollutes and excavates or drills for the profit of a few, to a state that is based on the shared well-being of everyone. We have great beauty and bounty in California. Massive abundance. But our governance, like our economy, is based on scarcity, competition, and maximizing profit. It’s misaligned. We are a schizophrenic society—where technology, nature, and human capacity can provide great wonders and resources, but the way we run things is based on industrial models and manufacturing relationships that arose out of a different period. Instead of the old and dying capitalist system paradigms, we should birth a new world of meeting needs and peaceful and positive resolutions to any and all problems. War and adversarial relations, which is everywhere, must be replaced with a caring society, one that recognizes and enhances everyone’s talents, propensities, passions, and gifts. We must be a society that replenishes, not takes away. That regenerates, not stagnates. As governor, I will implement a Green New Deal. Remove ourselves from fossil fuel energies and shift to clean and renewable energies. 

Matt: Tent cities are growing throughout our state as more and more people are growing houseless. Mayors, city governments and the state as a whole preach compassion and reform in words but are more apt to crack the baton in practice.

How would you as governor address the growing and looming houslessness of so many Californians as well as address the needs of those already find themselves houseless? 

Luis: The unhoused themselves have the answers. Go to the most impacted. There are leaders arising out of these encampments and shelters. The Union of the Homeless is one of the organizations that arose out of my last run for California governor in 2014. What’s the answer? Decent and affordable housing for all. Remove homes from the volatile housing markets. Yes, we should also provide mental health and drug treatment on demand. But the first thing is to get people adequately housed. Millions of abandoned homes and structures dot the landscape. This is obscene as the numbers of homeless worsen in the fifth largest economy in the world. This also involves providing jobs that are consistent and well paying. People are homeless because housing prices and rents have risen astronomically, even after millions lost their homes during the 2008 mortgage crisis. Gentrification, with big developers at the fore, has driven the poorest out of most cities. The answers are in our hands. We don’t need to criminalize the unhoused or just provide short-term solutions. Give us the “hammer and nails” and we will rebuild our communities, our cities, our state. People are homeless, they are not helpless.

Matt: All throughout the state they are closing schools and building prisons. The police are being militarized and ICE is terrorizing our communities. How would you address the questions of Police/ICE terror as governor of the state? 

Luis: We must end providing our biggest budgets to police and mass incarceration. The police and prisons are profiting from the economic misery. The prison and jail budget in California is around $18.5 billion. This has become the largest subsidized housing for poor people in the state. Crime and poverty are linked. As Charles Darwin once said, “you want to end crime, give people a chance to live.” We must do more on the front end—from cradle to crave—to align our resources to people’s needs. We cannot just be feeding the back end—more police and prisons—which respond after people have become mentally unstable, on drugs, driven into the streets, and left to their own devices. There are plans, books, blueprints, and more one how to do this, to end crime without relying on police, especially a militarized police that is armed to the teeth against our poorest residents. And, yes, we must remove ICE from our communities and workplaces; we must close down all detention centers, and provide dignity and rights to all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Matt: The recent debates about Critical Race Theory and even more recent book ban in Tennessee have brought questions about this country’s foundations and persistent myths to the forefront of political debate and discussion. The book ban today in Tennessee in many ways is reminiscent of the one that took place in Arizona in 2010. During that period several of your books found their way to be blacklisted. As a writer, you are no stranger to the question of political censorship.

These struggles and their sides are obvious. Here in California these questions get murkier. With the passage of Assembly Bill No. 101 Ethnic Studies will become a mandatory requirement for high school graduation. However the process has been anything but smooth. 

The original Assembly No. 331 was vetoed by Gavin Newsom who specifically raised objections to the curriculum, essentially demanding a new one that pleased him for its passage. This too is censorship. This too is white supremacy. 

How then do you view the ongoing struggle today here in California over the Ethnic Studies curriculum?  How as Governor how would you support Ethnic Studies and those who develop its curriculum?  

Luis: We need truth and critical thinking in our classrooms. What has been taught in our schools is largely fantasized ideals of a reality that never existed. We don’t need to pay homage to racist and class-based curriculums created mostly by white supremacists. They made Europe the center of the world, and white men of power the center of all their narratives. All human beings have contributed to human development. If you smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, love chocolate, fly a kite, write on paper, use fireworks, barbecue, etc. (considered “all-American”) you have done things created by people of color. All the world’s main religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism—have origins outside of Europe. The world’s seven recognized “cradles of civilization” were outside of so-called white regions of the world (these are the Niger River and Egypt (Africa), Mesopotamia (Mideast), Indus Valley (India), Yellow River (China), Olmec/Toltec/Aztec/Mayan (from Mexico and Central America), and Inca (Peru and other Andean areas). 

Europe has contributed immense things, but let’s be full and complete in our research and re-telling. California has failed to fully expound on our story. Especially around the terrible destruction of indigenous peoples and land since Europeans first arrived here. We study the great mission systems in benign ways, removing the slavery and genocide implicit in their design. Or the terrible role the US had in Indigenous genocide, slavery, race-based social practices, and labor battles, including bounties to murder as many Native peoples as possible. We must tell the “good, bad, and the ugly.” That’s why I support Critical Race Theory and a full Ethnic Studies program in all our high schools, colleges, and universities. 

Banning of books has always been part of the white supremacist educational model. My own first memoir, “Always Running” became one of the most 100 censored books in the country, although it’s also one of the most checked out–and stolen–books in California libraries. What happened in Tennessee and in Arizona must not happen here. But then, as you say, even Governor Newsom vetoed the first Ethnic Studies legislation because it failed to please him and other gatekeepers of our history. 

We have teachers, historians, researchers, and students from all our diverse communities working together to create such curriculums. There’s no excuse for not having a comprehensive Ethnic Studies program in all our schools.

Matt: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some quick questions, Luis. We hope our readers are more informed on your positions and wish you the best in your continued campaign.

Luis: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara Discusses “Con Safos” Documentary at Re/Arte

BOYLE HEIGHTS, CA – ReArte is pleased to welcome Los Angeles native and all-around
artist, Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, at ReArte headquarters on Saturday October 30th. He will be
joined by his son, Rubén Guevara III, who is the Co-creator and executive producer of “Con
Safos” that shares Rubén’s rise as a Chicano culture sculptor.

The documentary was released October 13th on KCET’s Artbound series and recounts how
Rubén’s life experiences and crossover in Chicano performance art shaped Chicano culture and
made people proud and understand Chicanismo.

He is considered a Chicano rock pioneer and his musical talents led him to work with other
Chicanos in the entertainment industry like Cheech Marin. “I’m brought on as a cultural
consultant and my screen credit is East L.A. Cultural Attache,” Guevara shared in the
documentary about working with Cheech for his movie, Born in East L.A. He

Hear more about Rubén’s life experiences and the making of the documentary, “Con Safos”, this
Saturday from 2-5pm with a Q&A led by L.A. poet Iván Salinas at ReArte.

Community Not Competition: Q&A with Women Who Submit Editors

By Viva Padilla

When it comes to submitting work to literary magazines for publication consideration, there are two strategies:

1. Submit everywhere and submit often.

2. Network with publishers and get solicited.

Creating connections to publishers is a great way for those of us mujeres who prefer to work smarter and not harder in order to get a sure shot at getting published. Women Who Submit recognizes this. Through their organization, with various chapters in the US, Canada, and Mexico, they bring together women/femmes/non-binary folks of color to both submit and network. Earlier this year, WWS released their first anthology ACCOLADES, pre-pandemic, as a celebration of the waves women writers of color have made in the cis white men/women dominated literary landscape.

Viva Padilla hit up the ACCOLADES editors Tisha Reichle-Aguilera and Rachael Warecki to get an inside look at the org.

Viva Padilla: Community not competition seems to be the driving force behind Women Who Submit. How important is community, specifically among women/femmes/non-binary folks, when it comes to all things literary?

Editors: It is everything! The inspiration for this organization was the VIDA Count in 2011, a survey of the lack of gender parity in top tier literary magazines. Our goal is to empower women and non-binary writers to send their work out strategically. We offer in-person (when we can) and online resources for finding the best opportunities for each writer’s work. We also support writers who want to apply to residencies and fellowships. This was our first time as managing editors and what a steep learning curve. We made smart choices early by consulting with Sarah Rafael García of LibroMobile who has curated the anthology pariahs: writing from outside the margins and partnering with Nikia Chaney of Jamii Publishing.

ACCOLADES was truly a collaborative effort. Rachael was completely responsible for all the design work, including the amazing cover; Tisha focused on communication with contributors. Women Who Submit’s three co-founders documented their discussion about our origins and growth in the foreword and other members of the leadership team served as poetry and nonfiction editors. Our goal was to feature pieces where women and non-binary characters are portrayed prominently in a positive manner and pieces that include multiple identities or marginalized perspectives. While we couldn’t include all the wonderful work that was submitted, we tried to curate a variety of innovative work that was representative of our community of writers.

Viva: In your heart/mind, what is the importance of ACCOLADES?

Editors: The anthology is a celebration of submission, acceptances, and publications by the members of our organization. It is another way to clap and cheer for writers and their previously published work. To echo our director and co-founder, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, “The work in this anthology is necessary, questioning, and honest.” This collection reflects the diverse voices of our literary community.

Viva: Which poems have touched you and why?

Editors: The poetry editors selected some exceptional work for the anthology. We were moved by the way LiYun Alvardo’s “Hechizo Para Congelar” plays with language and form in a powerful way. Cybele Garcia Kohel’s poem “Chamomile Hair” and Anita Gill’s essay “Hair” both offer compelling perspectives on mother-daughter relationships. As the fiction editors, we also looked for stories that offered something we had not seen before and we were captivated by Lituo Huang’s “Passenger.”

Viva: What kind of support does WWS offer mujeres/femmes/non-binary folks?

Editors:At our monthly submission parties, we offer Submission Fee grants for writers who apply. Twice a year we award the Kit Reed Travel Fund for Women and Non-binary Writers of Color. Submissions for the second 2020 award will open July 1. Every fall, we have an annual Submission Blitz to support writers who want to send their work to top tier journals. Last month, thanks to donations from allies, we also offered relief grants for writers affected by COVID-19.

Viva: Are there any socially distant events where we can check out the contributors?

Editors: The contributors to our anthology were featured daily reading their poems, stories, and essays on Instagram @WomenWhoSubmit. There is a monthly WWS open mic led by one of our community members. We also have an archive of previous guest speakers from our monthly submission parties available on our Facebook page. There, writers can also find Calls for Submission.

Viva: Do you have any advice for young woman/femme/non-binary writers and poets who want to start getting published?

Editors: WRITE! The most important advice is to put the words on the page. REVISE! Share work with other writers you trust to get feedback. READ! See what is being published by journals you like and that will guide you to find the right places for submitting your work for publication. Also read the weekly WWS blog where you will find advice about writing, submitting, and interviews with editors.

Accolades: A Women Who Submit Anthology can be purchased here

Women Who Submit can be found on their website, and social media.

Like Bullets For Fascists: Q+A with Political Poet Matt Sedillo

Chicano revolutionary poet Matt Sedillo met up with Viva Padilla (proper masks were worn) in El Sereno this past weekend to catch up and talk about his newest poetry collection Mowing Leaves of Grass (published by FlowerSong Press). During this interview they drove around the Eastside. They came upon a squeaky clean Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police protest in Pasadena, boarded up and tagged “R.I.P. George Floyd” storefronts in the belly of high gentrification in Highland Park, and the homeless encampment at the Veteran’s Monument in El Serenoa proper backdrop for the political insight Sedillo delivers like a gun-slinger in his book where American institutions rooted in white supremacy are dragged out by the hair and left on the side of the road to rot.

Viva Padilla: Over the past decade you have built quite the reputation traveling the country and establishing yourself as a celebrated political poet. Much of your work is very historically dense and well researched. Why have you chosen poetry as the vehicle to get out your message?

Matt Sedillo: It wasn’t so much a choice as something I really fell into. The reality is I learned all I know from a library card and Wi-Fi connection. My route into the movement came not through the academy nor a background in organizing but rather from writing poetry that tackled issues of class struggle, Chicano history, general US history, US imperialism, the destruction of the environment and various other issues and causes of our day.

There are some real advantages to being a poet in how fluid I have been able to move from rallies to conferences to performance to workshops to working with historians and journalists. For me poetry has always been more a vehicle than a destination but I do take the craft very seriously. I love fighting the good fight. I love writing poetry. I am a lucky guy to get to do both simultaneously.

“The Melting Pot / Was never meant for the hands/ That clean it” (Pilgrim)

Viva: Your latest collection is entitled Mowing Leaves of Grass. Why did you choose to go after Walt Whitman and have you have gotten any blowback?

Matt: “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race?” – Walt Whitman

That is a direct quote and there is no context to rectify it. The book is largely about the Rebrowning of America and the political response, namely the rise of Trump and his base of support.

As to backlash, white liberals in the literary community have attacked it on a few occasions as many of them see Walt Whitman and Donald Trump as polar opposites. I am Mexican, Chicano, I make no distinctions between anti-Mexicans.

I think Walt Whitman was talented. But he was a racist who hated Mexicans among others. I am also talented. Lots of us are. You’re very talented. The authors you publish are very talented. Our community does not need to look up to the Walt Whitmans of the world. We do not need to look up to people who look down upon us. Our efforts would be better spent seeking out, supporting and fostering the genius from within our own community.

“I am feudalism /I am slavery /I am the free market /I am the one percent/ I am capitalism/ And I will watch your children starve/ To satisfy my greed” (The Devil)

Viva: Who are you trying to reach with this book?

Matt: In many ways Mowing Leaves of Grass represents my Chicano studies book. It has found a home with radical educators much more so than the literati and I am happy with that. I want people who share these politics to get the book and feel engaged and ready to contribute to the struggle. As a political poet I really want to rally people and ignite their passions. If they are encouraged to further research some of the allusions made in the poems all the better; my primary goal, however, is always to rally people to fight.

Viva: You are published under FlowerSong Press who have been doing dope work in Texas. How did this working relationship come about and what has your experience been?

Matt: With a handshake. Edward Vidaurre and I were booked for an appearance at UCLA. He was staying with his mom in Boyle Heights. I picked him up and we just started talking—next thing I knew I had a deal with FlowerSong.

As to being on the press, the experience has been incredible. It’s a growing press with a lot of ambition. In the coming years FlowerSong is a place where legends will be made. I have no doubt about that.

Viva: Anything else in the works?

Matt: Yes. I am working on a few all to be published with FlowerSong. My next title is going to be called City on the Second Floor. If Mowing Leaves of Grass is my Ethnic Studies book then City on the Second Floor is very much my poetic foray into Marxist Geography. Look out for it next year.

“The boys in blue/ The killing crew /

Authorized lynch mob / Death squad /

America signed with a bullet/

Five pigs to one teenager / Hands cuffed behind his back /

Loud proud frat boys walk by / Drinking from flasks/

Black youth is criminalized /

White crime / Is state sanctioned…” (Once)

Purchase Mowing Leaves of Grass by Matt Sedillo in our online lit store

Ramona and Rumi: Love in the Time of Oligarchy by Edward Vidaurre

Reviewed By: Nikolai Garcia

Edward Vidaurre’s latest chapbook, Ramona and rumi: Love in the Time of Oligarchy (& Unedited Necessary Poems), Hercules Publishing, 2018, is a bit oddly constructed, but full of love language.

The Prologue poem introduces us to rumi and Ramona, Both/ running scared/ crashing into each other. The first half of the book is all about them, and in 24 poems we witness their amusing daily interactions, their uncontrollable lust for each other, and their eventual break-up. (Love—this intense—just cannot last, it seems).

The book is filled with great lines like: I fell in love with your ancestors [“The Talk”]; rumi throws the moon back/ & one by one kicks the stars into the night [“Meeting At Night”]; her virgin bloom, sap-filled/ mouth, letting out a/ souvenir of promises/ of sure agony [“Equinox”]. But, what really makes this collection stand-out is the magical surrealism world that Vidaurre has built for these love poems. Take, for instance, “Early Morning”:

He plants squash for his foes

she picks up a rock to stare at her reflection

rumi raises owls, feeds them plantains

they bring him cantos in exchange

Ramona, plants the songs next to a rosemary garden

in a month, teething children will sing the harvest

These playful scenes can be found throughout the first half of the book. They help give the characters life, makes their love seem more real, and make the poems more enjoyable to the reader.

The second half of the book is different, but just as creative. It consists of erotic poems inspired by heavy metal music. The poems are “darker,” which some might consider to be the right amount of kink, while other more sensitive souls might need a trigger warning. Take for instance, my favorite poem from this half of the book, “Kiss”:

I want to kiss you in the middle of a nightmare

when you bleed, when you bleed in my mouth

I want to kiss your mouth while I massage your rug burns

when you carve my name into your thighs

I want to kiss you in dark places, no light, just voices around us

when you feel a knife to your neck

I want to kiss you at a funeral as they lower the casket

when flowers whisper “I love you”

Vidaurre has a gift of taking the erotic to write lines that create great visual images in the mind, like in this ending stanza from “Mouthsong”: I think of your tongue/ how it traces the island around your lips/ destroying yesterday’s promises. That last line is amazing in the way that it tells us so much in just three words.

My only complaints about this chapbook is that there were no page numbers and one of the illustrations in the book partially omits some lines from a poem—but these are no faults of the poet.

Our contemporary poetry world currently highlights confessional poetry and political poetry, (rightly and righteously so in the latter’s case) but it is always good to relax and revel in a good collection of love poems. With his latest chapbook, Vidaurre gives us a collection worthy of being on a bookshelf right next to love poetry books by Nikki Giovanni or Pablo Neruda.

Edward Vidaurre is the 2018-2019 McAllen,Texas Poet Laureate and author of five collections of poetry including: I Took My Barrio on A Road Trip, Chicano Blood Transfusion, and Ramona & Rumi: Love in the Time of Oligarchy & Unedited Necessary Poems. He is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and writes from the front lines of the Mexican-American borderlands of El Valle in South Tejas.

RAMONA AND RUMI: LOVE IN THE TIME OF OLIGARCHY is available for purchase on Edward Vidaurre’s website.

Cruel Fiction by Wendy Trevino

Reviewed by Nikolai Garcia

Wendy Trevino’s debut poetry collection, Cruel Fiction (Commune Editions, Sept. 11 2018), is a confrontational book. It wants to remind us that the world we inhabit—the one that praises artists like Michael Jackson and Prince—is the same world where anti-blackness prevails.

Trevino opens up her book with “128-131” [From Santa Rita 128-131], a sort of list of observations that she witnessed while being detained at Santa Rita Jail, (in northern California), with a group of over twenty women. Although the reason for arrest is never mentioned, one can infer that she was part of a mass arrest at a demonstration. The alleged crime, however, is not important because the point is to show us how people are treated in jail—in particular, women:

I met at least 3 women who were menstruating.

Bridesmaids came up 1 time.

I was 1 of at least 2 women who had seen Bridesmaids.

Kreayshawn’s ‘Gucci Gucci’ came up 1 time.

I heard 1 woman sing, ‘One big room / full of bad bitches.’

Aquaman came up 1 time.

I saw at least 5 drops of fresh blood on the floor in the hall.

I saw at least 7 spots of dried blood on the wall of a tank.

I heard the riddle ‘What is brown & sticky?’ 2 times.

A six-page, double-spaced poem is not something I usually look forward to, but Trevino makes it work. Her way of pointing out pain and injustice, and drawing it out using humor, make this piece a powerful way to open a book. In between serious images, the poet shows us women talking, singing, and discussing popular culture. It’s as if the poet is telling us pop culture happens in doses, and in between struggles.

Indeed, this book is filled with struggle. The very next piece [Poem [[Santander bank was smashed into]], a short piece about taking a break from reading and taking to the streets, features these wonderful lines: there were barricades in London/ there were riot girls drinking riot rosè/ the party melted into the riot melted into the party –If that doesn’t want to make you be part of direct action, then I don’t know what will.

In another piece from the first section, [Poem [then you’re there & you’re unpaid]], the poet seems to be commenting on people going along with the status quo: peaceful fascists & riot police work together/ the video goes viral, not so much to convince, but for history/ nothing personal, and ends the next stanza with, horoscopes call for more of the same. A sober man ponders a missile. Trevino relies less on rhyme and alliteration, and more on cold simple facts that leave the reader with images to ponder.

The second section of the book is thirty poems (all sonnets, 14 lines each), filled with musical references and important questions. In [If a woman illegally crossing], one of the many questions posed in the piece is: What if that scene in Reservoir/ Dogs where Mr. Blonde tortures a cop had/ Been choreographed to “Bidi Bidi/ Bom Bom, instead of “Stuck in the Middle/ With You?” Besides Selena, some of the other musical artists mentioned are Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, Rage Against the Machine—and even a lesser known political punk band from Mexico, Tijuana NO!, gets a nod.

Trevino is not just name-dropping. She has a lot to say and uses popular culture to get some of her points across. Not only does it help to get into heavy topics like American consumerism, racism in Latin America, or violence at the border, but it also makes the poems more relatable to the reader and enjoyable to read. As she says in [JClo says what “rage most wants”]:

More importantly, what he says helps me

Think about this bad feeling I tend to

Get when I explain what I do in terms

Of popular culture—maybe it’s just

Culture. It’s recursive & fucking fun.

The last section of the book is made up of thirty more sonnets, all of which are composed of 14 lines, 10 syllables each. One can imagine that the poet chose not to follow any rhyme scheme so as not to limit herself as she gets into understanding our views of race and class. Trevino also doesn’t confine herself to just one poem, as most poems flow directly into the next—she lets us know there’s a lot to explore.

In [When I said race is relational], she begins to speak on power relations within ethnicities: It isn’t enough to not like/ Mexicans. Where I’m from, many of us/ Mexican-Americans resented/ The Mexicans who came to South Texas/ To shop for designer clothes. Trevino follows this up with a sonnet about Mexican teens shopping in a U.S. mall, buying expensive clothes with their parents’ credit cards; which is then followed up with a sonnet about how White people from Latin America can separate themselves from other Latinx, but still not be considered “white enough.” This sonnet leads into a poem about Afro-Latinos, which in turn leads us into the next sonnet [Our friend Becky has blocked out her memories], which tells us:

…Mexican is not a race either.

Even when Rob Wilson would get angry

& call my childhood friend Messcan

Even when he told me he liked me but

Couldn’t date Mexicans, Mexican was

Not a race—even in the 80s.

This last section of the book is put together in this way as it gets into the problems of mestizaje, nationalism, and the Multiracial Movement. And we are along on the journey, from poem to poem, delving from one intricate layer of each topic to another. But my favorite of these poems, which tie everything up, is [A border, like race, is a cruel fiction], which ends:

…We are who we are

To them, even when we don’t know who we

Are to each other & culture is a

Record of us figuring that out.

Trevino writes with the fire of a Bertolt Brecht and uses pop-culture as artfully as her contemporary, Michael Robbins. Her fresh, non-traditional approach to poetry is very much welcomed in a world that—at this very moment—needs more than just poetry.

CRUEL FICTION is available for purchase at Commune Editions and AK Press

Revelations by Ruben Quesada

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 at Sibling Rivalry Press

Dated Emcees by Chinaka Hodge

Reviewed By Amanda Hildebrand

Poet, activist, educator, and spoken word/rap artist Chinaka Hodge has gifted us with her first book, Dated Emcees (City Lights Publishers, 2016), and shows us how hip-hop’s biggest names are history’s most tragic lovers, cheaters, victors, and martyrs, spitting and singing side-by-side with us in this terrible love game. Hodge takes us through her dating history of ex-emcees and emcee-exes a poem at a time, one for each lover and lesson, bouncing between the boundaries of literature, verse, and memoir.

Dated Emcees is a book of love poems, all things considered. If you feel lost in lovesickness, Chinaka Hodge knows where you’ve been. These are the everywoman’s love poems; poems for the infatuated woman, the dumped woman, the other woman. Hodge lets us into her personal memories of heartbreak that may feel all too familiar, and the reader pictures themselves alongside her in those lonesome gray days, counting quarters for the laundry and waiting for a call back.

Her stories are centered around women’s issues, speaking particularly to black female readers, as she challenges misogyny, violence, and colorism that permeate a popular culture centered on light, white, and straight-haired beauty.

Hodge’s confessional anecdotes are spaced between pieces about, inspired by, and dedicated to legends of hip-hop of now and days past. Haikus for Biggie and couplets for 2Pac; an internal monologue from the mind of “Mr. Carter” on the day of Blue Ivy’s wedding; an interview between Drake and Pac that night in Vegas, the two glaringly different artists reciting together in those last moments: oh my god/ oh my god/ if i die/ i’m a legend. Even though there are pop culture references buried in almost every stanza, you don’t necessarily need to be well-versed in hip-hop or its surrounding culture to understand Hodge’s message; but, as Hodge alludes to, there’s a difference between understanding and knowing. She writes to us as if we know, and we either keep up or we don’t.

Hodge is perhaps most well-known as a spoken word poet, especially for her past appearances on the HBO show Def Poetry Jam. You can hear that influence in Dated Emcees as the poems rush to sound in your head, kicking and jerking, pumping through your chest, begging to be read aloud:

i date lushes faded like grandpas
who crawl sixteen bars and get twisted
they run tabs more than they spit
swallow fake beautifuls
hen and mott’s apple
juiced stuck slurs stirs
one finger skyward
(from title track)

Hodge writes of past loves as if they were songs, their memory reverberating and echoing forever through her story, their words tattoos in Sharpie on the binds of history books, where the people will see them. Her subjects are saints enshrined in the timeless art of hip-hop.

Hodge reminds us of the comfort and healing that can be found in remembering pain as growth.

Female emcees are strangely missing from the armada of hip-hop figures filling the pages, despite the influence women in hip-hop have had on Hodge and her work. Perhaps she simply has never dated a female emcee; perhaps she wanted to focus specifically on masculinity in the hip-hop community. Her stories are centered around women’s issues, speaking particularly to black female readers, as she challenges misogyny, violence, and colorism that permeate a popular culture centered on light, white, and straight-haired beauty.

to make
no princess
tiana your
(from “light privilege or Lili speaks”)

The poems are tied together by the overarching idea that the past, and our ghosts from it, have direct influence on where and how we go in the future. If we watch ourselves make the same mistakes, forsake our histories, refuse to amend damaged pasts – then we’re resigned to the same heartbreak, over and over again. Hodge reminds us of the comfort and healing that can be found in remembering pain as growth.

Chinaka Hodge will break your heart, she’ll make you angry, she’ll make you guilty; but mostly, she’ll tell you the truth. Her confessions of heartbreak in Dated Emcees will speak to those who have loved, lost, and re-found themselves in the small places between the punchlines.

Dated Emcees is available through City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

Bruja by Wendy Ortiz

Reviewed by Amanda Hildebrand

Following Excavation: A Memoir and Hollywood Notebook, Wendy C. Ortiz’s third experiment in memoir, Bruja, (Civil Coping Mechanisms, Los Angeles, 2016) is a similar manifestation of Ortiz’s self-evaluative journeys through the magic and mystery of inner consciousness. When presented with this dumping-ground of a one-time blog project, in which she recorded detailed accounts of her own dreams over months, composed of “threads” of themes and narratives instead of a followable structure, Ortiz and publisher Michael J. Seidlinger termed the book’s genre as “dreamoir.” In Bruja, Ortiz reminds us of the peculiar ways dreams present themselves: as symbols, as images, as reflections, as reminders themselves, each wrapped in an unconscious narrative that makes all dreams seem not only familiar, but connected. Ortiz lets her dreams speak their own surreal, uncertain truths, revealing inner worlds of memory and witchcraft that bound beyond their dream-forms.

Bruja implies autonomy of body and spirit. Through the excavation of what her deepest imagination is capable of, Ortiz is connecting with the bruja within herself, the witch who can read signs, interpret symbols, feel what those before her have felt. She’s calling to something deep: the collective woman, the universe’s sleeping magic — in order to discover something within herself, or perhaps discover a new self altogether.

For all the right reasons, Bruja is impossible to put down. It’s the spell of stepping into dreamland; and even though this is Wendy’s dreamland, we’ve been here before. Ortiz captures that “knowing” feeling required to enter and navigate dreams without exposition or confusion by also throwing us right in. She only presents simple images, and how they made her dream-self feel. Not quite poetry, prose, magic realism, memoir or dream journal — and definitely not fiction — Ortiz relies on our collective dream experiences to ground her formatless collection of images. Despite the chaos, it flows, because of Ortiz’s incomplex but chimeric language, and economic choices in details. The only plot points are the names of months every few pages, without dates or years, furthering the feeling of uncertainty of our place in time and space. Uncertainty is rampant in Ortiz’s dreamland, and her dateless, title-less dream entries are her first lesson in the trickster natures of our subconscious.

Our dreams can’t trick us until the “rules” of dreamland are established. Ortiz often uses “I knew” or “I understood” in her dream descriptions, calling to “that feeling” of “knowing” what’s happening in a dream the moment you’re submerged, no matter how strange or surreal. Before we even read Bruja we are aware of that feeling, but framed by Ortiz’s (a stranger’s) dreams, its role in creating collective dream narratives and meaning from those narratives becomes even more important – “that feeling” bridges our dream experience together. Another rule of dreamland: realism is impossible, but imagery stolen from real-life is essential to help establish “that feeling:” favorite faces, places we’ve been – maybe just a little bit different, but still familiar. Ortiz dreams of her old town of “Olympia-that-is-not-Olympia;” her mother – but not, because she is faceless; and somehow familiar strangers, introduced to once but now dragged back to the front of her mind. Things are off, but by the next day, the memory is forever altered in the subconscious by this new lens. Dreams create a reality within themselves, show us what-ifs, sourced from own our minds and memories that seemed so concrete before.

Because Ortiz presents dreams the way they present themselves, we’re left alone to make out their meanings. Often in Bruja, Ortiz’s dreams appear as bare-bone images with no hint at plot or story, focusing on the sensory experience of dreaming.

“My hair was being braided. The stranger doing it pulled my hair back from my scalp with a brush.
As they braided I could feel their hands moving in the motion of braiding.”

Ortiz doesn’t have to explain to us how she can “feel” this dream-stranger’s dream-hands in her dream-hair, because most of us have experienced this exact sensation of “feeling” — touching, tasting, smelling — while dreaming. Even while suspended in unconsciousness, our imaginations project physical sensations through our bodies; dreams have evolved past messages from beyond, and into conjurings. Dreams are charms, cursing us with feelings that rack our bodies without a conscious mind to register them. It’s a very mystical thought, evoking an image of bodies tortured by passions of religious fervor while their minds fight for sense; but the spell has already taken over, and we’re lost in senseless dreamland.

Ortiz’s personal connection to magic, mysticism, and brujería is emphasized throughout her body of work, and directly pointed to by the title of this collection; but explicit magic, wands and charms and leaky cauldrons, is missing from Bruja’s pages. We do find, repeatedly, imagery of blood, pregnancy, wombs, and water, amongst other symbolic evocations of magic, specifically brujería.

“I was caught in a flood.
I delivered the baby by C-section and carried the infant in my arms. I walked up to a gas station. There were bloodstains on the concrete garage floor…
I’ve just had a baby and I’m not afraid of anything, I thought.”

Bruja implies autonomy of body and spirit. Through the excavation of what her deepest imagination is capable of, Ortiz is connecting with the bruja within herself, the witch who can read signs, interpret symbols, feel what those before her have felt. She’s calling to something deep: the collective woman, the universe’s sleeping magic — in order to discover something within herself, or perhaps discover a new self altogether.

Ortiz’s dreams, like a lot of dreams, conjure disaster: floods, puberty, abortion, violence, abandonment. Our fears and anxieties are mirrored in surrealist dreamland, at times unrecognizable, at others copied almost beat-for-beat from “real life.” Dreams can recreate embarrassing mistakes that already happened, or terrifying possibilities for the future; they can poison us against doing things we’ve never even tried, or spoil our opinions of loved ones; because nothing is off-limits. Our dreams are parts of our narratives we are removed from, leaving more opportunity for spiraling out of control.

When a dream reaches into our cubbies of subconsciousness and yanks out a memory of a long-lost face or a home we’ll never return to, it re-stirs that memory within us and re-minds us, mind body and spirit, of a something that’s no longer here, but forever present in “that feeling.” Dreamoirist Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja shows us that a dream is a re-awakening of all of our selves, our experiences, our sensations; a magical revisitation from the past, and all its ghosts with unfinished business.

Bruja is available through Civil Coping Mechanisms

Mortal Trash: Poems by Kim Addonizio

Reviewed By Amanda Hildebrand

Mortal Trash (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016) is a collection of handfuls: odes to old friends and family members, instructional poems about what poetry isn’t, simple pleads for answers. There’s a eulogy at the end, as if we’ve just died. We all follow Addonizio to heaven: “I saw God/ in a cumulus cloud./ Angels gathered on my library card.” And the big-kid concept of death is now so simple: a face in the clouds, a small square of plastic in your pocket.

And as soon as we stick our toes in, Addonizio won’t give us a moment of relief. There are no page numbers in the table of contents; each cryptic title is listed next to the digits 000. Nothing nothing nothing, again and again – and we’re lost with her in quasi-structured mayhem. A couple sections of poems with no uniform format and no collective motivation are followed by a section of fourteen maybe-randomly-numbered sonnets, a smack of structure in the middle of the collection. Mortal Trash is a collection of handfuls: odes to old friends and family members, instructional poems about what poetry isn’t, simple pleads for answers. There’s a eulogy at the end, as if we’ve just died. We all follow Addonizio to heaven: “I saw God/ in a cumulus cloud./ Angels gathered on my library card.” And the big-kid concept of death is now so simple: a face in the clouds, a small square of plastic in your pocket.

Addonizio’s style is ephemeral, but relatable as hell; it’s absurd, confessional, vulnerable, even silly. She presents abstract situations and concepts as ordinary objects and happenings, forcing our noses to the dirt to see the beauty there. Addonizio gives us structured poetic forms with mismatched, abstract content – a spaghetti dinner served on fine china but with no forks or knives to easily gobble it up; we’re left messy. Her settings are fantastic, in places where you hear “ominous sounds in the woods” from “[m]aybe/ wild animals, maybe lesser demons – / strewing the garbage, thieving chickens/ and itty dogs, clawing at the siding doors”; a place where “[s]omething flowers/ in the air above the bed but no one/ can say what”  (from “Stray Sparks”). This place is like a dirty fairytale, littered by mundane objects that Addonizio continuously points out: a box of matches, stove burners, a hospital chair. The fantastic decomposes, surreal, then belligerent, leaving nothing but ugly, material waste for us to stare at. The world is dissolving before our eyes, and our trash is unignorable.

“The fantastic decomposes, surreal, then belligerent, leaving nothing but ugly, material waste for us to stare at. The world is dissolving before our eyes, and our trash is unignorable.”

There has to be logic behind this mess. Addonizio is obviously a well-read fan of Anglo classics; canon literary references pop in and out of her poems just when we thought all we knew was lost. Her poem “Out in the Tranquil Bay” directly quotes Arnold’s famous opening line of “Dover Beach,” then slides straight from the tranquility of “The sea is calm tonight” into pointed, scattered declaratives that jostle us with accusation: “You are an infidel.” “This elixir tastes weird.” “You are on fire./ Put yourself out.” The economy of her words shows a methodology behind each seemingly dropped-from-ten-stories-above poem. Her use of references ground us, tap into our subconsciousness whether we like it or not, and force us to pay attention. She’s poking us in the chest with the most recognizable minutia of our everyday lives so we see the dirty beauty in our collective messes, and, particularly in “The Sonnets,” her personal griefs.

Each poem in the section titled “The Sonnets” is numbered. Skimming through, they look like sonnets; their length, line breaks, and use of couplets loosely mirror the Elizabethan formatting. At face value, this section seems more structured than the others, and the call to Shakespeare immediately eases us into a familiar place – but we’re only comfortable for a second. The question is: are Mortal Trash’s sonnets supposed to “line up” with Shakespeare’s? In the Addonizio way – kinda.

Sonnet 130
my mister’s eyes are something all right
Mr. Johnson how do you do
his scleras oh they’re mighty white
float like a dead man sting like a wound
Captain Crow flew off up some tree
calls me names when Mr. walks with me
burnt roses at the florist stand greening
we went back in the dark singing

One of Shakespeare’s most quoted, memorized, and labored-over sonnets, Sonnet 130 is dedicated to a lover whose appearance is nondivine and repulsive, and still draws the narrator into a violent fit of fourteen-lined passion. You can see what draws Addonizio to this sonnet, and Shakespeare’s general out-with-the-old-in-with-the-nasty spirit. Addonizio’s Sonnet 130 calls to the original’s famous first line with a dry joke that mixes irreverence with the familiar to make us uneasy. Her sonnet feels shameful, with mystical Miltonesque characters called Captain Crow embodying concepts like judgment, creepy singsongy rhymes, and a general feeling of eerie off-ness, like a nightmare you had as a kid you still remember. It’s an uncomfortable ride through a distorted reality where sonnets are dirty, and not even Shakespeare is safe.

Sonnet 116 is elegantly begun by the Bard with the show-stopping riddle: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments.” Don’t spend too long racking those undergrad Shakespeare lectures in the back of your head, Addonizio wants to make it easy for you:

let me not to the pediment of two minds
admit marriage; love alter[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[=[====[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[]
Love is not love
stain remover will take that out
(from Sonnet 116)

In this sonnet and others in the section, txt speak and sporadic punctuation tantrums have swallowed strict rhyming patterns and measured iambs. It’s as if Addonizio dropped her forehead on her keyboard for a second to collect herself. We’ve boiled down to our gritty truths. Even Shakespeare seemed to believe in small hopeful ideas like love, but Addonizio has wiped the thought away, has blotted out that stain so we can see the ugly reality hiding between the lines. Her sonnets are at their cores about love, death, shame; they’re angry, and mournful; they’re almost guilty. She uses this traditionalist, structured space as a landfill to dump everything out – every bitter, ugly, ridiculous, embarrassing feeling that makes us squirm to read.

Addonizio’s musical background easily carries over to her poetry. It’s like we’re following an erratic drummer; the poem’s sounds are manipulated through strategic disjointed formatting and are aligned to an inconsistent beat. Thoughts and images stop staccato and harsh, or pour into each other over line breaks. They wax and wane, stop to breathe, and pick up again. Sometimes they wiggle around with nowhere to go at all. The secret to tying unconventional rhythms with the themes of Addonizio’s world of mess lies in her economic but impactful language, balanced on well-placed turns and bursts of simple imagery, all captured in the first poem of the collection:

This is me as a slowly-tearing-itself apart cloud
and marveling
at a fire palely and flamily
emerging from a bowl, wavering
up through stones of cobalt glass. The air
wavers back. This is me in love
with the beauty of blue glass in flames, this is me on drugs
prescribed by my doctor
as I try once more
to sneak into nights closely guarded city,
my hollow horse read

(from “Scrapbook”)

Everything has a message. Addonizio hints at hers, whatever it is, in “Sleep Stage”: “Dreams,/ what are they, anyway: collage art,/ trash bins, intergalactic interfaces,/ maybe random missile file/ from oppressed realities.” She wants our faces against our mirrors, she wants us dancing down in the mud with her. She wants us to see the meaningful in the simple, and wonder if something really loses its beauty after it’s been thrown away.

Mortal Trash is available through W. W. Norton & Company